2017 Tampa Bay Rays Top 10 Prospects

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1. Willy Adames, ss
2. Brent Honeywell, rhp
3. Casey Gillaspie, 1b
4. Jake Bauers, of/1b
5. Chih-Wei Hu, rhp
6. Josh Lowe, 3b
7. Jesus Sanchez, of
8. Jacob Faria, rhp
9. Justin Williams, of
10. Garrett Whitley, of

The 2016 season continued the Rays’ downward trajectory. They held their own for most of the first half, but Tampa Bay lost 24 of 27 games in a disastrous monthlong midseason slump. The Rays finished in a three-way tie for the second-worst record in baseball at 68-94, their worst mark since 2007.

Tampa Bay’s pitching staff has been its biggest strength in recent years because the Rays have had success identifying young pitchers. As major league home run totals spiked, however, the Rays have not adjusted. The team’s six starters in 2016 each posted career-worst home run rates.

Chris Archer, who had established himself as the ace of the staff, saw his home run rate jump from 0.8 per nine inning in 2015 to 1.3 in 2016. Archer’s performance bounced back somewhat in the second half, but long after the Rays’ postseason hopes were in the rearview mirror.

On the bright side, Tampa Bay’s core remains intact. It traded Matt Moore to the Giants in July in a deal that netted shortstop Matt Duffy and two prospects, but the Rays still have a deep pitching staff, their clearest path to contention. Archer should improve his home run rate, rookie lefthander Blake Snell shows promise, and the Rays can round out their rotation with veterans Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly and Alex Cobb.

The offense had bright spots, including a bounce-back year by Evan Longoria, but the Rays still finished 14th in the American League in runs in 2016.

Perhaps most encouraging is the help that’s on the way. The Rays have a growing group of potential contributors in the upper minors. Shortstop Willy Adames, first baseman Casey Gillaspie and outfielder/first baseman Jake Bauers all project as above-average or better offensive players in the near future, while righthander Brent Honeywell could provide a significant jolt to the front of the rotation in short order.

Righthanders Chih-Wei Hu, Jacob Faria, Jaime Schultz and Ryne Stanek could all conceivably reach major league readiness in 2017. Shortstop Daniel Robertson and third baseman Richie Shaffer could both contribute as well.

The lower levels of the organization also offer plenty of promise. The Rays have gambled on high-ceiling high school prospects with their top pick in each of the past two drafts. Outfielder Garrett Whitley and third baseman Josh Lowe both have all-star upside but have not yet to reach full-season ball.

Internationally, the Rays have added slugging shortstop Adrian Rondon and tooled-up outfielder Jesus Sanchez to a system that now boasts significant upside. Lucius Fox, a shortstop acquired in the Moore deal, also brings an explosive toolset to the table.

The Rays have their work cut out for them because they compete in the rugged AL East. They must shrewdly acquire talent in the amateur markets and successfully navigate the trade market. The foundation appears to be in place for the Rays to succeed.

1. Willy Adames, ss | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Sept. 2, 1995. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2012. Signed by: Aldo Perez/Ramon Perez/Miguel Garcia (Tigers).

Batting: 60.
Power: 55.
Speed: 50.
Defense: 55.
Arm: 55.
Based on 20-80 scouting scale—where 50 represents major league average—and future projection rather than present tools.

Background: The Rays’ 2014 trade of David Price signaled a transition from one era to another, as the organization soon saw a change of management and leadership in the baseball operations department. Adames, the lone prospect acquired in the Price trade, has since established himself as the Rays’ top prospect, and he’s put himself in the discussion among the best position prospects in baseball. Signed as an international free agent by the Tigers for $420,000 in 2012, Adames advanced through the low minors rapidly. The Tigers skipped him past their domestic Rookie-level affiliates and assigned him to low Class A West Michigan for his U.S. debut as an 18-year-old in 2014. After heading to the Rays as the centerpiece of the Price trade, Adames hit the ground running, and he’s made steady progress and adjustments as he’s climbed the minor league ladder. He reached Double-A Montgomery in 2016 and led the Southern League with 74 walks and ranked third with 31 doubles. He led all SL shortstops with 11 home runs.

