Tampa Bay Rays Top 10 Prospects Chat

Hudson Belinsky: Hey everyone! Thanks for being here. We have a lot going on with the handbook and the magazine in the works, and I’ll have a call during this chat, but I’ll try to address as many questions as I can… I think the Rays have a very good farm system with quality prospects at the top who project as MLB contributors in the not-so-distant future and a growing group of high-ceiling prospects with all-star ceilings. Alright, fire away!

John (Cincinnati): Kind of surprised to see Gillaspie that high, especially ahead of Bauers. Do you see Gillapsie as a top 100 or top 75 guy maybe? Or Gillaspie's placement behind Bauers more of an indications that Bauers is not really close to the top 100 and maybe not top 150 overall either?
Hudson Belinsky: I’ll try to address the Gillaspie and Bauers rankings here. This was Gillaspie’s first full season that was uninterrupted by injury, and he raked his way to Triple-A and continued to perform there. His offensive upside is exceptional, and he’s shown more game power than Bauers has and he’s already reached Triple-A. I think Bauers is one of the better pure hitters in the minor leagues, and I do see power coming in his future, but the uncertainty of projection knocks him back behind Gillaspie for me. I had some sources that had bad looks at Gillaspie early in the season, but his overall body of work put him ahead. To be clear, it wasn’t an easy call and I agonized over who to rank No. 3. They are both very good prospects and I see them both as top 100 types; they would both definitely be in my top 100. Without lining up all the prospects, it’s hard to envision where they fit, but I’m very high on Gillaspie and Bauers and will push for them as the top 100 process unfolds … To be clear, there was a distinct demarcation between those two and Adames and Honeywell, who were the obvious top two prospects in the system for literally everyone I asked that question of.

Wayne (NY): How is Brandon Koch coming along?
Hudson Belinsky: He missed most of the year with soreness. I had heard that he was throwing towards the beginning of the fall, but 2017 will be much more telling for him.

dave (grayson, ga): What's happened to Garrett Fulenchek? He looked like an interesting second rounder a couple years ago, but his pro career has been a disaster so far.
Hudson Belinsky: I don’t think anything “happened” to him. His arm is really, really fast and he struggles to repeat his release point. He’s still 93-96 with a long arm action and a good pitcher’s frame. He’s still interesting, but he doesn’t quite fit at the top of a good system like this.

Steve (orlando): How close was Lucius Fox from the top 10?
Hudson Belinsky: He was close. He’s got loud tools, with speed and potential for defensive impact. Think of him as being in the same prospect classification as Adrian Rondon, Garrett Whitley, Josh Lowe, and Jesus Sanchez.

Dan (MD): I saw Vidal Brujan get a cup of coffee with Hudson Valley at the end of the season. Very young for the level and looked to be a decent athlete with good contact skills. I can't find much of anything about him. Is he on the radar at all?
Hudson Belinsky: He’s pretty intriguing. Brujan runs plus and has shown average to slightly above arm strength. He is a little undersized but he controls the strike zone well. More power from the right side, more slap and dash from the left. Worth following closely as he progresses up the ladder. As with any player so young and inexperienced, the risk is high, but it was a very good developmental year for him.

Richard (Chicago): The Rays had quite a few college hitters from the 2015 draft who hit well in Bowling Green this year -- do any project as average everyday players?
Hudson Belinsky: None of them have HUGE ceilings, but there may several players from that group who reach the big leagues at some point. I think Joe McCarthy has the best odds to play every day if he can stay healthy, with a combo of power and speed and a short stroke with some feel for the strike zone. I didn’t get a ton of great feedback on Brandon Lowe’s first pro season, but I’d still be optimistic about him as a hit-first prospect with excellent strike zone awareness. Brett Sullivan probably has the best ceiling of that 2015 college hitters group; he transitioned to catching and while reports indicate some stiffness, there’s enough progress back there to be encouraged and he has playable game power.

