Tampa Bay Rays 2022 Top 10 MLB Prospects Chat

Our 2022 Rays Top 10 is here! J.J. Cooper answered Tampa Bay Rays farm system questions below. 

J.J. Cooper: Hey everyone thanks for coming out. Let’s talk about what remains one of the most interesting/deepest farm systems in baseball.

Steve (Orlando):

     How close was Carlos Colmenarez to making the Rays top 10?

J.J. Cooper: Very close. He was actually in an early iteration of the Top 10, and if you want to argue him over Willy Vasquez, I can see the argument. The hamate injury he sustained this year meant we didn’t really get to see a full picture of what he can do. He’ll come to the States in 2022, be fully healthy and hopefully for him hit the ground running.

Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):

     Give us a sleeper from down deep in the Ray’s system (FCL or low A).

J.J. Cooper: I always struggle with this question because there are very different levels of sleepers. Willy Vasquez is likely a sleeper to many, as he’s not been a very public name, but he’s in the Top 10, so I take it you’re looking for a deeper sleeper than that. Sandy Gaston has made massive strides since he signed out of Cuba. It’s always been a big arm, but he’s improved his control since then to where he’s a much more refined pitcher than the rear back and fire guy he was when he signed. Deeper sleeper? Keep an eye on Antonio Jimenez, who was one of the better pitchers in the FCL.

Lee (South Korea):

     Did you hear any news about Nick Bitsko? Did he start throwing the ball again?

J.J. Cooper: He has started throwing again and was throwing to live hitters at the complex, although not in actual games. The realistic hope is to see him make his official pro debut in 2022.

Ken (Lakewood CA):

     Being a prospect for TB, with all their depth, must be discouraging at times for some of them. The competition perhaps has some of them hoping they get traded at some point to get a real opportunity at the major league level. What do you think guys like Curtis Mead and Willy Vasquez have to do to force the Rays to give them their chance to play in the Show?

J.J. Cooper: I’m going to argue against this. Here is a list of rookies who played for the Rays big league club in 2021: Wander Franco, Randy Arozarena, Josh Fleming, Shane McClanahan, Luis Patino, Vidal Brujan, Josh Lowe, Taylor Walls, Kevin Padlo, Shane Baz, Brent Honeywell, Ryan Thompson and Louis Head. I may have missed 1 or 2, but that’s 13 prospects who all got to play in the majors in 2021. Tampa Bay promotes 1 or 2 pitchers from the minors into its starting rotation almost every year. 2021: McClanahan(and at the end of the year, Baz, who will be the guy on this list for 2022) 2020: Josh Fleming 2019: Brendan McKay 2018: Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos 2017: Jake Faria, Austin Pruitt 2016: Blake Snell 2015: Alex Colome, Matt Andriese 2014: Jake Odorizzi 2013: Chris Archer 2012: Matt Moore 2011: Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb I could keep going back, but you get the idea. I can’t think of many teams where there are more opportunities for talented rookies to get an opportunity. That run of producing starting pitchers is remarkable for example.

Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):

     Having reached AA in 2021 do you figure that Austin Shenton gets to AAA, or even the majors, in the year to come?

J.J. Cooper: AAA, very possibly. MLB? Much more difficult. Shenton has to find a defensive position, and so far that’s been an issue. When I ask people where Shenton’s best position is the answer is usually “in the batter’s box.”

Ken (Lakewood CA):

     Thanks for the chat. This must be a hugely difficult organization for you to rate and rank prospects. Has there ever been an organization with this kind of depth? I am curious. Franco moves to 3B, yet the Rays have so many SS prospects coming. I know the projected line up is just an exercise. But can you tell me why Walls is your projected SS over all the other prospects? What makes Walls that special. Thanks.

J.J. Cooper: He’s the best of the entire group defensively. Wander Franco is great, but if you watched the postseason you saw some of his limitations at shortstop. He can handle the position, but he’s not as good at shortstop when it comes to range and arm as Walls. Walls has been the Rays best defensive shortstop for several years. If he can hit enough to handle the position (I think he can) he makes the most sense there with Franco becoming a stud 3B or 2B who also can slide back to shortstop if needed, a la Alex Bregman in Houston. As you noted, it’s an exercise and there are no guarantees, especially with the Rays, that a look four years into the future will have much predictive value. If you look at the 2017 Rays and compare them to the 2021 Rays, Kevin Kiermaier carries over from the 2017 team. Among key players, that’s the only carryover player.

Steve (FL):

     It feels like we mostly just hear about all the Rays prospects who improve. Are there any notable names who took a step back this year?

J.J. Cooper: The concerns about 2B Xavier Edwards impact with the bat have gotten louder in 2021. 3B Kevin Padlo wasn’t a top prospect, but he played his way off of the Rays’ 40-man roster. RHPs JJ Goss and Nick Bitsko didn’t pitch in 2021. C Ronaldo Hernandez was traded away because he didn’t fit what the Rays needed and he was already on the 40-man roster. OF Moises Gomez hasn’t developed as hoped. LHP Brendan McKay made a few rehab starts, but showed he’s a ways away from being fully back. SS/2B Pedro Martinez was pushed to HiA because of the needs of the organization and he struggled at the plate. He likely needs to head back there for a return trip in 2022.

Bort (Canada):

     How fast can Curtis Mead come — is he a realistic option for 2022?

