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Honeywell displays the necessary arrogance to succeed in the major leagues. That confidence was evident in 2017, when he shined as the MVP of the Futures Game and helped guide Durham to the Triple-A national championship. Honeywell has had success at every level while posting a career 2.88 ERA in 79 minor league outings. After two dominant starts at Double-A Montgomery to open 2017, Honeywell made a seamless transition to Triple-A, becoming one of the youngest starters in the International League. He registered a 4.91 ERA in his first 12 starts before making adjustments and logging a 2.35 ERA in his final dozen starts. The lone negative was a four-game suspension imposed by the Rays in August for “disciplinary reasons.” Honeywell mixes five pitches with precision to keep hitters off balance. He works off his plus fastball that sits 93-94 mph and touches 97, and he features solid movement and above-average command. His best secondary pitch is a plus changeup, which coaxes hitters to chase outside the strike zone on occasion. He throws his above-average curveball primarily early in counts to set hitters up while altering their eye level. His above-average slider resides in the mid-80s and is developing into a plus pitch with improving sharp break. Honeywell also throws a screwball, which earned him some recognition early in his career. He pulls the plus offering out of his bag a few times a game, and more often than not, the results are devastating. Honeywell is a cerebral pitcher who knows how to get opponents out, and he's never afraid to challenge batters. A driven and determined young man, Honeywell understands the need to make adjustments. He did just that over the course of 2017, improving the consistency of his release point and generating better extension. Even though Honeywell may have ruffled some feathers with a series of September tweets in which he referenced less-accomplished players who earned promotions to the big leagues while he remained with Durham, the fact is he would have already made his big league debut in many other organizations. The Rays, however, tend to move pitchers slowly. Many scouts project Honeywell as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter, while others envision him developing into a true ace.
Adames made the jump to Triple-A Durham in 2017 and looked every bit the top prospect he showed at Double-A the year before. Ranked as the International League's fifth-best prospect, the Dominican shortstop struggled to a .230/.309/.344 slash through May before making a stance adjustment and rebounded to hit .303/.389/.455 over the final three months. Adames has been considered a premier defensive shortstop since the Rays acquired him for his projectable body and mature approach in the David Price trade with the Tigers in 2014. His arm strength has increased over the past two seasons, and he displays excellent first-step quickness, plus range and soft hands. He's an ideal No. 2 hitter, and his bat has developed with his loose and easy swing. He narrowed his stance in 2017 to stay short to the ball and prevent over-striding. He has a solid feel for the strike zone, sees the ball early, and drives pitches consistently with some pop at the plate. Adames is an average runner with good instincts. The Rays acquired Adeiny Hechavarria in 2017 as a placeholder because the organization did not want to rush Adames, who proceeded to win an International League title and the Triple-A Championship at Durham. With his tutelage nearly complete, Adames is in position to take over as the Rays starting shortstop in 2018.
McKay was drafted fourth overall and signed for $7.005 million. He promptly went out and ranked as the top prospect in the short-season New York-Penn League after signing. The Rays envision the two-way standout pursuing both pitching and hitting for the foreseeable future. McKay has a simple, sound swing that generates live drives to all fields. He adds above-average raw power that could generate 20-plus home runs as he adds more loft to his swing. McKay worked on incorporating his lower half at the plate during instructional league to get to that power, which should help him generate even harder contact over time. While his footwork at first base is solid, he needs reps at the position. On the mound, McKay commands a fastball that sat 92-94 mph while pitching on Sundays at Hudson Valley. His heater has excellent late movement, making it difficult for batters to barrel. He mixes his fastball with a hard cutter that he developed late in college and a slurvy slider that complements and is his distinct third offering. The Rays will allow McKay to play both ways until the dual responsibility becomes too much. McKay is determined to make the most of the rare opportunity to play both ways, and is supremely confident that he'll succeed. He will likely open 2018 at low Class A Bowling Green, but could move quickly once he starts building a foundation in pro ball.
