Tampa Bay Rays Midseason Top 10 Prospects
SEE ALSO: Midseason Top 10 Prospects
The Padres, Yankees and Braves got most of the ink during the offseason, but the Rays’ system has been undeniably excellent in 2018. Two of their top prospects—shortstop Willy Adames and first baseman Jake Bauers—have reached the major leagues, and there are talented players at each level of their system.
They’ve also turned the pitching world on its ear by using some of their relievers—Ryne Stanek, Ryan Yarbrough and even three-time Tommy John survivor Jonny Venters—as starting or "opening” pitchers to neutralize an opponent’s lineup for the first few innings before handing the ball to a traditional starter for the middle and late frames.
This represents the first wave of their rebuilding process as they attempt to put together a club that can compete with the big-spending Yankees and Red Sox in the American League East, in which they are a distant third place.
A second wave of prospects lurks behind Adames and Bauers, including two-way talent Brendan McKay, dynamic center field prospect Jesus Sanchez and breakout catcher Ronaldo Hernandez. The Rays also bolstered their system with a boatload of early picks in the draft, which they spent on a pair of talented lefthanders (prep star Matthew Liberatore and South Florida’s Shane McClanahan) as well as intriguing high school outfielder Nick Schnell.
Adames and Bauers will likely graduate before the season ends, but rest assured there is plenty more to come. This is one of the deepest and most talented farm systems in baseball.
1. Willy Adames, SS
Adames was the gem of the trade that shipped lefthander David Price from Tampa Bay to Detroit, and this season he’s begun paying off on the Rays’ investment. He homered off of Chris Sale in his first major league game—up from Triple-A to fill in for Joey Wendle—before coming up for a longer stint a few weeks later. He’s got the tools to be a major league shortstop but needs to cull the silly mistakes from his game. Adames has well above-average bat speed and the feel to hit for both average and power at his peak. He could be an all-star in the coming years.
2. Brent Honeywell, RHP
Honeywell is one of the most promising pitching prospects in the minors, but the Rays will have to wait a little longer to unleash his array of plus or better pitches on the world. The righthander blew out his elbow in spring training and will miss the entire 2018 season.
3. Wander Franco, SS
Franco entered the year as a player with a potentially special bat, and has done nothing to change that outlook. The 17-year-old opened the year on fire in the Appalachian League. In his first 24 games this year, he’s gone hitless once. He’s hit for the cycle (in a game where he hit two home runs) and fell a double short of a second cycle. Franco very rarely swings and misses. He’s got the tools to play shortstop but, like most players his age, will need time and polish to learn the position.
4. Jake Bauers, 1B
Bauers joined Adames in the majors and has helped provide Rays fans with a glimpse into the future. He employs a sweet lefthanded swing that has allowed him to hit for average and power throughout his career. Scouts see him as hit over power now, but could reverse that trend later as he matures and learns which pitches he can really drive. He also provides stellar defense at first base.
5. Brendan McKay, LHP/1B
High Class A Charlotte
McKay was a two-way star at Louisville and is attempting to join Shohei Ohtani in providing value on the mound and at the plate in the big leagues. He’s carved hitters in low Class A before running into a bit of trouble at the next level. His batting eye is one of the best in the minors, but he’s provided little value at the plate otherwise.
6. Jesus Sanchez, OF
High Class A Charlotte
Sanchez is one of the most talented players in the system. At 20 years old he’s shown the ability to hit and hit for power against both lefthanders and righthanders because of an innate ability to manipulate the barrel. He’s a solid defender in the outfield and earns above-average marks for his footspeed and throwing arm. There’s polish to be added, but he’s an exciting player.
7. Matthew Liberatore, LHP
Rookie-level Gulf Coast League
Liberatore entered the draft as the No. 2 player on the Baseball America 500, but slid to the 16th pick in the draft. Even so, Liberatore possesses an advanced four-pitch mix fronted by a low-90s fastball that has peaked at 96 mph. He added a slider prior to this year’s National High School Invitational to round out the arsenal. He joins McKay and fellow 2018 draftee Shane McClanahan—as well as big leaguer Blake Snell—as part of a pack of talented lefties in the system.
8. Ronaldo Hernandez, C
Low Class A Bowling Green
Hernandez has some of the loudest tools in the system, and has begun showing results in full-season ball. He’s still got to refine himself behind the plate, but has already shown an arm that scouts have graded as a 70 on the 20-to-80 scale. He’s also shown power as well as feel for the strike zone that belies his age.
9. Vidal Brujan, 2B
Low Class A Bowling Green
Brujan announced his presence loudly in the New York-Penn League last year and has continued showing off a four-tool skill set in full-season ball. He’s got mirror-image swings from both sides of the plate, though the results haven’t come yet from right side. He’s at second base now, but there’s a camp that believes his speed might be better utilized in center field.
10. Shane McClanahan, LHP
McClanahan had some of the nastiest stuff in the draft, including a fastball that has touched 100 mph from the left side as well as slider and changeup that can each get swings and misses. The arsenal gives him the potential to dominate on any given night, but he struggled with command at times this season at South Florida. Still, the Rays saw enough potential to snap him up with the second of their three first-round picks.
Wander Franco Lives Up To Lofty Comps
The 18-year-old wunderkind doesn't shy from comparisons with Indians star Jose Ramirez but knows that the Rays control his big league ETA.
- Outfielder Moises Gomez has been impressive with low Class A Bowling Green, where he’s shown off impact tools on both sides of the ball.
- In his first test in a full-season league, catcher Ronaldo Hernandez has displayed skills on offense and defense and earned himself a spot on BA’s Top 100 Prospects list.
- First baseman Nathaniel Lowe earned a spot in the Futures Game with an out-of-nowhere breakout season. Lowe has added almost 200 points to his slugging percentage this year as he earned a promotion to Double-A Montgomery. His 17 home runs is six more than he hit in his first season and a half.
- Righthander Diego Castillo has proven to be one of the Rays most reliable relievers since he was promoted from Triple-A Durham. His fastball and slider have proven to be both plus pitches.
- Second baseman/outfielder Brandon Lowe has hit his way up the list this year. After entering the season with 16 career home runs, Lowe has hit 18 this year between Double-A and Triple-A.
- OF Justin Williams hasn’t overwhelmed this year with Triple-A Durham, but he’s still just 22 years old and has plenty of time to adjust to a level filled with predominantly older players. Still, the rise of prospects at lower levels and the addition of high-end draft prospects pushes him down the list.
- RHP Brent Honeywell left a spring training game after rupturing his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He had Tommy John surgery and will return sometime in 2019.
- OF Garrett Whitley had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder in late March and will miss all of the 2018 season.
- 1B/LHP Brendan McKay has just returned to action and is rehabbing in the Gulf Coast League after going on the disabled list with a strain of his right oblique muscle.
- LHP Anthony Banda, who came over from the Diamondbacks this past offseason in the Steven Souza Jr. trade, had Tommy John surgery and is out for the season.
• RHP Jose De Leon had Tommy John surgery as well and also will miss all of 2018 while recovering.
- 2B Joey Wendle has proven to be a useful and versatile second baseman who can slide to left field and third base when needed.
- It’s taken him quite a long time, but RHP Wilmer Font, a 28-year-old who made his big league debut in 2012, has graduated from prospect status after being acquired in a May trade from the A’s. He’s now on the 60-day disabled list with a lat injury.