Dave (Brooklyn): Hey, Hudson! Thanks for taking the time to Chat! Ryne Stanek didn't even make the Top 30 in the always Great BA 2016 Prospect Handbook, but seemed to be getting it together at AA after being moved to the pen. However, progress appeared to stall after his promotion to AAA (and at the Futures game!). Do you and the Rays see him as a potential future Closer, a nice bullpen piece, or more of a 40 Grade pitcher, if he even gets there?
Hudson Belinsky: Stanek has nastier stuff than Piper Chapman’s plate in season one. His transition to the bullpen doesn’t look great by the numbers, but he was adjusting to a new role, facing better competition, and learning how to use his stuff. He has the stuff to get elite hitters out. It’s a matter of learning how he can best utilize his pitches. I see him as having the potential to close, but his control and command would have to improve for him to get to that point. He projects as a late-inning reliever who can shorten games, whether that’s in the closer role or somewhere else. He’s also come up as a starter, and I’ve seen him pumping his upper-90s gas in his second inning of work out of the pen. He has a chance to be a unique bullpen weapon for the Rays in the near future.

RIchard (Chicago): Can you compare/contrast Stanek and Schultz as potential back-end relief pitchers?
Hudson Belinsky: Schultz has a chance to start still, while Stanek is nearly ready to roll as a reliever. Schultz’s stuff might be a little bit better (than it is now) if he eventually moves to the bullpen and pitches in short bursts, but that’s an unknown. He doesn’t have Stanek’s size and angle, nor has Schultz reached triple digits with his fastball. It’s hard to say that one is ahead of the other in the bullpen context because they could grade out comparably, but as far as prospect status goes, I lean towards the prospects who are still starters.

Sam (Everett): The Rays put Taylor Guerrier--their 1st-round draft pick in 2011--on the 40-man roster last year. But, despite winning 12 games in double-A he seems like a forgotten prospect in their system. Do you think he is still on their radar?
Hudson Belinsky: He’s still on their radar. This year was a developmental challenge for him. He’s never shown the kind of velocity that he had in high school, and he’s become more of a pitch-to-contact type. He has mostly average stuff, with some of his pitches a tick better, and his lack of bat-missing stuff makes him a little more difficult to get excited about. But we’re talking about a kid with a good frame and three pitches that he throws over the plate. There’s a chance for him to develop into a back-of-the-rotation type of starter. He might not be as exciting or polished as some of those prospects who are ranked ahead of him, but he’s still noteworthy.

Mark (Tampa Bay): Nick Ciuffo seemed to take a big step forward offensively in 2016, before an injury sidelined him. I know the Rays' system is loaded with catchers, but do you think his pre-injury performance means he could start 2017 at Double-A Montgomery?
Hudson Belinsky: That’s a tough question. He definitely improved his stock in 2016; he hadn’t previously showed the contact skills in pro ball that he showed this year. He’s a defense-first prospect with some bat potential, but he’s on the local train, not the express.

Marcus (Connecticut): Is there any hope for Tom Milone? I looked at his stats from last season, his first in High-A. I can see the average is down, as are most of his other stats. But, I know players from the East Coast can take longer to develop.
Hudson Belinsky: Yes, there’s hope for him! He’s an excellent defensive player and a good athlete. He doesn’t have a high ceiling because of his limited offense, but he could have some value as a bench player, and who knows if his offense will eventually improve? It’s not likely, but I don’t think it’s out of the question for a multi-sport, cold-weather prospect to be a later bloomer.

Mike (Boston): How much confidence do you have Adames will stick at SS?
Hudson Belinsky: I’m confident.

Victor A (New Jersey): what do you gauge the trade value of Drew Smyly? The Rays almost definitely have to trade his underwhelming $7m salary (according to mlbtraderumors.com projections) and I feel its hard to really have a set value on him.
Hudson Belinsky: His peripheral stats are just okay, but he’s logged innings with some consistency, so he makes sense at that kind of salary. I don’t think he’ll have a ton of trade value, but the Rays could benefit from a thin starting pitching market and clear room for some of their young guys who are close.