Acquired from the Padres as part of the three-team deal that sent Wil Myers to the Padres, Bauers spent all of 2017 as one of the youngest players in Triple-A at age 21, and ranked as the IL's ninth-best prospect. He showed just fine against older competition, posting a .780 OPS. Bauers has the makings of a younger version of Joey Votto. He has a pure stroke from the left side and an advanced approach that led to 78 walks in 2017, good for second in the International League. His willingness to wait for his pitch and ability to barrel the ball with his superior hand-eye coordination leads to a high on-base percentage. Bauers' solid-average bat speed generates raw power, but it has not shown consistently in game action. Scouts believe that he will generate plenty of extra-base hits to contribute as a first baseman in the big leagues. Bauers runs well and is intelligent on the bases. Despite seeing action as a corner outfielder, he's much more effective at first base, where he displays quick feet, soft hands and a solid overall feel for the position. Much like Willy Adames at shortstop, Bauers is the Rays' long-term answer at first base. The organization traded Casey Gillaspie during the year and shifted Bauers back to his natural position, which is where he'll have a chance to earn the starting job at the big league level in 2018.
Sanchez continued his emergence by challenging for the low Class A Midwest League batting crown (.305), ranking as the league's seventh-best prospect, and receiving Bowling Green's player of the year award in 2017. Originally signed for $400,000 in 2014, Sanchez has shown the ability to perform every aspect of the game at a young age. As a 19-year-old in the MWL, Sanchez displayed excellent hand-eye coordination that led to hard and consistent contact, while limiting his strikeout rate to 18 percent. He has a smooth and easy, whip-like swing from the left side and quick wrists that allow him to hit velocity and adjust to offspeed pitches. Most of his power has come when he pulls the ball, but given his age and raw strength, Sanchez should be a run producer at higher levels. His greatest need centers on gaining consistency with his leg kick so as not to drift on his front side. He also needs to improve his overall pitch selection to take full advantage of his high contact rate. Sanchez has a long running stride that generates above-average speed once he gets moving. He moved from center field to left in 2017 and has the range and arm strength to be above-average at the position. The Rays believe that Sanchez has the ability to be a long-term solution in left field, but needs time to get there. He will make the jump to High A Charlotte in 2018.
Franco's uncle is veteran big league shortstop Erick Aybar, and his two older brothers--both named Wander--play in the Royals and Astros systems. After training with Rudy Santin in the Dominican Republic, Franco, ranked the No. 1 international prospect for 2017, signed with the Rays for $3.825 million, which was the largest bonus in his signing class. A switch-hitter with excellent bat speed from both sides, Franco has a short, pure stroke and keeps the barrel in the zone for an extended time. He shows good strike-zone discipline and advanced pitch recognition, and uses the entire field while making consistent contact. His raw power comes from his strong lower half, and he could generate impressive extra-base numbers as his body matures. Franco needs to learn the nuances of playing shortstop and hitting against premier pitching on a daily basis. Physically mature for his age, he possesses soft, quick hands and excellent first-step quickness. His arm is solid-average and could improve. He has the fluid actions that would allow him to play second base if his body or team needs necessitate a move. Given his advanced feel and ability to drive the ball at a young age, Franco may leap to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2018. His bat could allow him to move faster through the system than most, but the Rays feel no need to rush him and want him to build a solid foundation at every level.
A native of the Bahamas who played high school baseball in Florida, Fox returned to the island nation and was declared an international free agent in 2015. He signed with the Giants as an 18-year-old for $6 million, the largest bonus ever for a non-Cuban international amateur. After a rough first season in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2016, due in part to a foot injury, Fox was traded to the Rays in the Matt Moore deal. Fox is a natural athlete with plus-plus speed who is honing his all-around skills. He has a solid, line-drive swing from both sides of the plate, with the mindset to be a prototypical leadoff man. He possesses decent raw power and can drive the ball on occasion, but his game is built on getting on base and creating havoc. Fox needs to stay short to the ball and improve his strike-zone judgment. He's learning to read pitchers to get better jumps when stealing bases. Fox has excellent range, quick hands and good arm strength at shortstop, but he needs to play lower and through the ball while increasing his release when needed. Fox earned a late promotion to high Class A Charlotte in 2017 and will likely return to the Florida State League in 2018. He remains raw but has the tools to project as an everyday big leaguer.
