The Rays received enormous fanfare when they made the playoffs four times in six seasons from 2008-13 despite petite payrolls.
|Rays Midseason Top 10
|1. Willy Adames, SS
|2. Brent Honeywell, RHP
|3. Brendan McKay, 1B/LHP
|4. Jake Bauers, OF/1B
|5. Jesus Sanchez, OF
|6. Jacob Faria, RHP
|7. Jose De Leon, RHP
|8. Casey Gillaspie, 1B
|9. Chih-Wei Hu, RHP
|10. Justin Williams, OF
There is much less attention being paid to them now, but the Rays have quietly become a playoff contender once again.
As of July 24, the Rays (51-48) were tied with the Royals for the second wild card spot in the American League. They’ve done it despite major injuries to expected starters Kevin Kiermaier and Matt Duffy and lengthy DL stints for Brad Miller, Colby Rasmus and Matt Andriese.
The Rays’ deep pitching staff has kept them afloat, with Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Alex Cobb holding strong atop the rotation and recent callup Jacob Faria providing support on the back end. Even with Blake Snell battling his control, the Rays starters have the second-lowest ERA in the American League.
The strength of that staff has allowed the Rays to remain in contention and prepare to be buyers at the trade deadline. They already made one deal, acquiring shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria from the Marlins for two prospects, and have the pieces to make more moves should they desire.
The Rays have a playoff contender in the big leagues, a horde of promising prospects in the upper levels of the minors, and an intriguing crop in the lower minors led by first-round pick Brendan McKay.
However this year turns out, the Rays appear in excellent shape moving forward as they try and build their second long-term playoff contender.
1. Willy Adames, SS
Adames started slow before narrowing his stance in mid-May in order to prevent overstriding. With his stance corrected Adames has been an offensive force, driving the ball with authority to all fields and increasingly tapping into his power potential. Since June 1 Adames is hitting .341/.433/.548 with five of his seven home runs. That offensive progression has come with Adames showing plus arm strength and plus defensive ability at shortstop, cementing his place as one the top prospects in the game. Evaluators almost unanimously consider him a future No. 2 hitter and the Rays shortstop of the future.
2. Brent Honeywell, RHP
Honeywell has shot up this season to the point evaluators consider him almost on par with Adames but give Adames the edge simply because quality all-around shortstops are rare. Honeywell is second in the International League in strikeouts with three plus pitches and two above-average ones, and he took home the Futures Game MVP award with a star turn in the spotlight.
3. Brendan McKay, 1B/LHP
Short-season Hudson Valley
McKay won the Golden Spikes Award at Louisville and was widely regarded as one of college baseball’s top two-way talents of all-time. The Rays drafted McKay fourth overall and signed him for $7,007,500. The Rays have said they will let McKay both pitch and play first base in his first taste of pro ball. He’s yet to pitch, but he does have a home run and a .292/.393/.417 slash line in six games as a first baseman.
4. Jake Bauers, OF/1B
Bauers continues to show advanced hitters instincts and has improved his bat speed, resulting him being on pace for a career-high in doubles and home runs. While evaluators believe in Bauers’ bat, he draws extremely poor reviews in left field and mixed ones at first base, to the point many believe Bauers will have to DH primarily in the majors.
5. Jesus Sanchez, OF
Low Class A Bowling Green
Sanchez is adding strength every year and has had no trouble assimilating to full-season ball. Previously 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Sanchez is now 6-3, 210 and pounding Midwest League pitchers to the tune of a .305/.351/.492 line. He moved off center field and is playing left field primarily now, but that isn’t a problem with his tantalizing offensive potential.
6. Jacob Faria, RHP
Faria reworked his delivery to use his legs more under the tutelage of Triple-A Durham pitching coach Kyle Snyder, and his velocity increased from 88-90 mph to 92-94 mph with the change. Combined with his plus changeup and improved cutter, Faria led the minors in strikeouts before his June promotion to Tampa Bay, where is slated to stay.
7. Jose De Leon, RHP
Injuries continue to plague De Leon to the point they are starting to sap his stuff. De Leon began the year on the disabled list with a flexor tendon strain in his right forearm, got shelled in four appearances at Triple-A and the majors in his return, and went back on the DL with a lat strain in early June. It his third straight year with multiple DL stints.
8. Casey Gillaspie, 1B
It has been a disastrous season for Gillaspie both stat-wise and in how evaluators view him. Scouts throughout the game have been searing in their reviews of Gillaspie, citing poor athleticism and no tool even average in their view. Gillaspie has not been able to prove otherwise, with his feel to hit and power production completely muzzled from both sides of the plate.
9. Chih-Wei Hu, RHP
The Rays have called Hu up as a reliever three times this year and ordered him to be used in relief upon his return to Durham each time. The conversion from the rotation to the bullpen met some initial speed bumps but has been better of late. In Hu’s last eight outings, he has a 2.31 ERA and .596 OPS against.
10. Justin Williams, OF
Williams missed most of May but has been productive when healthy, putting together a .292/.343/.417 line while continuing to make strides pulling the ball. He is still learning to loft the ball for home-run power, but has demonstrated a promising foundation to build off of.
• 2B Brandon Lowe boasts a .332/.416/.587 slash line at high Class A Charlotte with 30 doubles, tied for fourth in the minors. His 1.003 OPS is sixth in the minors. Lowe has a compact swing that works well and enough glove to stay at the position.
• RHP Ryne Stanek completed his transition to the bullpen by sitting 98-99 mph with his fastball and 91-92 with his slider and earned his first big league callup.
• LHP Ryan Yarbrough is 8-4, 3.79 at Triple-A Durham is third in the International League with 98 strikeouts.
• OF Josh Lowe, last year’s No. 13 overall pick, has struggled to a .249/.302/.394 slash at low Class A Bowling Green, although he may be turning it around with hits in 11 of his last 13 games.
• OF Garrett Whitley, the Rays 2015 first-rounder, has not tamed his swing-and-miss problems and is hitting .250 with a 29 percent strikeout rate at Bowling Green.
• 3B Adrian Rondon has moved off of shortstop and is hitting .225 with a .628 OPS and 33 percent strikeout rate at Bowling Green.
• De Leon’s lat strain has lingered and cost him more than a month on the DL.
• RHP Jamie Schultz left his first appearance of the year with a groin strain and has not returned
• RHP Taylor Guerrieri made only two starts before succumbing to elbow soreness. An MRI revealed no structural damage but he not pitched since April 13.
• RHP Kevin Gadea began the year on the DL with elbow tendinitis and has not pitched since.
• INF Daniel Robertson made the Rays Opening Day roster and served as their primary utilityman before landing on the DL with neck spasms.