2019 Tampa Bay Rays Top 10 Prospects Chat

Image credit: Wander Franco (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)


Bored Lawyer, Esq. (Office): 

    Tampa is rather known for slowly promoted prospects. In another system, say Atlanta or Washington, would Wander be a candidate to either skip Low A, or end the year in AA? Also, any chance Liberatore is held back in EST and starts off in Hudson Valley?

J.J. Cooper: Hey everyone. Thanks for all the questions and your patience with this slightly delayed chat as we waited to get the Top 10 rolled out. To first answer your question in an over-arching way, I had multiple scouts tell me they believed Franco could have handled high Class A last year with few issues. When you ask about the Nationals in particular, I will note that Franco right now has only 50 less pro at-bats than Juan Soto had at this time last year, but then Soto broke pretty much all the rules of being promoted (and made it work). I would expect Liberatore to begin the season in EST, because the Rays don’t really promote first full year HS pitchers straight to LoA to start the season.

DR (MD): 

    I know its a way off, and a million things can happen, but TB really seems to have a wave of young talent that will be coming up in 2-3 years. Could we see a year where Wander, Baz, Vidal, McKay, McLanahan, and Jesus all debut in the same season?

J.J. Cooper: I don’t see all of them debuting at the same time, but I would say I think we’ll see waves of Rays prospects reaching the majors, not one big wave. They had 23 rookies in 2018, so they had a wave this past season (led by Adames, Bauers, Wendle, Lowe and Castillo). They’ll have another one in 2019 (Honeywell, N. Lowe, Gibault) and likely another in 2020 (McKay, Franco?, Sanchez) with another potentially in 2021 (Brujan, McClanahan, Gomez, Hernandez). Now some of these guys will get hurt. Some will fall flat and some will be traded, but this illustrates just how the Rays are loaded at almost every level of the minors.

Two-Way player fan (America): 

    I saw on BA’s TBR intructs roster that Vincent Byrd was working as a pitcher. Is that a full time conversion, or is he still playing 1B as well?

J.J. Cooper: Not sure yet if Byrd’s conversion will take, although I like his chances of being an MLB pitcher more than his chances of being an MLB 1B. Eleardo Cabrera’s conversion has definitely taken, I expect he will be at spring training as a pitcher.

David (Burlington, NC): 

    Why is there so little love from the scouting community for Colin Poche ? He’s left-handed, deceptive delivery, throws 93-ish, and has good command. His performance in AAA last year was one for the books. What holds back on his projection ?

J.J. Cooper: I think part of the problem is your report there has him throwing 93-ish. It’s more 90-91-ish that will touch higher (especially late in the season as his velo did tail off as the season wore on). He’s got an incredibly deceptive fastball and it does play, but he doesn’t have great secondaries. It’s a very fascinating combo, but it’s not as dominating necessarily as the numbers would make it seem.

Dan (Baltimore): 

    Is Vidal Brujan a potential Tony Kemp type? I recall seeing him 2 years ago with HV and was incredibly impressed by how twitchy he is

J.J. Cooper: More defensive value than Kemp to me, which makes him potentially more valuable. Kemp was a fringe defender at 2B who is a corner OF. Brujan is a solid defender at 2B who can potentially play CF as well.

Duhbear (Vermont): 

    This farm is so much fun and I don’t envy you guys for having to pick 10 guys to rank. There’s huge upside at all levels and almost all positions from Durham down to the short season leagues. There’s big bats, athletes, throwers, pitchers, and complete players in between. If we assume 2/3 of the upper level pitching prospects – Honeywell, Banda, and De Leon – return healthy and productive, this might be the most balanced farm system I can remember (Including balanced in the way prospects were acquired i.e. draft, trade, and international). And somehow that includes Arroyo, Adames, Meadows, and Bauers graduating. Unreal collection of talent.

J.J. Cooper: It’s really good. Still think it’s probably not as good as the Padres although we will line them up when we are finished writing them all for the Handbook, but it’s really good.

Horatio (Florida): 

    Should fans be giving up on Jose De Leon?

J.J. Cooper: We will all know a ton more after he comes back from this most recent injury. If you are optimistic, the hope is the Rays have never seen a healthy De Leon and he can get back to some version of the player who was a very legit prospect as a Dodger. But De Leon looked nothing like that with the Rays in 2017, so the hope is that he already was banged up and this layoff/surgery will give him a chance to bounce back. While it may not be time to give up on De Leon, I will be interested to see if the Rays keep him on the 40-man roster. I can see a lot of reasons if you are the Rays to drop him off the roster and take the risk.