The D-backs traded Williams to the Rays in the 2014 Jeremy Hellickson deal, and he's proven himself a potent hitter during his time in Tampa Bay's system. Williams spent all of the 2017 regular season in the Southern League, where he was tabbed the league's 16th-best prospect, despite battling minor injuries that led to him missing most of May. Despite his brief absence, Williams still finished among the league leaders in multiple offensive categories and was then called up to Triple-A Durham for the International League playoffs. Williams has a line-drive stroke and uses the entire field, which helped him finish fourth in the SL batting race in 2017. He manages the strike zone well and makes consistent contact, thanks to improving pitch recognition. He hits lots of ground balls but has made progress in lofting the ball more often. Sanchez showed his above-average raw power late in 2017, when he hit eight homers in August, including three in one game. Williams turns on inside pitches well but struggles to cover the outside part of the plate. He has made strides as a defensive right fielder, particularly with his first step and reading balls off the bat. He's a fringe-average runner with solid-average arm strength featuring good accuracy and carry. Williams is another potential solid piece to the Rays' youth movement at the major league level. Whether or not he continues to tap into his power will determine whether he can become a starting corner outfielder in the big leagues. Triple-A Durham awaits in 2018.
The 13th overall pick in 2015, Whitley impressed the Rays with his tools, headlined by raw power and speed. Tampa Bay made him the highest high school pick out of New York state since the Indians took Manny Ramirez in 1991. The organization expected his inexperience against top competition to affect his early progress, but they loved the way he rebounded from an 11-for-60 slow start at low Class A Bowling Green in 2017. After hitting .183 with one home run in April, Whitley batted .262 with an .827 OPS the rest of the way. Whitley possesses plus bat speed that led to 35 extra-base hits in his first taste of a full-season league. He feasts on fastballs and makes hard contact against premium velocity. Curveballs provide more of a challenge, with Whitley prone to getting fooled and chasing pitches outside the strike zone and creating a high swing-and-miss rate. He struck out 29 percent of the time in 2017, but scouts believe game experience will reduce that total. He's a plus-plus runner who was thrown out just four times in 25 steal attempts, even though he's still learning to read pitchers. He's a consistent defender in center field who covers the gaps well and has above-average arm strength. Whitley is still a work in progress as he continues to improve his pitch recognition and pitch selection. His next challenge will come at high Class A Charlotte in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League to start 2018.
Franklin is one of the Rays' more underrated young pitchers with a high ceiling. He emerged as a high school senior in 2016 when he threw a pair of no-hitters and helped guide Paxton (Fla.) High to a district championship after his fastball velocity increased to the low 90s and touched 95 mph. The Rays drafted him in the third round and signed him for $597,500. Franklin bypassed Samford to sign with the Rays as a third-round pick, and has continued to hone his skills in pro ball while being moved conservatively through the system. He has a strong, athletic build and a short, easy arm action. He gets good downward trajectory with his heavy fastball that could add a little velocity as his body matures. While he works off his low-90s fastball, his best pitch is a hard, 11-to-5 curveball with a pronounced drop. His changeup has the potential to be above-average, and he's working on making the delivery of his offspeed pitches mirror that of his heater to create more deception. Franklin's greatest need centers on improving his fastball command and working ahead in the count. Franklin has the makings of a mid-rotation starter and should graduate to the full-season ranks at low Class A Bowling Green in 2018.
The Rays double-dipped with the Lowe family during the 2016 draft, taking Josh out of high school with the 13th overall pick and his older brother Nathan in the 13th round out of Mississippi State. A two-way player who was projected to pitch and hit at Florida State, Josh had a promising pro debut, ranking as the eighth-best prospect in the Gulf Coast League and the 11th-best in the Appalachian League in 2016. Shaky defensively at third base, he moved to center field during instructional league and remained there in the low Class A Midwest League, where he struggled early before rebounding to hit .294/.355/.413 after the All-Star break. Lowe is an excellent all-around athlete who generates plus speed as a long-strider. He adjusted well in the outfield and possesses plus arm strength, but needs work on going back on balls hit over his head, as well as on the accuracy of his throws. He has excellent bat speed with quick hands and the potential to hit for power. He tends to swing and miss due to his long arms and needs to find a direct path to the ball while also improving his overall plate coverage. Lowe is young and a work in progress. He'll move to high Class A Charlotte in 2018.