Brian (Virginia): Hi Hudson, thanks for the chat as the best athlete, would Lowe stay at 3B if not for Longoria ? were you surprised he wasn't taken 3rd (also below slot) by the Braves instead of Anderson ? thanks again Brian
Hudson Belinsky: No, I think there are legitimate question’s about Josh Lowe’s defense and I don’t think Longoria factored into the Rays’ decision to play Lowe in the outfield in instructional league. Lowe’s hands weren’t ideal at third in his pro debut, and he takes Bambi-esque strides under way—it just seems like his tools will translate well to the outfield. I was not surprised that the Braves took Anderson at #3. I thought Lowe was a little too risky to go THAT high. Good value where the Rays picked, though.

Patrick Guttin (Sandpoint, Idaho): Ummmm.......Sean Newcomb? Hello......where are you?
Hudson Belinsky: Sean Newcomb is not in the Rays system, bro.

Matt (Scranton, PA): How far has Chris Betts fallen after his struggles this year? He was seen as an advanced hitter heading into last year's draft and that didn't work out so well. Does he still have the high ceiling?
Hudson Belinsky: He was coming back from Tommy John surgery and catching up to the speed of the pro game. Next year should be more telling for him. He didn’t come out and rake like you’d hope, but I’m not backing off him just yet.

Tori (Florida): Will Brent Honeywell move to Durham Bulls next season?
Hudson Belinsky: It seems likely that he’ll make it to Durham at some point next season, yes. I’m excited about the potential team there.

Philip (New New York): Thank you for your time and for the chat! I've been on the Jesus Sanchez train for awhile now but I'm still a little surprised to see him so high on the list. If he has a fully successful season at Low-A how high do you see him going on the top-100 overall prospect list? Does he have the ceiling to be a top 25 overall prospect?
Hudson Belinsky: I think his bat gives him a chance to develop into a really good prospect. But there aren’t a ton of guys who push themselves into the top 25 before making it to the upper minors; the risk factors drive down their stock. If Sanchez’s bat plays at a full-season affiliate in 2017, I can see him making a case for top 100 consideration after that, yes. He’ll also have to improve his defense, too. The reports on him are really exciting.

Jon (Toronto, ON): Justin O'Connor what happened to him this year? Will he rebound?
Hudson Belinsky: He was injured for most of the season. I don’t know if he will rebound, but there isn’t a great track record for players who get hurt as often as he has.

Mike (Wallingford, CT): There were seven middle infielders ranked above Adames on the midseason list that did not graduate: Moncada, Swanson, Crawford, Albies, Rosario, Rodgers, Mateo. In your opinion, how many of those guys has Adames passed since then?
Hudson Belinsky: That’s an interesting question. It sounds like he’s probably ahead of Mateo and maybe Albies. Adames does a lot of little things well, and he’s really, really young for his level.

ken (Venice, fl.): What happened to Taylor Guerrieri?
Hudson Belinsky: He got people out at Double-A but didn’t strike that many people out. Pitched with average fastball velocity and a solid curveball and changeup.

Andrew (Los Angeles): What do you think of Kevin Padlo?
Hudson Belinsky: He’s exciting. He has plus power potential and he’s a good defender at third base. Padlo has shown the ability and willingness to draw walks, and he could develop into a top-tier prospect if he can make more contact as he progresses through the minors.

Tori (Florida): Any prospects you can see being brought up to the big leagues next season?
Hudson Belinsky: That’s the beauty of the Rays’ system. Adames, Honeywell, Gillaspie, Hu, Faria, Schultz, Stanek, Robertson, and Shaffer are all right there. They’re a heartbeat away.

Jason (Bradenton,FL): Do you think Justin Williams will be able to consistently tap into his raw power at the higher levels? Do you also see his approach working or at least getting to a level where it will be passable?
Hudson Belinsky: What’s interesting about Justin Williams is that he’s done a pretty good job of putting the ball in play; one evaluator I spoke with raised the point that a lot of prospects with Williams’ raw power tend to have very high swing-and-miss rates and he doesn’t. He does struggle with his timing—he’ll be caught out front or be swing late often—and his approach isn’t very purposeful right now, but he’s only 21 and he’s reached Double-A. Projecting an approach is a difficult thing to do, but I’d imagine that there is SOME improvement ahead of him. Even if his power doesn’t manifest itself in overwhelming home run production, his hard-hit ability should allow him to be a higher BABIP guy than his raw batted ball profile would indicate.