Duhbear (Vermont): 

    Rays have some Rule V problems coming. Who should I be worried about losing?

J.J. Cooper: They will have one of the toughest calls for trying to protect everyone. They made deals this season to try to help alleviate some of the logjams. Genesis Cabrera and Justin Williams were both guys who needed to be added to the 40-man roster, so they dealt them away. There a significant number of must-ads and they are sitting at 44 on the roster when I last checked. Guys who I think are slam dunk ads. Ian Gibault, Brock Burke, Jesus Sanchez are slam dunks to me. Joe McCarthy will be a very interesting decision and there are several others as well who will be tough calls (Kean Wong for example).

Brad (Chattanooga): 

    What prospect in Top 10 jumped the most in the clubs opinion? Which one fell the most?

J.J. Cooper: I would say Moises Gomez did more to really established himself as a prospect this year than anyone else in the Top 10. Gomez was on the radar to an extent (our writeup on him when he signed was pretty glowing), but this year he went from name to watch to legit prospect on the rise. As far as guys who fell. I’m going to skip the injured guys (Honeywell, Banda, De Leon, Whitley). Chih-Wei Hu hasn’t taken a step forward as expected in the past two years. He’s another guy I would think would be in danger of being dropped from the 40-man roster.

DH (PA): 

    There are just so many good middle infielders in this system. Who do you suppose settles in at SS, 2nd, 3rd?

J.J. Cooper: Adames has already settled in at SS, so I think he holds on to that. I don’t think the Rays will have a fixed 2B or 3B in the next two years until Wander Franco arrives as they have too many guys with position versatility that can play those spots between Wendle, Lowe, Robertson, Arroyo, Velasquez, Solak, Brujan and Fox.

David Bear (Orlando): 

    Can you identify 3 Rays prospects who you think will be big league contributors but are significantly underrated?

J.J. Cooper: Underrated is in the eye of the beholder–one person’s underrated is Shane Baz, while that’s way too obvious for someone else. But here are some non-top 10 guys who don’t get as much notice. I think Taylor Walls will be an MLB MIF of some sort. Very good year in the Midwest League and scouts like him. Ian Gibault will get outs as a reliever next year. He could end up being better than Diego Castillo who arrived this past season. And if Jake Fraley can stay healthy (which has been a significant problem) I think he is an MLB OF with a solid spread of tools and skills.

TJ Survivor (Pensacola, FL): 

    Do you see Honeywell, De Leon and Banda having a significant impact in 2019?

J.J. Cooper: Honeywell I think will make an impact of some sort in the second half of the season and the Rays’ opener with a longer guy following may be a way to work him in where he can go 50-75 pitches as he rounds back into form. De Leon has to prove his stuff has returned post-surgery as it wasn’t there pre-surgery with the Rays. Banda didn’t have his surgery until halfway through the season, so I don’t expect we’ll see him again until 2020.

Jack (Oahu): 

    Why did Liberatore fall so far in the draft? He seemed certain to be a Top-10 pick but slid all the way to the Rays. Really, the same Q could be asked about McClanahan.

J.J. Cooper: I know bad luck seems like a copout of an answer but in Liberatore’s case, I think it really does apply. Once he started sliding, he didn’t have a clear landing spot, so he ended up falling out of the top 15. There were worries that he wasn’t as sharp at the end of the high school season, but he looks like a steal where he fell. McClanahan had bigger reasons for falling as his fastball control/command really backed up in the second half of the college season. Instead of answering questions about his ability to start, he raised more questions among scouts who believe he may end up sliding to the bullpen.

DH (PA): 

    Will CJ Cron have everyday AB’s on this team for the next few years? Or will Bauers and the two Lowes squeeze him out?

J.J. Cooper: I’d be shocked if he is still a Ray in 2020. He’s arb-eligible with very little positional versatility and he’ll be 30 in 2020. That doesn’t really fit the profile of a long-time Ray.

Doug (Chicago): 

    This was certainly a titillating season of “Tampa Bay’s Next Top Lowe” with much of the attention on Brandon and Nate. What does Josh have to do to get his name in the race?