A former infielder who played on Colombia's 18U World Cup team as a 15-year-old in 2013, Hernandez signed for $225,000 and moved behind the plate with the Rays. He emerged as a legitimate dual-threat receiver in 2017 at Rookie-level Princeton after battling a groin injury for two years in the Dominican Summer League. Hernandez ranked as the Appalachian League's fourth-best prospect and finished among the leaders in hits (third), doubles (second) and slugging percentage (fifth). He also paced the Rays system in batting average (.332). Hernandez has an easy swing and good barrel control despite possessing a bat wrap. He makes hard contact thanks to his quick wrists and strong forearms. Aggressive with above-average power potential, he needs to create a shorter path to inside pitches. Scouts are surprised to discover Hernandez's limited experience behind the dish based on his ability. He has plus-plus arm strength that led to him throwing out 57 percent of would-be basestealers last season. Hernandez does a solid job blocking balls in the dirt, but showed signs of tiring late in the season. He has made strides learning English. Hernandez is on an upward trajectory that could see him emerge as one of the organization's premier prospects. He is in line to open 2018 as the starting catcher at low Class A Bowling Green.
Mercado was one of the most polished and projectable high school pitchers in the 2017 draft, signing for an above-slot $2.132 million bonus to pass up a commitment to Stanford as the 40th overall pick. Scouts rave about Mercado's control for such a young pitcher. In high school, his four-seam fastball increased to the low 90s during his senior year and touched 94. His two-seam fastball sits in the 87-89 mph range and generates ground balls. He mixes in a sharp curveball that flashes plus potential, as well as a solid-average cutter/slider, and is working on adding a circle changeup that he still lacks confidence in. Tall, thin and gangly, Mercado is more coordinated than he would appear, and repeats his delivery well. He needs to keep building strength, which could increase his velocity. He also needs to incorporate his lower half more consistently, and finish each pitch to get as much movement as possible and reduce the chance of injury. The Rays tend to move their high school pitchers slowly, and Mercado is a candidate for that track. A potential middle-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues, Mercado could see low Class A Bowling Green at some point in 2018.
In his four seasons with the Rays, Cabrera has made tremendous strides with his pitchability while maintaining one of the more electric arms in the organization. A 2016 all-star in the Midwest League at age 19, Cabrera made the jump from high Class A Charlotte to Double-A Montgomery midway through the 2017 campaign. He opened the season trying to overpower hitters, and allowed 10 earned runs on seven hits and six walks in his first two starts, totaling five innings. His fastball touched 97 mph, but he had no command of the pitch. Tampa Bay's pitching coaches convinced the southpaw his heater had enough movement at a lower velocity, and he proceeded to rediscover his command while sitting in the 92-93 mph range. He also added a nasty cutter in the upper 80s, as well as a changeup with improving fade and depth, giving him the potential for three above-average offerings. Cabrera could emerge as a starter or setup man once he adds more strength to his wiry frame.
Some people were scratching their heads–including many in the Rays clubhouse–when at the trade deadline the Rays sent infielder Tim Beckham to the Orioles for a minor league pitcher who had yet to reach the full-season ranks. Myers showed many of the traits that interested the Rays prior to the 2015 draft. A two-way player in high school who signed for $225,000 as a sixth-round pick, Myers is an excellent athlete with a loose and easy arm action. He understands how to pitch, possesses outstanding control, and has shown the ability to make quick adjustments during his short time in pro ball. His fastball now resides at 93-96 mph with solid movement, after sitting around 90 mph in high school. His plus curveball has a sharp drop, and he mixes it well with his fastball. He displays an impressive feel for his changeup, but needs to develop it more to remain a starter. The Rays are working with Myers to find a consistent alignment in his stride with his landing foot. He also needs to control the running game more effectively, which should occur as he gets his mechanics in order. The Rays believe Myers has the ability to develop into a solid major league starter or a significant bullpen piece. He's expected to make the move to the full-season ranks at low Class A Bowling Green in 2018.
Lowe blossomed in 2017 when he was named the Florida State League most valuable player and the Rays' minor league player of the year. He led the FSL with a .524 slugging percentage and tied for first with 34 doubles despite spending the last month of the season in Double-A. He also established high Class A Charlotte's single-season franchise record for slugging and OPS. An effective offensive player throughout his college career at Maryland due to his pitch recognition, disciplined approach and ability to work the count, Lowe increased his power in 2017 after shifting his hands away from his body during his setup. He has above-average bat speed with solid power and attacks pitches in the strike zone with his short, quick compact swing. An average runner who runs the bases intelligently, Lowe has cleaned up his pivot in turning double plays on defense, but needs to upgrade his footwork in order to improve his range. His arm strength is fringe-average, but shouldn't be a problem at the keystone. With second base becoming more of an offensive position, Lowe fits the mold well. He'll likely open 2018 back at Montgomery, with an in-season promotion to Triple-A Durham a possibility.