Ken (Venice, Fl.): Does Mikie Mahtook have the tools to be a backup CF?
Hudson Belinsky: The Rays rotate guys around and develop their outfield prospects to play all three spots. They’re likely to have better options in center than Mahtook, but he could play there if the need presented itself.

Mike (Boston): How close was Adrian Rondon to making the list and, based on his performance last season, should the Rays be more encouraged or concerned about him? Also, how do like his chances of remaining at SS?
Hudson Belinsky: There are lots of questions about Adrian Rondon, and I’ll try to address them here. He had a VERY GOOD developmental year. Subscribers can read more about him in the Appy League Top 20 (https://www.baseballamerica.com/minors/2016-appalachian-league-top-20-prospects/). You’ll notice him ahead of Josh Lowe on that list. As I gathered more opinions on the Rays system, it became clear that Lowe and Sanchez were valued more than Whitley and Rondon. Rondon played third base in instructional league, and projects to end up there long term. He had a really good season and has a high ceiling because of his righthanded power bat; he was REALLY CLOSE to the top 10. I saw a question about his energy level—Rondon played with much more enthusiasm and showed more maturity in 2016; he had the opportunity to be around Willy Adames before the season and learn from him, and Rays people think that had a positive impact on him. He’s still a high-ceiling guy; they just happen to have 10 guys who are better prospects at this point in time.

Bill (New Canaan, CT): What is the more likely ETA for Brent Honeywell, mid-season 2017 or the outset of the 2018 season?
Hudson Belinsky: The Rays take their time with developing pitchers. While I don’t doubt that Honeywell could achieve Major League readiness at some point in 2017, I don’t foresee the Rays bringing him up unless they have an urgent need or he’s REALLY forcing the issue.

Jim (Bowling Green, KY): What are scouts saying about Brett Sullivan, the catching convert?
Hudson Belinsky: That he has power and has a CHANCE to catch, though the catching is a bit behind.

Josh (New York): Will Richie Shaffer be part of the Rays future or is he destined to be a AAAA player?
Hudson Belinsky: He still has power and arm strength, but Evan Longoria is better than him, so… ¯\_(?)_/¯

Dave (Brooklyn): Ryan Boldt has never seemed to live up to his potential (Hit tool, speed, CF defense), at Nebraska and then after being drafted in the 2nd round, at Short Season Hudson (your?!?) Valley. Did the Rays overdraft? What do they believe Boldt needs to focus on to turn potential into performance?
Hudson Belinsky: A few points here. First off, I don’t care much about a player’s pro debut unless we’re seeing a drastic difference in the tools. It’s nice to see players have success in my valley, but it would be silly to base our evaluations on performances in such a small samples. The questions I ask about the pro debut are: 1) Did the player adjust to pro ball well? And 2) Did the player’s tools come as advertised? Boldt is a player that we debated a lot in the office during the draft. In my limited in-person looks, he’s been underwhelming. He isn’t the explosive, quick-twitch player I expected to see after reading the reports on him from high school. I’ve seen a player with feel for hitting and a body that would point towards power production, though I haven’t seen him hit for power and his power production hasn’t really ever been there. The reports I’ve gotten back on him are more encouraging than what I’ve seen. He’s a player who grades out well due to the sum of his parts. He does a little bit of everything and has a lot of weapons at his disposal, even if nothing projects as a plus tool. He projects to have defensive value in the outfield, even if he doesn’t fit the center field prototype with a more muscly build and speed that plays closer to above-average than it does plus. What concerns me more is that he had a 70-page medical report before the draft, and he missed time at the end of the season. He is absolutely a likeable prospect, but I don’t think the expectations on him should be extremely high.

William (Pensacola, FL): The development of ____ in 2017 is the most important subplot within the Rays system?
Hudson Belinsky: the 18- and 19-year-old prospects (Lowe, Whitley, Sanchez, Fox, Rondon, Franklin, Padlo)

Richard (Chicago): Do any of the pitchers in Bowling Green or Charlotte have a chance to be more than a #4 starter?
Hudson Belinsky: Greg Harris has some upside, though the middle of the rotation would be a tall order. There are mixed reviews on him, but he saw a jump in velocity and keeps getting better. Yonny Chirinos is a strike-throwing machine that could sneak up on us because of his excellent control.