Scouting Report: In 2014, Adames showed power to his pull side and the ability to drive the ball to the wall in center field. His power has steadily developed as he’s matured physically, and in 2016 he showed the ability to drive the ball out to the opposite field in game situations. Offensively, Adames earns plus grades for his hit tool and raw power, though scouts see his power playing more in the way of hard line drives, with annual home run total projections ranging from 15-25. He has above-average bat speed and the loose wrists to control the barrel, make late adjustments and square up pitches with late movement. He shows both the ability to stay inside the ball and to turn on inside pitches. He works deep counts and isn’t afraid of hitting with two strikes. Adames’ timing at the plate has improved from year to year, and his strikeout rate declined to 21 percent in 2016, down from 27 percent in 2015. Defensively, he continued to endear himself to scouts in 2016. Adames has plus hands and a well-timed internal clock, and he doesn’t rush plays or play nervously in the field. He lacks exceptional range and explosive foot speed, and he’s more of an average runner on the basepaths, but his pure arm strength typically plays above-average. He has an ability to get his feet set and make accurate throws consistently, though he can flash plus arm strength when needed. In addition to his well-rounded assortment of tools, Adames has exceptional makeup, both in terms of his work ethic and character. He quickly achieved fluency in English and connects well with American players as well as other Latin Americans. Rays officials laud his leadership ability and enthusiasm for game-day preparation.

The Future: Overall, Adames has the total package that teams look for in top prospects, with impact tools on both sides of the ball and the personality to become a marketable franchise player. In 2017, Adames figures to spend the season at Triple-A Durham. He projects as the Rays’ shortstop of the future, with the ability to hit somewhere in the middle of the lineup.

Montgomery .274 .372 .430 486 89 133 31 6 11 57 74 121 13

2. Brent Honeywell, rhp | bba_video_icon_red

Born: March 31, 1995. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Walters State (Tenn.) CC, 2014 (2nd round supplemental). Signed by: Brian Hickman.

Background: Undrafted out of high school, Honeywell established himself as a prospect as a junior college freshman in 2014. He built his legend with his screwball, a pitch he learned from his father; his father learned it from his cousin Mike Marshall. Honeywell saw a jump in velocity in junior college, and the Rays selected him in the supplemental second round.

Scouting Report: Honeywell has a well-rounded arsenal of weapons, with five pitches he can throw for strikes. His plus fastball routinely works in the mid-90s and shows the late life to induce weak contact. He has shown feel for his plus changeup and screwball, with the latter showing more fade and horizontal movement. His average curveball shows occasional bite, though it lacks the consistent power and hard snap of a classic plus pitch. Honeywell’s cutter was a developmental focus in 2016. He has an athletic lower half and repeats his mechanics well despite a head whack and a somewhat long arm action. Honeywell missed six weeks in the middle of the summer with forearm soreness, but his fastball reached 97 mph in his first start back.

The Future: Honeywell succeeded at Double-A Montgomery to close 2016, and he probably will repeat that level to start 2017, though he could earn a promotion to Triple-A.

Charlotte (Hi A) 4 1 2.41 10 10 0 0 56 5 11 64 .211
Montgomery (AA) 3 2 2.28 10 10 0 0 59 4 14 53 .231

3. Casey Gillaspie, 1b | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Jan. 25, 1993. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 240. Drafted: Wichita State, 2014 (1st round). Signed by: J.D. Elliby.

Background: The younger brother of Giants third baseman Conor Gillaspie, Casey batted .389 as a Wichita State junior in 2014 while swatting 15 home runs. The Rays selected him 20th overall and signed him for a tick more than $2 million. A midseason hand injury interrupted his first full season, and he struggled after returning. Fully healthy in 2016, Gillaspie swatted 18 home runs and drew 80 walks in a season split between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham.

Scouting Report: Gillaspie has a chance to impact the game offensively, with a blend of power and plate discipline. He’s a switch-hitter with plus power potential. Gillaspie lacks elite bat speed from either side, but he is exceptionally strong. He has plus-plus strike-zone awareness and recognizes pitches that he’s able to drive. In spite of his average bat speed, Gillaspie has shown the ability to turn on upper-90s fastballs. Offensively, he projects to have a high on-base and slugging percentages. While he’s a modest athlete, Gillaspie has sound footwork at first base and creates a big target for infielders. He is an inferior runner.

The Future: The Rays see Gillasie as a long-term solution at first base, with the ability hit in the middle of the lineup. He will have to hit his way out of Durham first.

Montgomery (AA) .270 .387 .454 293 51 79 21 0 11 41 58 79 5
Durham (AAA) .313 .394 .525 179 27 56 13 2 7 23 22 38 0

4. Jake Bauers, of/1b | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Oct. 6, 1995. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS—Huntington Beach, Calif., 2013 (7th round). Signed by: Josh Emmerick (Padres).

Background: Bauers excelled as a Southern California prep hitter in 2013, coming out of the same Marina High program that produced Daric Barton. The Padres drafted Bauers then challenged him with an assignment to the low Class A Midwest League in 2014. He held his own and was one of the headline prospects of the three-team trade that sent Wil Myers to San Diego.

