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BA Grade: 75. Risk: High Tool Grades: Hit: 80. Power: 60. Run: 50. Fielding: 55. Arm: 50. Track Record: Wander Franco has always been able to hit. He hit .325 in 2019 and managed to lower his career batting average. His .339 average was the best among all Florida State Leaguers with 200 or more plate appearances. He did that while being four years younger than the average FSL hitter and a year younger than anyone else in the league. Franco has always had a knack for being his team’s vocal leader. It’s partly because of his talent, but it’s also because of his high-energy personality. He is exceptionally competitive in whatever he does, and he’s comfortable in the spotlight that has followed him ever since he signed as the No. 1 prospect in the 2017 international amateur class. It helps that he’s part of a baseball family-—his older brothers (both also named Wander) are also minor leaguers, and his uncle is longtime major league shortstop Erick Aybar and his friend and neighbor is Indians infielder Jose Ramirez. Scouting Report: There are hitters with exceptional awareness of the strike zone. There are others who do an excellent job of identifying pitches. There are those who have a knack of controlling the barrel and covering the entire plate. Franco has all of those attributes, plus the ability to drive the ball with power when he make contact. He has some of the best bat-to-ball skills in the minors and an excellent feel for the strike zone. He’s comfortable hitting down in the count because he can spoil pitches. He shows plus-plus raw power from both sides of the plate in batting practice, but in games he hits a large number of stinging ground balls. He’d get to more home runs if he lifted the ball more, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Franco has an excellent internal clock at shortstop with soft, agile hands, but his thicker body gives him little margin for error to remain at the position. His plus arm is enough to allow him to make the play in the hole in part because of a quick release and average range, but if he slows as he matures he’ll have a hard time staying at the position. He projects as an above-average defender at second or third base. The Future: The Rays generally move minor leaguers slowly to ensure they are ready to contribute the day they reach Tropicana Field, but much like Evan Longoria, Franco’s talent has made it hard to keep him on the organization’s typical timetable. He’s ready to head to Double-A as a 19-year-old. He’s only played shortstop so far, but it makes sense for the Rays to begin letting Franco play other infield positions because by the end of 2020 he may be a big league option if the Rays are making another postseason push.
BA Grade: 60. Risk: Medium Tool Grades: Fastball: 60. Curveball: 50. Slider: 50. Cutter: 60. Control: 60. Track Record: McKay finished his time at Louisville as one of the best two-way players in NCAA history. He toyed with Double-A hitters in the first half of 2019, then blitzed through Triple-A Durham and made his major league debut on June 29. McKay was sent back to Triple-A for a couple of resets but was one of just two 2017 draftees to make a postseason roster. Scouting Report: McKay’s success is based around having plus command of solid stuff. None of his pitches is dominant, but his ability to precisely spot all four allows everything to play up, even if only his fastball and cutter are above-average. In the majors, McKay struggled at times to finish off hitters—his fastball is relatively true and his cutter is more of a weak-contact pitch than one to generate whiffs. The changeup is an effective, average pitch against righthanders while his 80-82 mph curve has average depth. The Rays have let McKay continue to work at DH but stopped playing him at first base in 2019. While it is unlikely that McKay will ever be a true two-way player like Shohei Ohtani, his hitting ability helps deepen the Rays bench. He pinch-hit three times in September and homered, going 2-for-3 with two runs and a home run. The Future: McKay should be in the big league rotation in 2020. He profiles as a solid mid-rotation starter who can provide value as a bench bat.
BA Grade: 60. Risk: High Tool Grades: Fastball: 60. Curveball: 60. Slider: 45. Changeup: 55. Control: 55. Track Record: Liberatore was the ace of USA Baseball’s World Cup gold medal-winning 18U team in 2017, but he had to settle for a runner-up finish to friend Nolan Gorman’s team in the Arizona 6A state championship. He was expected to be one of the first prep players off the board but slid to the Rays at pick 16. He’s lived up to expectations so far, though his 2019 was briefly interrupted in August by back spasms. Scouting Report: Liberatore is notably polished for a young 6-foot-6 lefthander. He spots his 91-95 mph fastball well (he can touch 97) and he shuffles between a slider, changeup and curveball that all are at least average now with above-average or plus potential. Liberatore’s best curveballs are plus-plus, high-70s downers with power and depth. His 82-84 mph slider is usually a little slurvy, but he can induce chases when he gets more tilt. He shows feel for his average changeup but uses it less than his breaking stuff. The Future: Like Brendan McKay, Liberatore projects as a polished middle-of-the-rotation lefty. He thrives thanks to a wide assortment of pitches combined with excellent command. He’s about as safe a bet as a teen pitching prospect can be, and his size and smooth delivery give him a high upside as well. The excellent pitching environment of the Florida State League is the next test.
