Tampa Bay Rays 2020 Midseason Top 30 Prospects Update
STATE OF THE SYSTEM
Enviable. The Rays’ prospect depth is perhaps more notable than the six prospects they have on the current Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list. LHP Ian Seymour, the club’s second-round pick, slots 19th on the Rays list, but as one of the better college lefties in a deep pitching class, he wouldn’t look out of place in many teams’ Top 10s. SS Alika Williams, the club’s supplemental first-round pick, was one of the best shortstops in the class. He now ranks as the fifth-best shortstop in the Rays system. That’s not a knock. SS Taylor Walls, who ranks behind him, will likely have a useful major league career as well.
1. Wander Franco, SS
The best prospect in baseball could potentially play for Tampa Bay this season, but the loss of the minor league season keeps Franco from showing what he does best. Franco isn’t going to hit a 475-foot batting practice home run. His competitiveness and outstanding at-bats are best appreciated in bunches. If he had gone out and hit .330 over the first half in Double-A, it would be hard to slow him down. But live BPs and a few at-bats in scrimmages do not give Franco the same chance to show his exceptional tools.
2. Brendan McKay, LHP
McKay likely fits into the Rays’ pitching plans at some point during the shortened season, but he’s not pitching in camp for undisclosed reasons. The Rays have a set five-man veteran rotation if everyone is healthy, but once McKay returns to the mound his plus command and control make him a ready option if Tampa Bay needs any rotation depth.
3. Vidal Brujan, 2B/SS
Brujan may be the Rays’ best athlete. He has surprising strength to go with his speed and agility and has proven to be a better shortstop than might have been expected. As the season wears on, if the Rays are looking for a reserve who can pinch-run, fill in defensively and even be a useful pinch-hitter, Brujan is a potential fit, as he’s already on the 40-man roster.
4. Shane Baz, RHP
With a full 60-man player pool and a team aiming for a playoff spot, the Rays weren’t able to spend a lot of roster spots this summer on development. But the Rays made an exception for Baz, who has made significant strides since Tampa Bay acquired him in the Chris Archer trade. He’s the Rays’ highest-ceiling young arm, although Nick Bitsko will push him for that crown.
5. Shane McClanahan, LHP
Summer camp has given McClanahan a chance to show he can potentially help the big league club as a power reliever later this year. Long term, he’s made strides as a pitcher with better pitch selection and command, but in 2020, his potential role is as a power lefty.
6. Xavier Edwards, 2B/SS
Edwards has not been put on the Rays’ 60-man player pool yet—the team favored pitchers instead of hitters for those spots. The departure of a number of players in the past week thanks to opt outs could still open up a spot. He’s yet another of the Rays’ long line of versatile bats with defensive skills, athleticism and excellent strike-zone discipline.
7. Nick Bitsko, RHP
The Rays have had no hesitations in taking top prep arms in the draft and have developed many of them into successful big leaguers. Getting Bitsko in the back third of the first round could prove a long-term steal. Tampa Bay likes to take it slow with young pitchers, and the bizarre nature of 2020 will only add to that in Bitsko’s case.
8. Ronaldo Hernandez, C
The Rays have very rarely grown their own catchers, but Hernandez could change that one day. He has gotten to work with the big league staff some this July, which should aid his development behind the plate. He’s shown the strongest arm among any of the Rays’ catchers in camp and has impressed in limited work. Getting to catch pitchers on the major league staff can only help, although the lack of a minor league season may push Hernandez’s projected MLB ETA back to 2022.
9. Joe Ryan, RHP
Ryan hasn’t dropped a lot of jaws yet as part of the Rays’ summer camp 60-man player pool, but that’s not surprising as he, much like Franco, is a player whose consistency is one of his better attributes (along with a hard-to-square fastball). Ryan will get needed innings at the alternate site camp, but next year will be the test as he’ll try to show that his breakout 2019 season is a sign that he can be a solid mid-rotation starter in 2022 and beyond.
10. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, OF/3B
Tsutsugo’s power has been just as advertised, but his glove has exceeded expectations. Not only has he shown he’s perfectly fine in the outfield corners, he’s also shown he can play an adequate third base. Tsutsugo has to show he can catch up to premium velocity, and the Rays will likely keep him away from the toughest lefties, but his power and versatility should make him a solid contributor in 2020 and beyond.
- Josh Lowe, OF
- Greg Jones, SS
- JJ Goss, RHP
- Randy Arozarena, OF
- Moises Gomez, OF
- Taj Bradley, RHP
- Alika Williams, SS
- Kevin Padlo, 3B
- Ian Seymour, LHP
- Brent Honeywell, RHP
- Nick Schnell, OF
- Seth Johnson, RHP
- Taylor Walls, SS
- Riley O’Brien, RHP
- John Doxakis, LHP
- Peter Fairbanks, RHP
- Lucius Fox, SS
- Caleb Sampen, RHP
- Drew Strotman, RHP
- Curtis Mead, 3B
There are seven players who can play shortstop in the Rays’ Top 30. Not all will do so regularly in Tampa Bay, but that athleticism and defensive ability should pay off in yet another wave of multi-positional, versatile contributors and gives Tampa Bay plenty of trade chips if needed. It’s easy to forget that SS Greg Jones was one of the better college bats in the 2019 draft—he just doesn’t crack the Top 10 here because of the system’s extreme depth. The Rays have steadily acquired high-ceiling pitchers in the draft. Tampa Bay has in its system eight pitchers who signed for $1 million or more in the past four drafts, including three from the 2019 draft.
The Rays don’t have as many power bats as they had rising through the system a few years ago, as the club’s strength in position prospects at the top of the system is focused more on players with average power but above-average contact ability and on-base skills. One slugger to keep an eye on is 3B Curtis Mead. A pickup in last offseason’s Cristopher Sanchez trade to the Phillies, Mead had an excellent offseason, hitting .309/.373/.485 as one of the younger players in the Australian Baseball League. This spring he posted some of the best exit velocities in the organization. It’s hard to find too many weaknesses. Catching depth could be a little better, but Ronaldo Hernandez is a solid prospect. Tampa Bay has a trio of upper-level outfielders (Tsutsugo, Josh Lowe and Randy Arozarena). And it’s hard to quibble with the pitching as Tampa Bay has a nice mix of control specialists and power arms.
PLAYER POOL TIDBITS
The Rays let RHP Stephen Woods Jr. remain with the Royals, as they worked a deal to acquire cash or a player to be named in return for the Royals retaining the 2019 Rule 5 pick and sending him to the minors. RHP Ryan Thompson was a surprise addition to the Opening Day roster. The sidearm-throwing reliever was a 2018 minor league Rule 5 pick out of the Astros’ organization. He throws pretty hard (90-92 mph) for a sidearmer and is especially tough on righthanded hitters. RHP Peter Fairbanks has started to do a better job of burying his plus slider in advantageous counts. Too often in the past he’s made it a hittable strike instead of a chase pitch against hitters who are behind in the count.
LHP Brendan McKay has been sidelined for undisclosed reasons for much of summer camp. The shutdown for the coronavirus pandemic gave OF Josh Lowe time to recover from his offseason shoulder surgery. He would not have been ready for the start of the regular season, but he’s now working out and playing at full speed at summer camp. RHP Brent Honeywell was shut down in May after undergoing a procedure on his right ulnar nerve. OF Ryan Boldt is continuing to recover from offseason shoulder surgery.