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Track record: Franco models his game after that of his Bani neighbor Jose Ramirez. Scouts who watch Franco play see many similarities. Like Ramirez, Franco is also a switch-hitter with a similar approach. But unlike Ramirez, who has emerged as a star, Franco was the No. 1 prospect in the 2017 international signing class who signed for $2.8 million. The Rays aggressively pushed him, and he responded by being the best hitter in the Appalachian League as a 17-year-old. Some scouts believed he could have jumped straight to high Class A with few issues. His dominance at the plate reminded many of what Vladimir Guerrero Jr. did in the Appy League in 2016, but Franco was actually more productive than Guerrero at the same age.
Track Record: Honeywell felt his elbow ligament pop while throwing batting practice early in spring training. An MRI confirmed what Honeywell already knew, and he had Tommy John surgery that will lead to a late start to his 2019 season.
Scouting Report: Prior to his surgery, Honeywell was ready to get outs in the big leagues. He has a five-pitch mix, with all his pitches showing average or better potential. He had little trouble mixing in two breaking balls, a changeup and a screwball while blowing hitters away with a 93-95 mph fastball that touched 99 mph. Honeywell’s plus fastball sets up a plus changeup he uses to both baffle hitters and induce them to chase out of the strike zone. But he’s just as comfortable getting ahead with an average curveball that sets up an above-average, mid-80s slider with the power and late break to be a swing-and-miss offering. He could stand to use his 70-grade screwball more often. Honeywell has improved the consistency of his release point to the point where he has above-average control.
The Future: If his stuff returns to form, Honeywell has all the pieces to be a No. 2 starter. He will likely be ready to join the Rays by June or July.
Track Record: The 2017 Baseball America College Player of the Year was a three-time first-team All-America selection while starring both at the plate and on the mound. McKay had few hiccups as a pitcher in 2018 aside from a month-long absence with a strained oblique.
Scouting Report: McKay is a better prospect as a pitcher than a hitter, and he has all the traits of a future No. 3 starter. He has plus control, a varied array of pitches and the aptitude to manipulate all of them. The cutter he learned during his junior year at Louisville has become a plus pitch. He varies its shape to where it looks like a bat-missing slider at times. His plus fastball has also picked up a little velocity. He sat 92-94 mph and touched higher, but it’s his ability to spot his heater, especially to his glove side, that makes him effective. He locates his average curveball and changeup. As a hitter, McKay has excellent pitch recognition and strike-zone awareness, but he tilts into passivity. He tends to take early-count strikes. He has plus raw power but hit just six home runs in 56 games while batting .214/.368/.359.
The Future: McKay is ready for Double-A as a pitcher. That will test him as a hitter, but the Rays see no reason to force him to focus on solely pitching just yet.
Track Record: The last time the Rays had a homegrown catcher serve as their starter was Toby Hall in 2007. The Rays passed on drafting Buster Posey the following year and haven’t produced a regular at the position since. Hernandez could change that. An infielder as an amateur whom the Rays converted to catching, Hernandez ranked second in the Midwest League with 21 home runs and second in the minors among catchers.
Scouting Report: Hernandez has legitimate 20-plus homer potential. His swing varies from short with no-load to longer and leveraged depending on the situation. Hernandez will have to stay on top of his conditioning because his body is already mature, and he’s taller and heavier than his listed weight. He is doing yoga to try to help maintain his flexibility. Hernandez has shown steady improvement with his English-language skills, and he carries himself as a confident leader. A below-average receiver, he needs to improve his blocking ability and soften his hands as he receives and frames. He has a 70 arm that can shut down running games.
The Future: If Hernandez continues to put in the work defensively, he has potential to be the rare catcher who is an offensive asset.
Track Record: Liberatore started the gold medal game for USA Baseball’s 18U World Cup champs and was seen as a possible top-five pick. He slid down draft boards in 2018, however, when his fastball backed up late in his senior year and his control wasn’t as sharp. Still, no one expected to see him fall to the 16th pick, where the Rays pounced.
Scouting Report: Liberatore lacks the near top-of-the-scale fastball of many prep first-round pitchers, but he has an above-average fastball with excellent extension, the ability to spin a breaking ball, competitiveness, a long, projectable frame and a clean delivery. Liberatore sits 92-93 mph and touches 95, but it’s his plus curveball and changeup that can overwhelm hitters. His changeup is quite advanced for a high school draftee because it has excellent deception, and he has the conviction to throw it in a variety of counts.
The Future: Liberatore has the look of a mid-rotation starter, and if he adds strength and velocity, he could end up being a potential front-of-the-rotation stalwart. The Rays move prep pitchers slowly, so an assignment to short-season Hudson Valley would be a sign of confidence in him.