Patrick Guttin (Sandpoint, Idaho): What is your best guess ceiling and floor statistically for Jake Bauers? Good eye but is the power coming? Will he start and hit at MLB level?
Hudson Belinsky: Ceiling: OF who hits .300/.350/.450 with 20 home runs. Floor: 1B who hits .250/.310/.375. I think he’ll start and hit. The power’s on its way.

Richard (Chicago): Do Austin Pruitt or Hunter Wood have a chance as back-end starters, or are they relievers in the majors?
Hudson Belinsky: Pruitt is a fine sleeper in this system. One of the best evaluators I talk to sees him as a quality back of the rotation option. He’s short, but not small, and he’s got a lot of weapons, despite pitching with below-average velocity. He might be one of those guys who ends up being a better player than his prospect value would ever indicate. He also might just get hit hard in a few spot starts. Wood has good stuff but from what I gather he’s a bit thin-shouldered and he’s fighting against a perception of being frail and unable to hold up as a starter.

Jason Hanselman (Rochester, NY): Thanks for your time, Mr. Belinsky. The 6-10 portion looks relatively interchangeable so I was wondering how much further down that statement applies, and if Genesis Cabrera is someone that could be put in that conversation.
Hudson Belinsky: I don’t see Cabrera quite that high. In that 6-14 range, guys either have a really high ceiling or are really close to contributing at the big league level.

Raysfan (InMinnesota): Does Jacob Faria remind you of former Rays pitcher James Shields?
Hudson Belinsky: The Rays have been good at developing changeups for a long time. Saying that those two are similar would be an over-inflation of Faria and an underappreciation of Shields.

Dan (Madison WI): Do the Rays finally have a catcher in their system that has a realistic shot at being an average MLB starter or better? That position has been the bane of their entire existence.
Hudson Belinsky: Some evaluators really like Jonah Heim’s defense. Nick Ciuffo has a high ceiling but he’s far from a guarantee to be the an average or better MLB catcher.

Friedman's Jewelers (LA): Is Garrett Whitley just not any good or is he just a very raw toolshed?
Hudson Belinsky: He’s raw but I’m a believer. His bat speed and aptitude are both really good.

Raysfan (Inminnesota): Best player in Rays system that few people know about?
Hudson Belinsky: There are a lot of good ones that aren’t being asked about in this chat, unfortunately. I’m not sure if he’s THE BEST, but JD Busfield got some pretty high praise from outside the organization as a physical righthander with angle and flashes of velocity. Austin Franklin is the guy I’d look at as a potential riser in the system. Zacrey Law has converted to catching and has some bat skills. Travis Ott is wiry and deceptive from the left side. Michael Russell showed well this year in Bowling Green. Luis Alvarado is a lefty chucker who throws really hard and seems like a Rule 5 candidate.

Lee (Korea): Kean Wong has shown some contact skill. But I think that is not enough indigrient for him to be a big-leaguer. What is your thought?
Hudson Belinsky: He’s solid. There’s a split camp on him. Some of the evaluators I talked to like his hitting enough to believe he’ll play every day. There’s generally agreement that he can hit, but disagreement about whether or not he can do enough things well to play every day.

Stan (Baltimore): I was pleasantly surprised to see Jesus Sanchez ranked in the top 10. Were reports on him that high, that he went from a relative unknown to number 7 in the system?
Hudson Belinsky: I don’t think he was an unknown, he just wasn’t established. He almost made the top 30 last year; he was No. 31. He proved himself at the low levels and showed tools and athleticism. He hasn’t been highly publicized by organizations that don’t report as deeply as we do, I suppose.

Hudson Belinsky: I have to go. Thank you all for your questions. If you have something specific you want to ask me that you don’t think I addressed here, please email me at hbelinsky@enthusiastnetwork.com or hit me up on Twitter @hudsonbelinsky. I sincerely appreciate you being great fans of the game and reading our site. Enjoy Game 6!

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