J.J. Cooper: Whoa. Slow down there. Mead is a very good prospect, but he has exactly 100 games between LoA and HiA (as well as a 4-game AAA cameo). That’s not how the Rays operate, and the slow and steady approach has worked really well for Tampa Bay. Wander Franco was the best prospect in baseball and he need another 1.5 seasons in the minors from where Mead was at now until Franco made his MLB debut. Mead has a lot more questions to answer than Franco did, especially defensively. If Mead continues to develop, a late-2023 arrival would be a speedy one. A 2024 ETA is more realistic.

brad (NJ):

     I am shocked not to see Ian Seymour on the list. Is the issue reliever risk or something else, 55IP 87K, 1.95 ERA, hard to see reason to have Wilcox ahead of Seymour.

J.J. Cooper: Shocked is a little strong isn’t it? To cite your stats, Wilcox was 44.1 IP, 52 Ks, 5 BB, 2.03 ERA, so he was also very good. And lefties with a quality changeup will destroy Class A hitters year in and year out. But yes, the issue with Seymour is reliever risk. He has to improve his breaking ball to be a viable starter in the majors. At worst, his funkiness and changeup will likely make him a viable reliever and there’s a happy middle road where he becomes a very useful bulk inning guy for the Rays.

Joe (Dunedin):

     Were there reports from the DSL that raised red flags about Colmenarez? Or is it just the elite depth that has him behind at least 3 other SS prospects?

J.J. Cooper: It’s more what Vasquez did to move into the Top 10 more than what Colmenarez did to move out. In most systems, Colmenarez would be a top 10 prospect. But everyone of the guys ahead of him is both extremely talented in their own right and also closer to the majors.

John (Miami):

     How close did Heriberto Hernandez come to making the top 10? What are his biggest strengths and weaknesses and what does he need to work on to realize his potential?

J.J. Cooper: Not all that close. He hits the ball really, really hard. That’s his strength. As far as weaknesses, he’s still finding a home defensively–he shelved catching this year and is now an outfielder and he’s still somewhat a work-in-progress out there. At the plate, his approach may leave him vulnerable to pitchers with a plan. He’s going to have to get from massive aggressiveness at the plate to controlled aggressiveness.

Bill B (Glen Allen, VA):

     X Edwards seems to be a table setter like nick madrigal but with much more speed. Why wouldn’t he be higher rated? Thanks

J.J. Cooper: Because players of that ilk have somewhat limited ceilings compared to the guys above him on the list. David Fletcher is a perfect other example of a player like that. It puts a ton of pressure on your batting average to make you a valuable offensive player. If Fletcher/Madrigal/Kevin Newman hit .300+ they are very useful MLB players. If they hit .260, like Fletcher did this year, they are OK, but not nearly as useful. If they hit .230ish like Newman has each of the past two years after hitting .300 in 2019 when the ball played hotter, then they become non-tender candidates.

JD (AZ):

     Hi JJ, Brent Honeywell got a brief callup this year and ended the year in Durham’s rotation. Not the top prospect he was prior to injury, but seems promising. How does Tampa view him for 2022?

J.J. Cooper: With the Rays’ very crowded 40-man roster situation and the fact that he is out of options, it’s going to be very hard to see how Honeywell fits into their 2022 plans. If he’s not in their starting rotation to start 2022 (which seems unlikely) he has to earn a spot as a reliever, and as a reliever who can’t be optioned to AAA, he has to be significantly better than other relievers with options who will be battling for those jobs. In other words, I could see him being traded to a team with pitching needs who has a bigger runway to see what Honeywell can do as a starter.

Sean (NY):

     Where do you see Jonathan Aranda fitting in? Full time player or platoon? I’m wondering if the rays will protect him and put him on the 40.

J.J. Cooper: I think they most likely have to protect him on the 40. If they don’t I feel extremely confident he will be picked. He made big strides in 2021. There are still questions about his defensive role, but he’s a bat-first guy who can play multiple positions. And it’s hard to think of many teams that get more value out of those type of players than the Rays.

Kyle Weatherly (Timmonsville, South Carolina):

     On the current BA top 100 list Bradley is ranked 95th & Mead is UR. Both look like studs (to me anyway). Is it likely Bradley will move up on the next top 100 list & Mead will enter the top 100 on that list? Thanks in advance!!

J.J. Cooper: Pretty good chance when we gather to put together our 2022 Top 100 Prospects list in January.

KB (New York):

     Will Josh Lowe’s defense get him more at bats, or will he be relegated to a part-time platoon player like Tampa Bay has done to Austin Meadows since both are left handed hitters? Also how do you feel about that approach? If you continually sit against lefties, how are you ever going to improve? Has analytics gone to far with this platoon concept?

J.J. Cooper: To quote Herm Edwards, at the MLB level, you play to win the game. Why blame analytics btw, unless you think Casey Stengel and Earl Weaver were ruining the game with their analytical approaches. The Rays are trying to win games at the MLB level. In the minors, you put together lineups to try to develop players. At the MLB level, you decided is Austin Meadows is best suited to be in the lineup to help you win that night with a lefty on the mound. If you think that someone else gives you a better chance to win, you play the better player. But that said, Lowe’s defense is much better than Meadows, so that will help him when it comes to playing time. Also for his career (going back to his first day in the minors) Meadows has a massive .300 point OPS swing between LHPs and RHPs. Josh Lowe has consistently been better against LHPs. He only has a roughly 100 point OPS difference.

J.J. Cooper: Thanks everyone for all the questions and have a great weekend.

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