Scouting Report: Bauers’ plus lefthanded bat is his best asset. He has loose wrists, a knack for making hard contact and he consistently takes competitive at-bats. Bauers has plus bat control and has posted low strikeout rates throughout his career. Despite his routine hard contact, he has yet to show plus over-the-fence power in games. He has a stout, compact build with shorter levers, and his bat path is geared more for line drives. He has plus raw power that must play plus to fit his corner profile. Bauers is an excellent defensive first baseman, but he played right field while he and Casey Gillaspie were teammates in 2016. His sound baseball instincts and solid-average speed play well in the outfield corners.

The Future: Bauers proved himself as a 20-year-old at Double-A Montgomery, and he should advance to Triple-A Durham in 2017. He will challenge for an everyday corner-outfield spot in Tampa Bay by 2017.

Montgomery (AA) .274 .370 .420 493 79 135 28 1 14 78 73 89 10

5. Chih-Wei Hu, rhp | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Nov. 4, 1993. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 230. Signed: Taiwan, 2012. Signed by: Cary Broder (Twins).

Background: Signed by the Twins out of Taiwan for $220,000 in 2012, Hu progressed through the low minors on schedule. The Rays acquired him in a July 2015 trade for Kevin Jepsen. He excelled at Double-A Montgomery in 2016, leading the Southern League in ERA (2.59) and pitching in the Futures Game.

Scouting Report: In short spurts, Hu can show plus-plus fastball velocity and a changeup that humiliates both righthanded and lefthanded batters. His stuff plays a little closer to average when he works as a starter. Hu has a chance to develop into a starter at the highest level, thanks largely to his ability to compete in the strike zone with his low- to mid-90s fastball. His mid-80s changeup is his best secondary pitch; he throws it with identical arm speed to his fastball and generates late tumbling action on it. He also throws a palmball that checks in slightly softer than his changeup, acting as a second change-of-pace. He throws two average breaking pitches: an 11-to-5 curveball with average depth that he throws for strikes and a more horizontal breaking pitch that can be classified as a slider or cutter.

The Future: Hu should advance to Triple-A Durham in 2017, and he is part of the Rays’ long-term plan, possibly as a No. 4 type starter or high-leverage reliever.

Montgomery (AA) 7 8 2.59 24 24 0 143 128 7 36 107 .241
Durham (AAA) 0 1 7.71 1 1 0 5 7 1 2 7 .350

6. Josh Lowe, 3b/of | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Feb. 2, 1998. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS—Marietta, Ga., 2016 (1st round). Signed by: Milt Hill.

Background: Lowe comes from a baseball family. His father David was a fifth-round pick in 1986 and his older brother Nathan, a first baseman, was the Rays’ 13th-round pick in 2016 out of Mississippi State. Josh was a prospect as both a hitter and pitcher, offering promising projection with three pitches. The Rays, enamored of Lowe’s upside as a position player, selected him 13th overall in June.

Scouting Report: Lowe has a high-waisted, athletic look with wide, sloped shoulders. He’s a lefthanded hitter with plus bat speed and the leverage to generate plus raw power. His hands work well and he has shown the ability to generate hard line drives to the gaps or pull high-trajectory flies over the fence. His long arms and aggressive swings come with swings and misses, but he showed promising strike-zone awareness in his pro debut. Lowe is a plus runner who takes long, graceful strides. He also has plus arm strength. His defense at third base was one of his biggest weaknesses as an amateur, so the Rays tried him in center field in instructional league.

The Future: While third base may not be out of the question for Lowe, he has excellent tools for the outfield and figures to spend significant time there. His polished offensive skill set could allow him to start at low Class A Bowling Green in 2017.

GCL Rays (R) .258 .386 .409 93 14 24 6 1 2 15 20 27 1
Princeton (R) .238 .36o .400 80 11 19 0 2 3 11 17 32 1

7. Jesus Sanchez, of

Born: Oct. 7, 1997. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2014. Signed by: Danny Santana.

Background: As an amateur, Sanchez originally showcased as a frail switch-hitter. Later in the process he showed improved strength and began hitting exclusively lefthanded. He improved his stock quickly and continued to do so after the Rays signed him for $400,000 in 2014. He hit .329/.351/.549 in 56 games in 2016 at two Rookie levels.

Scouting Report: Sanchez has an array of tools, but his offensive potential is his most exciting asset. He has a compact swing with balance and rhythm and a well-timed load. He has loose wrists and covers the plate exceptionally well. Sanchez shows rare ability to use the whole field. He has grown into power because he is physically mature, and he projects for plus power. The Rays are impressed with Sanchez’s strike-zone awareness and his ability to execute an approach. He is an above-average runner underway, though his first step can be a bit awkward and he’ll need to refine his center-field routes and baserunning technique. He has above-average arm strength that he is still learning how to use.

The Future: Sanchez‘s loud tools could be refined enough for him to handle an assignment to low Class A Bowling Green at age 19 in 2017, though he has no cold-weather playing experience yet.