McCarthy went undrafted out of his Pennsylvania high school but emerged as an offensive force during his first two years for a Virginia team that finished as the runner-up in the 2014 College World Series. A back injury that required surgery limited his effectiveness as a junior. McCarthy led the Southern League in walks and triples, and was among the top four in on-base percentage, doubles and runs. McCarthy is an intelligent player with plus makeup and a tremendous eye at the plate who works the count, allowing him to get on base consistently. He has a compact swing with solid-average raw power to the pull side, but his game is centered more on hitting line drives while using the entire field. McCarthy has above-average speed and plays the outfield corners well, but his fringy arm strength is suited best for left. He also has seen time at first base. McCarthy has the offensive game to be a starting outfielder in the big leagues but could settle into a utility role as well. He is scheduled to open 2018 at Triple-A Durham.
Selected in the 22nd round by the Red Sox out of a Minnesota high school in 2013, Boldt instead spent three seasons at Nebraska and became the highest-drafted Cornhusker position player since Alex Gordon in 2005. He was drafted in the second round and skipped over low Class A in his first full season. Boldt more than held his own, hitting .295 with 33 extra-base hits and 23 stolen bases despite missing 20 games. Boldt spent most of his time in right field in 2017, but has seen activity in all three outfield spots since signing with the Rays. He has a solid-average arm with good carry and above-average accuracy. Amazingly, he threw lefthanded prior to fracturing his left elbow on a throw at age 11 and now throws righthanded. Boldt has above-average speed that plays well in the field and on the basepaths. Some scouts suggest that he should hit for more power than he has due to his athletic and physical frame, but the Rays feel that his production will increase with experience. He employs a level swing and uses the entire field. Given his solid all-around ability, Boldt could develop into a starter in the big leagues. He'll make the jump to Double-A Montgomery in 2018.
Strotman was primarily a reliever at St. Mary's, but made seven of his 14 career starts in 2017 and overall went 6-1, 4.50, with a team-high 75 strikeouts in 67 innings. The Rays drafted him in the third round and signed him for $367,500. Strotman had one of the best pro debuts of any Rays pick. Strotman has a lean, athletic frame and a fast arm. His four-seam fastball sits at 93-95 mph and touches 98. He has a sharp slider that flashes the ability to be a plus offering, but needs more consistency in finding the strike zone. Strotman also has the potential for a solid-average changeup, and is working on generating more depth while finding a comfortable grip. The righthander does an excellent job of working down in the strike zone, resulting in grounders on 58.6 percent of balls put in play. His delivery also possesses some deception, which led to 23 of his 51 strikeouts in West Coast Conference play coming on called third strikes. Strotman's role at the major league level projects as a setup man, but the Rays will continue to get him innings as a starter in the Class A ranks in 2018.
Brujan hails from the forests of the Dominican Republic, and has blossomed quickly into a solid prospect with his quick-twitch athleticism. Signed for just $15,000, the switch-hitting Brujan is developing into the quintessential leadoff man. He led the short-season New York-Penn League in hits, runs and total bases, and ranked fifth in steals in 2017. Brujan also served as a key ingredient in Hudson Valley's NYPL championship. Brujan possesses excellent pitch recognition, solid strike zone discipline, and superior hand-eye coordination. He ranked as the second-toughest player to strike out in the NYPL, whiffing once every 8.4 plate appearances, and had nearly as many walks (34) as strikeouts (36). Among the fastest runners in the organization, Brujan is efficient getting on base and creating havoc, but is working on improving his ability to read pitcher's moves in order to get better jumps. He also needs to improve his bunting technique to make his speed a greater weapon. The Rays also want him to work on his pre-pitch footwork to maintain proper balance at contact. He has excellent range at second base and solid instincts with average arm strength. The Rays feel that he could handle center field should the need arise. After ranking as the fifth-best prospect in the NYPL in 2017, Brujan should continue to mature physically and emotionally as he moves up to low Class A Bowling Green.