J.J. Cooper: Hit better. It hasn’t come together yet for him, but he has the best tools of the three. Of course, the hit tool is worth more than defense/arm/speed all rolled together. There’s still a chance he will hit, but that’s the big question with Josh.

Mike (Tampa, FL): 

    What are your thoughts on rhp Sandy Gaston, the newest addition to this system? Will we get to read about him in the Prospect Handbook?

J.J. Cooper: He’ll definitely make the top 30. Very high ceiling prospect, but one who is a long ways away and has been quite erratic in workouts so far. Sometimes he looks great, sometimes not so much.

Bobby Bradley’s 40-time (MA): 

    Obviously won’t make an appearance in the top 10, but does Michael Perez figure to make the handbook? Seems like a really solid prospect getting lost in the depth and perhaps overshadowed a bit by Hernandez

J.J. Cooper: He has a shot to make the Top 30, but it will be tough as it’s such a loaded system. Our reports see him as a solid defender, but a catcher who sits on that line between No. 3 catcher (a guy who spends most of the season in Triple-A with callups to fill-in for injuries) and a solid backup catcher. He and Nick Ciuffo will battle for the backup job in Tampa next year I would imagine, with Perez having the advantage because of a slightly better bat.

Ben (Dallas, TX): 

    What was the consensus opinion among scouts of Shane Baz? Will we see him in the 11-15 range?

J.J. Cooper: That’s the right range for him. The question is how well he tames his delivery and improves his control, but his stuff is top-shelf and gives him a pretty solid floor as a useful reliever.

Sam (Washington, DC): 

    What can we expect from Diego Castillo, and what’s his upside? Will he be in the next ten?

J.J. Cooper: Castillo threw 56.2 innings last year with the Rays, so he’s no longer prospect eligible.

J.P. (Springfield, IL): 

    Thanks for chatting, JJ. We know about McKay and his skill set, but let’s discuss another two-way player – Tanner Dodson. Which position suits him best and why?

J.J. Cooper: He’s a fascinating prospect. I think he really can be a useful two-way guy who fits as a power reliever who can also serve as a backup outfielder. But if he has to focus on one position, his better potential is as a reliever.

Tushar (Poolesville): 

    Can you compare Wander Franco to some of the recent rare teenage phenoms? How do his hit / power / speed / defense compare to guys like Tatis, Vlad, Eloy, Acuna, Soto, etc.

J.J. Cooper: What Wander Franco did this year is better than what any of them did as 17-year-olds. As a hitter, he could end up being as good as any of them (more risk because he’s yet to turn 18). As a power hitter, the projections are that he’s a tick below those guys, but then he’s 17 so we’re relying on projecting his strength development over the next 4-5 years which means he has more potential to exceed his current projections than someone like Eloy Jimenez who is already fully filled out. Franco could be better than any of them overall, which is a very, very lofty ceiling. Imagine a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. bat but with a chance to play an adequate shortstop or a plus second base.

Paul (Dallas, TX): 

    Is there a schedule for us to read which tells us which prospect top 10 list comes out on which day? Thanks!

J.J. Cooper: Rays today. Orioles tomorrow. Red Sox Friday. Yankees next Monday, Blue Jays next Wednesday. More to come after that.

Zac (NY): 

    Is it completely out of the realm of possibility that Franco is pushed all the way to the majors in 2019 like Soto?

J.J. Cooper: If that happened, I would wonder who secretly replaced the current Rays front office. They want their players to be fully ready to contribute when they reach the majors. David Price pitched really well for the Rays in the 2008 playoffs. He was sent back to Durham for more seasoning to start 2009. Evan Longoria is the best example I can find (admittedly it was a long time ago) of the Rays speeding a player to the majors, but that was a college star. Franco will play all next season as an 18-year-old. A late 2020 ETA would still be a rocket ship ride to the majors and a 2021 arrival would likely make him the youngest player in the major leagues when he debuted.

Rich (Tampa): 

    I don’t see Lucious Fox on this list. How close was he? And why was he excluded?

J.J. Cooper: This system is DEEP, that’s why. Good year, but I couldn’t find room for 1st rounders Shane McClanahan and Nick Schnell, or Shane Baz on this list. Fox is the best defensive SS in the minors for the Rays (Taylor Walls is more reliable, but Fox is rangier), but he does have questions about his power, even after showing improvements with the bat. Good prospect, but this is a hard top 10 to crack.

Dave (Florida): 

    Who has the higher ceiling Vidal Brujan or Lucious Fox?