BA Grade: 55. Risk: Medium Tool Grades: Hit: 60. Power: 40. Run: 80. Fielding: 55. Arm: 50. Track Record: Brujan’s stature rarely break the bank on the international amateur market. His $15,000 signing bonus was par for the course for a short middle infielder on the international market, but he’s earned plenty of attention with his speed and his high energy. Scouting Report: Brujan is twitchy and deceptively strong, but it gets hidden at the plate because he hits so many grounders. He’s much better against righthanders. He has a simple, short swing with very little load from both sides. He understands the strike zone and rarely swings and misses. The Rays gave Brujan his first extended exposure to shortstop in 2019, and he showed enough to make himself at least a viable backup option. Brujan has one of the quickest first steps in the organization and his hands work well, but What he doesn’t have is a refined internal clock. his all-out, high-energy style sometimes leads to him rushing on plays where he should slow everything down. His footwork is only adequate. The Future: Brujan’s speed, athleticism and versatility fits the Rays’ love of multi-position regulars. Though he hasn’t yet played center field, Brujan’s athleticism and speed make him a potential fit there, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rays work him there in 2019. His ceiling is as a high-average, on-base-oriented table-setter who runs into 8-10 home runs a year while providing defensive value at multiple spots.
BA Grade: 60. Risk: Very High Tool Grades: Fastball: 70. Curveball: 50. Slider: 70. Changeup: 50. Control: 40. Track Record: Baz battled Hunter Greene for the title of best pure arm in the 2017 high school class, and the Rays pushed hard to make him the third piece in the trade that also imported Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow while sending Chris Archer to the Pirates. Baz was the player to be named in a deal that quickly became a massive win for the Rays. Scouting Report: When the Rays acquired Baz, they helped the righthander shift from a predominantly two-seam fastball/curveball pitcher to a four-seam/slider pitcher, which proved to fit his strengths. Baz’s arm is exceptionally fast—his fastball sits 92-98 mph and can touch 100. That arm speed means he sometimes struggles to keep his arm timed with his lower body and sometimes means he lands jarringly into a stiff front side, but his arm path is clear and he is direct to the plate. With an easier-to-command fastball, Baz went from throwing strikes on 59.5 percent of pitches in 2018 to 61.5 percent in 2019. Baz’s 84-87 mph slider is a plus pitch with a short, tight two-plane break. His changeup ranges between below-average to average. His curveball, a weapon in high school, is now more of a fringy early-count pitch but flashes 12-to-6 depth at its best. Baz is now regularly around the strike zone, but he sporadically spikes a pitch badly. The Future: Baz should at least be an effective fastball/slider reliever, but his strong frame and improvement portends hope that he can remain a starter. He is ready for high Class A Charlotte.
BA Grade: 60. Risk: Very High Tool Grades: Fastball: 60. Curveball: 55. Slider: 55. Changeup: 60. Screwball: 70. Control: 55. Track Record: Honeywell’s father Brent was a pitcher in the Pirates farm system in the 1980s. While he didn’t get to the majors, he did pass on his love of pitching and his screwball to his namesake. The younger Honeywell dominated at every level of the minors and headed into spring training in 2018 battling for a big league job, but he tore his ulnar collateral ligament in a side session. He returned to the mound in spring 2019 after Tommy John surgery but fractured his elbow. His repaired ligament was intact, but the injury forced him out for another season. Scouting Report: Before his two full years of elbow problems, Honeywell was a big league-ready starter with five pitches and was comfortable with using all five. Honeywell was again throwing in the low 90s before his elbow fracture. When healthy he sat 93-95 mph and has touched 99. Honeywell’s plus changeup has enough tumble to get swings and misses. His above-average mid-80s slider has some power and generates swings and misses. His screwball is a plus-plus pitch, in part because it’s something hitters are not used to seeing, but also because of its quality. Pre-injury, he used it only a few times an outing. His curveball is his weakest pitch, but it still flashed average. The Future: Honeywell will likely need a little while to shake off the rust, but if healthy he should pitch in Tampa Bay in 2020. He is unlikely to be ready in spring training but should be back on the mound soon afterward.
