Tampa Bay Rays 2020 Top 10 MLB Prospects Chat

Image credit: Joe Ryan (Photo by Tom DiPace)



Justin (Tucson, AZ):

     Future rotation doesn’t project McClanahan or Ryan to fit in the top 5 spots. How real has their hype been this season? And if you’re willing to rank them with some other hyped arms I’ve read about, how would you compare them to Jackson Rutledge, Jorge Cantillo and Josiah Gray? Thanks!

J.J. Cooper: Very real. The problem with this lineup is there are 8-10 very solid candidates for 5 SP slots. I’m very encouraged by McClanahan’s improvement/development in 2019. Coming out of college I felt pretty confident that he was destined to be a good reliever, but he’s shown enough improvements to clear a viable path to being an MLB starter. Ryan’s fastball is pretty special and his improvement has also been remarkable. Development isn’t linear, so the tricky part with a pitcher like Ryan is does he continue to improve at anywhere close to the same rate in 2020-2021 as he has in 2018-2019? If so, he’s a top-tier pitching prospect. If his development plateaus at this point and he shows very modest improvement going forward then he is a solid reliever/back-end starter. If he actually regresses from this point and 2019 proves to be the high-water mark as far as his talent/development then he could return to being a fringy pitcher in the future. I don’t expect that last outcome to be a likely one for Ryan, but it does happen much more than we would like to admit. Take Jose de Leon for example. He is still trying to get back to the form that he showed in 2015. I’m sure he has learned a lot more about pitching in the last four seasons, but because of injuries/attrition he’s having to figure out how to succeed with less stuff than he had in 2015. Comparing those guys to the trio you named, those are some pretty disparate names. It’s hard to compare a guy to Rutledge and Cantillo and Gray as all three are very different kinds of pitchers.

Dave (Buffalo, NY):

     do you see a chance for McKay to get back to some hitting at the major league level?

J.J. Cooper: I don’t think it will ever be a major factor in his game. He has legit power and a good batting eye so using him as a pinch hitter with some pop (and maybe 10-15 DH games) seems possible, but his hitting development needs a lot of further ABs. No scout I talked to thought he was MLB ready as a hitter and almost universarlly they thought that spending much time working on his hitting would detract from his biggest asset–his pitching. His arm is ready to pitch in the majors. I don’t see any scenario where the Rays would send him back to the minors to help his bat get time to develop if he’s ready to help the MLB club as a pitcher. So instead, he has to figure out how to hit MLB pitching while getting sporadic ABs and time in the cage. That’s a tough assignment for anyone, but especially for someone who has to worry about figuiring out how to pitch in the majors at the same time.

Richard (Florida):

     Padlo seemed to figure things out this year at the bat in Durham. Is it for real and do the Rays risk him to rule 5 draft?

J.J. Cooper: I think they have to protect him and I think they will. If Padlo was left unprotected I’d be happy to rank him as one of the best prospects in the Rule 5 draft and a sure-fire bet to be picked. He showed he can play 3B and he has legit power. Players who have that combo, plus success in the upper levels of the minors usually get protected.

Adam (Tennessee):

     How close were you to giving Franco an 85 hit tool? An honest question; are there any concerns about his bat from the right-handed side?

J.J. Cooper: If you’re going to break the scale for a guy, don’t go halfway, give him a 90 hit tool. Kidding aside, I like his swing from both sides of the plate. That matches the feedback I’ve gotten from scouts and I think it’s worth noting that Franco is a career .316 hitter as a RHH. Sure, that’s not the .342 he’s hit as a LHH, but it’s still quite good. I would be surprised if we don’t see Franco battling for batting (and OBP) crowns down the road. He’s a special hitter.

Justin (Tucson, AZ):

     Yoan Moncada batted .315 with 25 home runs and 10 stolen bases while playing a solid 3b. Is this what we can project for Franco each year?