J.J. Cooper: Brujan. Give me the guy who may post .380+ OBPs, and he’s nearly as twitchy and tooled up as Fox too.

Brett (South Carolina): 

    A little surprised to see Jesus Sanchez as low as no. 6 and behind Hernandez and Liberatore, any reason? Was it close?

J.J. Cooper: These are all very good prospects is why. Sanchez has a key step still ahead of him, which is to become more discerning in which pitches he tries to drive. He has the tools and skills to make that happen, but that is a step that derails otherwise excellent hitting prospects, so there is some risk remaining. It was very close. I see this list as having a clear top 3, but 4-7 could have ended up in a wide variety of orders. In fact, I originally had Sanchez No. 4 but tweaked it as I was writing.

Andrew (RI): 

    Any chance Franco is moved to the outfield with Wendle and Adams already up the middle?

J.J. Cooper: No. A thousand times no. Joey Wendle had a very good year in 2018, but he’ll turn 30 the same year Wander Franco turns 19. Moving Wander Franco because he’s blocked by Wendle is like me turning down Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ on a trip to Kansas City because there is a Taco Bell down the street.

Fonz (Milwaukee): 

    Thanks for the chat. What odds would you put on Shane McClanahan being a reliever vs. a starter in MLB? 3 to 1?

J.J. Cooper: Seems like fair odds there.

Greg (Georgia): 

    Was Nick Solak close? Where does he slot in with gluttony of 2b/infield prospects the Rays have in line?

J.J. Cooper: If not for Brandon Lowe’s emergence, we’d probably be talking more about Solak. He’s a better defender than Lowe, but Lowe has more thump in the bat.

Rays Homer (St Pete): 

    Would you take the Rays 11-20 guys over another team’s top 10?

J.J. Cooper: Sure. I do like Evan White and Kyle Lewis, but give me the Rays 11-20 over the Mariners 1-10.

Adam (Bluff City, TN): 

    May I have the NSFW version of the Franco scouting report?

J.J. Cooper: No. This is a family Website. But I did have to hose it down a few times after writing it because my computer started to smoke.

J (United States): 

    What’s your take on Brock Burke? .Org pitcher of the year and seems to get little to no buzz. Reminds me of a Snell-lite. #2/3 ceiling?

J.J. Cooper: He’s a very solid prospect. I think he’s a slam-dunk add to the 40-man roster and will easily fit in the 11-20 list on the Rays Top 30.

Nick (Clearwater): 

    How much has Lucius Fox boosted his stock in the eyes of scouts with his strong showing so far in the AFL? Could he potentially jump into the top 10 if he continues at this pace?

J.J. Cooper: I’m not saying it hasn’t helped because playing well is always a good thing, but scouts who have seen him during the season are likely not changing much of anything in their reports based on 8 good games. He could hit .400 in the AFL this month and it would not change all that much to me on where he ranks and how he projects. The AFL season isn’t long enough to make much of AFL stats. Henry Urrutia hit .377 one year in the AFL. Nate Roberts and Josh Prince each hit over .400. Dustin Ackley hit .424 one year. Brent Morel hit .435. At the same time, Mike Trout had a .600 OPS in the AFL in 2011. My point is, no, you don’t change evaluations much at all based on good (or bad) AFL seasons.

Anthony (Boston): 

    I know he’s no longer a prospect, but where are you at Wendle? Legit 3-4 win player for a few years, or is he someone you see getting pushed out by the high-minors infield prospects?

J.J. Cooper: Somewhere in between. I think his season was probably near the upper end of his range of probabilities, but even with some slight degradaton next year he would be a quite useful player. But much like late-blooming 2B Whit Merrifield and Scooter Gennett, the window for success is likely pretty small, as Wendle is not all that far away from turning 30 and he’ll start getting more expensive right at the point where he sees a 3 at the start of his age.

Jonathan (FL): 

    What is the ceiling for 2018 2nd round pick Tyler Frank? All he did at FAU was hit, and he is very versatile defensively. Obviously he’s not in BA’s Rays’ Top 10, but was he a consideration?

J.J. Cooper: Not considered for the 10 on this list because it’s so good, but he will make the 30 I believe. Very useful prospect and joins the massive glut of Rays middle infielders.

J.J. Cooper: Thanks everyone for coming out. Jon Meoli will be here tomorrow to chat about the Orioles Top 10.

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