Track Record: The Rays went into the penalty box with a massive 2014 international signing class. Despite whiffing on their biggest signing, Adrian Rondon, the class has proven to be an outstanding influx of talent with Ronaldo Hernandez, Diego Castillo and Resly Linares. But the most productive of those signees has been Sanchez, who has hit better than .300 at every stop until a late-season struggle at Double-A Montgomery.
Scouting Report: Sanchez has elite bat speed and excellent hand-eye coordination, which gives him a path to being an above-average hitter with 25-plus home run power. He can drive balls in or out of the zone, which is an asset and weakness, because he swings and connects with pitches he should take. Sanchez’s barrel control keeps him from striking out too much. Unlike many young lefthanded hitters, he has little trouble hitting lefthanders. He consistently posts some of the best exit velocities in the Rays’ system. Sanchez has an odd gait, but he consistently turns in plus run times and is an impressive athlete. Defensively, he should be at least average in right field with an average arm.
The Future: Sanchez will return to Montgomery in 2019. He profiles as an athletic right fielder.
Track Record: Brujan signed for just $15,000, but ever since he’s been one of the best players for every team he’s played on. He served as Bowling Green’s spark plug before performing even better with high Class A Charlotte.
Scouting Report: Brujan is a 70 runner who finished second in the minors with 55 stolen bases. He’s also an average defensive second baseman who has the first-step burst and an above-average arm that leads some scouts to wonder if he could handle shortstop in a pinch. Others believe he could be a plus defender in center field. His internal clock needs to improve. While Brujan has only gap power and doesn’t project to hit more than 5-10 home runs per season, his line-drive swing gives him a chance to hit .300 with high on-base percentages because he works counts and doesn’t chase. His righthanded swing looks nearly identical to his lefthanded stroke, but the consistency of his at-bats and power in his swing are better from the left side.
The Future: The Rays are stacked with promising second basemen, but Brujan’s combination of athleticism and on-base skills is hard to ignore. He will play in the big leagues because of his athleticism, but he has a chance to be much more than just a role player.
Track Record: Lowe has fulfilled area scout Lou Wieben’s conviction that he was one of the best hitters in the 2015 draft. He suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in 2013 and broke his right fibula in 2015, but he has hit ever since getting healthy. Lowe was the Florida State League MVP in 2017 and was even better in his encore, reaching the big leagues in August.
Scouting Report: Lowe is a bat-first second baseman, but he has worked to become an average defender while becoming playable in left and right field, where his above-average speed helps. His fringe-average arm limits him at second, but he has improved his ability to turn the double play and can make the throw from short right field on shifts. Offensively, Lowe gets to plus raw power thanks to a swing with leverage. That leads scouts to believe he’ll hit for above-average power with an average hit tool. His hands work well, allowing him to handle quality fastballs, and he puts together competitive at-bats against same-side pitchers.
The Future: The Rays have emphasized developing second basemen who can hit. Lowe should earn at-bats with the Rays in the outfield and at second base.
Track Record: Once viewed as an organizational player, Lowe transformed himself into a prospect in 2018 after getting into better shape and improving his flexibility in the offseason. He played at three different colleges before joining the Rays as a 13th-round pick in 2016, the same year in which Tampa Bay drafted his brother Josh in the first round.
Scouting Report: Lowe’s improved conditioning wasn’t his only tweak. He simplified and shortened a long swing that had always left him vulnerable to fastballs in. Pitchers soon learned that fastballs that used to tie him up turned into home runs. Lowe had always had good pitch recognition, and he had long been able to hit breaking balls and changeups. Getting more pull-oriented and looser at the plate paid off when he squared up more balls. Lowe has plus power to go with an average hit tool. He has to hit as a first baseman who doesn’t run well and is a below-average defender.
The Future: Lowe has one season on his résumé in which he has produced, but scouts say that his newfound power and improved swing are no flukes. He currently stands behind Jake Bauers on the Rays’ depth chart, but his plus power is alluring.
Background: The Rays found a bargain in Gomez, who quickly emerged as the best player in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2015, the final year for the now-defunct circuit. He led the low Class A Midwest League with 60 extra-base hits and 34 doubles in 2018 as he led Bowling Green to the league title.
Scouting Report: Many evaluators compare Gomez with Marcell Ozuna because they have similar builds and a similar swing path. Gomez has plus power thanks to plenty of strength in his hands and wrists. He has the over-aggressiveness that is often a problem for young hitters. He doesn’t recognize breaking balls out of the hand yet and chases pitches in the dirt too often. But Gomez has the hand-eye coordination to develop into an average hitter. He is an above-average runner, but he likely will slow to average as his body matures. Defensively, Gomez should develop into an average corner outfielder with an average arm. He has a good first step and can run, but he looks lost at times because he hasn’t learned to run to a spot and reacquire the ball.
The Future: Gomez could be an above-average regular if he improves his pitch recognition. He will head to high Class A Charlotte in 2019.
- JJ Cooper
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