J.J. Cooper: I hate to compare these two guys because they are very different. When I watched Moncada in LoA in 2015 as a 20-year-old, he was a tools-monster. Exceptional speed, legit switch-hit power and defensive versatility. But he also was a guy who could be pitched to by a pitcher with a plan. That year Moncada struck out in 22.8 percent of PAs. Franco doesn’t have the athletic tools of Moncada. Moncada is faster and I would say Moncada had a little more power potential. But even though Moncada hit .315 this year, I feel way better about Franco’s hit tool than Moncada’s. Few batters have Franco’s ability to put bat on ball pitch after pitch with an ability to drive the ball. Most of the players with this kind of freakish hand-eye coordination are slap hitters (see Nick Madrigal or Willians Astudillo). Franco is the kind of hitter who can look to feast at 0-0 and 0-1, because he has complete confidence that if he gets to two strikes, he can still battle and drive the ball. Franco hit .273/.373/.397 last year with two strikes. That doesn’t match his overall numbers–he hit over .350 when he was facing zero or one strikes when the at-bat was completed–but it is far beyond what the average hitter does. Last year MLB hitters hit .173/.247/.286 with two strikes.

Ben (Ca):

     Thanks for the chat. If maclanahan can make the adjustments to stay in the rotation Is he a #2 starter?

J.J. Cooper: That’s an optimstic high-end ceiling that he is unlikely to reach, but it is possible and many pitchers don’t have really a path to being a No. 2 starter. I’d say he’s less likely to reach it than someone like Liberatore, but it is within his range of possible outcomes.

Jacob Larsen (Waukegan IL):

     Thoughts on Rays draftee JJ Goss? Also, in the report on the Rays farm system, it was mentioned that the farm has lost depth but words later it’s mentioned that they have incredible depth. A bit confused with the wording. Also, do you think that Colemanares is still likely to be the top IFA in July?

J.J. Cooper: Let me try to explain it better than I did in the intro. The depth of this system is still outstanding. There are many Top 10s we’ve finished or are in the process of finishing where the Rays 11-17 on their list would be in Top 10 consideration. But I did see a number of moves over the past season where the Rays had to make deals at 80-85 cents on the dollar because of their 40-man logjam. I think the Solak deal is an example of needing to get another pen arm with options where if they didn’t have a tight 40-man that trade wouldn’t have made a ton of sense. Ian Gibaut may have fit on a thinner roster. Andrew Velasquez may not have been dealt away. Jake McCarthy, guys like that. The Rays overall prospect depth is some of the best in the game still, but I do think they had to get rid of some guys who would be the 36th-38th guys on a thinner 40-man but didn’t fit in the 40 slots on the Rays MLB roster.

Brad (Chattanooga, TN):

     Is the upside on Josh Lowe more than any other non-Wander Franco Rays’ prospects – even if it is less likely to reach the upside. In a weaker system – is he a top 3-5 prospect? What is upside from a player comp?

J.J. Cooper: I’m not ready to go that far. There are a lot of useful tools and he has a pretty clear path to having MLB value, but the hit tool is vital to MLB success and that’s his biggest question mark. This is a bad copout on my part but how about a player like Drew Stubbs. I think Stubbs defense was a grade better than Lowe’s but I also think Lowe’s hit tool may be a grade better than Stubbs. But both are/were center fielders with power who really had all the tools except for the hit tool.

Jacob Larsen (Waukegan IL):

     Better pitching prospects: Rays farm system or Yankees farm system?

J.J. Cooper: Rays to me. Yankees may have a slight edge is you imagined a world where every pitching prospect reached the utmost of their potential, but I think the Rays have more pitching prospects with impact potential who have less to do and less risk to reach that potential. The Rays pitching depth stretches pretty far beyond the Top 10.

John (Tallahassee):

     How close was Greg Jones to making top 10 cut. Does his speed translate with any savvy for stealing bases? Do you expect Rays to start him at high A?