GCL Rays (R) .323 .341 .530 164 25 53 6 8 4 31 6 31 1
Princeton (R) .347 .385 .612 49 8 17 4 0 3 8 3 12 1

8. Jacob Faria, rhp

Born: July 30, 1993. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HS—Cerritos, Calif., 2011 (10th round). Signed by: Jake Wilson.

Background: The Rays took a shot on Faria as a projectable Southern California prep righthander in 2011, selecting him in the 10th round and signing him away from Cal State Fullerton. He broke out with an excellent 2015 season, when he ranked second in the minors with a 1.92 ERA. Faria didn’t dominate in 2016 but still progressed to Triple-A and ranked eighth in the minors with 157 strikeouts.

Scouting Report: Faria’s stuff isn’t explosive. His game is founded upon his deception and downhill angle. His fastball works at 89-92 mph and will occasionally reach as high as 94. Faria throws his plus changeup with identical arm speed, and he’s able to take off quite a bit of velocity and throw the pitch at 79-81 mph. He isn’t afraid to throw his changeup in fastball counts or start hitters off with it. Faria throws two distinct, below-average breaking pitches. He has a curveball that shows longer and deeper break. It works as more of a get-me-over pitch to change hitters’ eye levels and set up the rest of his arsenal. He also throws a firmer, fringy breaking ball with low-80s velocity and shorter 12-to-6 break. Faria’s delivery isn’t smooth but he repeats it and has passable control.

The Future: Faria’s advanced pitchability and deep arsenal are nearly major league ready. He projects to begin 2017 back at Triple-A Durham but could join the Rays in-season.

Montgomery (AA) 1 6 4.21 14 14 0 83 64 5 36 93 .211
Durham (AAA) 4 4 3.72 13 13 0 68 46 7 32 64 .190

9. Justin Williams, of

Born: Aug. 20, 1995. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 215. Drafted: HS—Houma, La., 2013 (2nd round). Signed by: Rusty Pendergrass (Diamondbacks).

Background: The Diamondbacks took a shot on Williams’ exceptional raw power in 2013, selecting him 52nd overall and signing him for $1.05 million. The Rays sent Jeremy Hellickson to Arizona to acquire both Williams and Andrew Velazquez after the 2014 season. Williams held his own at low Class A in 2015, then broke out in the Australian Baseball League that winter. That success carried over to 2016, when Williams reached Double-A and hit .295/.318/.447 in 90 games at two stops.

Scouting Report: Williams is a natural lefthanded hitter with a compact stroke and a knack for barreling the ball. He’s shown an aggressive, if not raw, approach and doesn’t always wait for pitches that he can drive, but he makes as much hard contact as any Rays prospect. His batting-practice sessions encourage evaluators that he eventually will develop plus power in games. Evaluators credited improved timing for Williams’ jump in batting average in 2016, noting that he was able to pull the ball more often. Defensively, he has the tools to be a capable corner outfielder. He is a near-average runner and has average arm strength.

The Future: Williams’ bat proved too potent for the high Class A Florida State League in 2016, and he showed power in a cameo at Double-A Montgomery, where he will begin 2017.

Charlotte (Hi A) .330 .350 .448 194 23 64 11 0 4 31 6 26 0
Montgomery (AA) .243 .271 .432 148 20 36 6 2 6 27 5 30 0

10. Garrett Whitley, of | bba_video_icon_red

Born: March 13, 1997. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HS—Niskayuna, N.Y., 2015 (1st round). Signed by: Tim Alexander.

Background: Whitley wasn’t a huge name on the amateur showcase circuit, but he broke out late in the summer as a rising senior, then showed clubs enough in 2015 to put himself in first-round consideration, where the Rays popped him 13th overall. Tampa Bay in 2016 held Whitley back in extended spring training after a hamstring injury, and he reported to short-season Hudson Valley when healthy.

Scouting Report: Whitley’s exposure to high-level competition was extremely limited before he turned pro. He has elite bat speed, with scouts grading it as plus or plus-plus, so he is able to generate plus raw power, though he still is learning how to use it in games. Whitley tinkered with his mechanics at points in 2016, beginning the season with a wide-open stance as he focused on recognizing pitches and tracking the ball deeper into the hitting zone. He is prone to swinging and missing and will sometimes expand his strike zone, though he seemed to have made progress as he got into the routine of playing daily. In his final 30 games, Whitley hit .314/.394/.479. He is a plus runner who runs very well underway, and he showed improved arm strength this summer, with his arm and range in center field grading as above-average.

The Future: Whitley appears poised for an assignment to low Class A Bowling Green in 2017. He shapes up as a classic boom-or-bust toolsy outfielder.

Hudson Valley (SS) .266 .356 .379 256 38 68 12 7 1 31 30 75 20

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