BA Grade: 60. Risk: Very High Tool Grades: Fastball: 70. Curveball: 60. Slider: 50. Changeup: 50. Control: 45. Track Record: A Tommy John survivor, McClanahan entered his junior year at South Florida as a candidate to go first overall in the 2018 draft. An erratic spring ruined those hopes, but he was still seen as one of the best arms in that class, albeit one who with reliever risk. He made big strides in body control during 2019. After walking 30 batters in his first 48 innings, he walked 15 over his final 73 innings. Scouting Report: In addition to finding his control, McClanahan refined his changeup while working with high Class A Charlotte pitching coach Doc Watson. His fastball remains a plus-plus marvel. He can sit 93-98 mph and has touched 100. McClanahan explodes off the rubber to get to his velocity, though early in the season his arm struggled to catch up to his lower half. He doesn’t need to rely on only one pitch because he shows excellent feel for spin. His power downer curveball gives him a second plus pitch, though it sometimes morphs into a hard, tilting slider. He started to figure out his changeup in the second half, though he needs to make more strides with the pitch. The Future: The easiest assumption is to expect to see McClanahan turn into an impact reliever. His fastball and breaking balls need little projection for that role. But the improvement he’s made in his control and with his changeup gives the Rays a reason to keep trying him as a starter. He’ll be part of a potent roster at Double-A Montgomery.
BA Grade: 55. Risk: High Tool Grades: Hit: 45. Power: 60. Run: 30. Fielding: 45. Arm: 70. Track Record: Catcher is one of the few thin positions in the Rays’ farm system, which makes Hernandez even more important. An infielder as an amateur, Hernandez quickly took to catching as a pro. He had a breakout season with low Class A Bowling Green in 2018, but offensively he took a step back in 2019, largely because the Florida State League seemed to sap his power. Scouting Report: Hernandez has already filled out and has a relatively mature, physical body. He has plus raw power. His bat speed is average at best and he too often hits pitchers’ pitches, but he has solid bat-to-ball skills to go with his plus power. He will have to work to stay flexible enough to catch. He has tried a variety of setups to better present low pitches and has made improvement in his receiving, game-calling and English. He projects as an average defender with a plus-plus arm—he threw out 39 percent of basestealers in 2019. The Future: Hernandez is expected to be added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. The Rays have generally emphasized receiving over offense over the past decade, but Hernandez has a chance to be a two-way threat behind the plate. If a TrackMan-enforced strike zone ever arrives in the big leagues, he’d been even more valuable. He’s ready to head to Double-A Montgomery.
BA Grade: 55. Risk: High Tool Grades: Fastball: 70. Curveball: 55. Slider: 40. Changeup: 30. Control: 55. Track Record: A 39th-round pick of the Giants out of high school, Ryan went undrafted after an injury-plagued junior year at Cal State Northridge. After a strong summer in the Cape Cod League, he transferred to Division II Cal State Stanislaus for his senior year and impressed enough to become a seventh-round pick. In his first full pro season, Ryan finished second in the minors with 183 strikeouts as he climbed three levels in one season. Scouting Report: While many pitchers have simplified their deliveries and even junked pitching from a windup, Ryan begins with an old-school windup, bringing his arms high above and behind his head. then usually deals an elevated 92-96 mph. He commands the pitch so well that hitters can’t seem to touch it. Ryan’s 2,250-rpm spin rate is merely average, but he hides the ball well and gets good extension. He credits his time skipping the ball in water polo for helping him get so much backspin on his fastball. He has toyed with a curveball, cutter and slider but has yet to find a breaking ball that he can spin consistently. His 83-85 mph changeup, which tunnels well off his fastball, gives him a potentially above-average second pitch. Double-A will be a useful test after dominating Class A with 75 percent fastballs. The Future: The effectiveness of Ryan’s fastball can’t be ignored, but he is going to have to keep improving his changeup or figure out how to spin a breaking ball to keep more experienced hitters from keying on his fastball in his return to Montgomery.
BA Grade: 55. Risk: High Tool Grades: Hit: 40. Power: 60. Run: 60. Fielding: 60. Arm: 60. Track Record: Lowe was an athletic third baseman and pitcher in high school, but the Rays moved him to center field as a pro, wanting to better use his plus speed and range. The brother of Rays first baseman Nate Lowe, Josh is much more athletic but not as bat savvy. The younger Lowe had his best season as a pro, ranking among the top 10 in the Double-A Southern League in a multitude of categories. Lowe also impressed in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .327/.379/.558. Scouting Report: Lowe can run, throw, field and drive the ball. The only question has always been how much he will hit. Lowe’s swing is a bit grooved, and he struggles to stay inside the ball. He aims to drive balls pitches low and on the outer half where he can extend his arms, but if a pitcher comes inside with velocity, he can get tied up. Lowe is a little passive at times at the plate and doesn’t use his legs particularly well. He has made strides and his 27 percent strikeout rate is adequate considering his power potential. The Future: As a plus runner who can play all three outfield positions, Lowe can be a productive big leaguer even if he doesn’t hit for much average. But his lofty ceiling depends on him continuing to make significant strides at the plate. As a lefty hitter who has gotten better against same-side pitchers, he should have a solid floor as a useful part-time outfielder.
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