J.J. Cooper: In almost any normal Top 10, Jones is an easy Top 10 prospect (as is JJ Goss and Moises Gomez). This Rays list is not normal. It’s wonderfully abnormal in its combination of depth and close-to-the-majors prospects. No, I would expect Jones to start in low Class A. If he gets off to a good start, it’s easy to then bump him up. The Rays sent Brendan McKay to LoA to start his first full pro season and he was much more polished than Jones.

DH (PA):

     If you were choosing guys for your team, would you choose Archer before any of the guys traded for him (Glasnow, Meadows, Baz)?

J.J. Cooper: I would be very interested in acquiring Archer if I was a team that could get him cheap from the next Pirates front office. I’d take him over Baz, because there’s the chance to get him back to even late-Rays career form would make him a solid value at $9 million. Clearly the Rays won the trade by leaps and bounds.

Adam (Tennessee):

     If you had one Rays minor league team game to watch next season, which would it be?

J.J. Cooper: I have to say Montgomery. 1) That’s where Wander Franco should spend a lot of time. 2) The Rays SS team in Hudson Valley won the NYP League title in 2017. The Rays LoA team won the Midwest League title in 2018. The Rays HiA team had the best record in the FSL (they didn’t get to win the title because it was cancelled because of a hurricane). By that logic, the Biscuits should win the Southern League title.

JD (AZ):

     Hi JJ, thanks for the chap. I know this system is so deep that plenty of good prospects fall below the top 10, how close was Nick Schnell?

J.J. Cooper: He’ll be in the 15-20 range probably. Injuries have slowed him down, but biggest thing keeping him low in the rankings is the quantity of prospects with impressive tools and full-season success.

Ken (San Diego):

     I noticed Wander Franco was slotted at 3B because of Adams’s defensive chops and Lowe’s (I’m guessing) inability to handle the hot corner. If that holds true can you think of a player (past or present) that compares to Franco?

J.J. Cooper: Putting together the puzzle pieces on these projected 4-year-ahead lineups is never easy and is not a precise science. I think Adames is a better glove at SS than Franco and it’s hard to see the MLB vet moving aside for a guy without a clearly better glove. I think Franco can play either 2B or 3B (and potentially SS). At 3B, I would forsee him being a guy who hits .300 or better with high OBPs, solid power that may one day develop into well above-average home runs and excellent defense. Oh, and he’d be the kind of team leader that helps make a team better with his drive and determination as well because of plus makeup. You can figure out who you would compare that to.

Lee (South Korea):

     In the past, the rays was famous for keeping their pitching prospect healthy. But recently many young pitchers are injured. Do you think it is a side effect for pursuing more stuff or just bad luck?

J.J. Cooper: They have had a run of TJs and other injuries, although some of those were trade acqusitions, which I guess should be noted. The Rays have always pursued stuff–see Matt Moore, David Price, Enny Romero, Blake Snell and Jake McGee as some examples of previous big arms. I think it’s just cyclical.

Rich (Wash, DC):

     Is Franco that special that rays break their Mold on how they typically develop players, If he is ready will they bring him up at the end of next season. Is there anything you have seen or heard to think He doesn’t keep progressing as quickly as he has As he matures, besides some defensive flexibility For the majors?

J.J. Cooper: I do think that Franco will force the Rays to speed up his timetable more than normal. That’s something the Rays have done in the past. Evan Longoria reached the majors after just over 200 MiLB games. Yes, that’s a college player, but it is an example of how the Rays will speed up the timetable for a special player.

Cameron (Orlando, Florida):

     Do you see Vidal Brujan as the Rays future 2nd baseman? Or will he possibly fill in as an outfielder?

J.J. Cooper: I think the Rays will use him all over the place, as they do with a lot of their MLB players. I think his speed would play really well in CF in addition to 2B and even a little SS.

J.J. Cooper: Hey everyone. I need to go record a podcast, but thanks for all the questions.

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