Ciuffo's steady and methodical climb through the minors since he was the 21st overall selection in the 2013 draft continued at Montgomery in 2017, his first season in Double-A. He has been named the organization's defensive player of the year in each of the past two seasons. Ciuffo displays soft hands, moves well behind the plate, and works exceptionally well with pitchers. He threw out 38 percent of basestealers after nailing 59 percent in 2016. He has well-above-average arm strength with a quick release and accuracy. He also possesses above-average receiving skills, displaying good footwork with the ability to block pitches and frame the ball well. Drafted with an eye on his lefthanded bat, Ciuffo's offensive production has lagged behind his defense, but he continues to show power potential in batting practice with above-average bat speed. He uses an up-the-middle approach, and could hit for some power as he sharpens his ability to drive the ball. Ciuffo was left off of the 40-man roster and went unpicked in the Rule 5 draft. He has a chance to be starting catcher in the big leagues if his bat develops. A full season at Triple-A Durham awaits in 2018.
Players rarely develop the way Cronenworth has in his first three seasons in the Rays system. In college, he served as a closer and filled in as a starting pitcher for Michigan, in addition to playing first and second base. Many teams saw him as a reliever in pro ball, he has moved to shortstop. An intense player who also excelled in hockey in high school, the smart and savvy Cronenworth is a natural leader with a grinder mentality. He bounced back from a tough second half of 2016 by opening 2017 with a 22-game hitting streak. His offense is ahead of his defense. He has an upright, smooth swing with a good eye at the plate, and he exudes confidence in the box with a sound approach. Cronenworth drives the ball well with his line-drive stroke, does a good job getting on base, and does the little things such as moving runners over. He also cleaned up his defense and improved his arm stroke while further distancing himself from pitching. Cronenworth has the tool set to contribute in a variety of ways. He'll likely open the 2018 season back at Montgomery, but could see Triple-A Durham and even Tropicana Field later in the year.
After entering the 2017 campaign as one of the more unheralded hurlers in the Rays system, Chirinos was tabbed the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year after going a combined 13-5, 2.73 between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham. Signed as an 18-year-old for just $10,000 out of Venezuela, Chirinos took a big step in 2015 by pitching at three levels in the minors, and continued his ascent over the last two years. He has learned to trust his stuff by pitching to contact, while pounding the lower half of the strike zone to generate ground balls. He throws four-seam and two-seam fastballs, with the former displaying excellent cutting action. His changeup has solid fade when he throws it correctly, but he can be inconsistent with his feel for the pitch. The biggest improvement has been Chirinos' low-to-mid 80s slider that resembles his fastball before tailing away to righthanded batters. Chirinos is not a power pitcher like many of the organization's top prospects, but he has among the best command in the system. He could compete for a spot in the Rays' rotation as soon as the 2018 season. A swingman role is also a distinct possibility.
Linares joins Austin Franklin as the top young Rays pitchers on the verge of taking their prospect status to another level. After the Rays uncharacteristically had him skip the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2016, shortly after signing with Tampa Bay for $275,000 out of the Dominican Republic, Linares excelled in the short-season New York-Penn League last year, limiting hitters to a league-low .171 average. Linares has a lightning-quick arm with clean mechanics and a repeatable delivery. Featuring an athletic build with plenty of room to add strength to his wiry frame, he possesses solid command of his 89-91 mph fastball and tight curveball that features a hard, late break. His changeup is promising, but he needs to soften the pitch by increasing the depth. Only 20, Linares is learning how to focus on every pitch while discovering how to break down hitters. Those traits should improve as he matures mentally and physically, which makes his potential so intriguing. Linares is projected to graduate to the full-season ranks in 2018 at low Class A Bowling Green.
The baseball world believed that the Rays acquired a possible mid-rotation starter when they landed De Leon from the Dodgers for second baseman Logan Forsythe after the 2016 season. De Leon, however, struggled with injuries throughout the campaign, including three separate stints on the disabled list, beginning with a flexor issue in his right forearm and later a lat strain after being a late addition to Puerto Rico's WBC team. Although he did throw 2.2 innings for Tampa Bay on May 29 when the big league team was short on pitching, De Leon bounced between Triple-A Durham as well as the Florida State and Gulf Coast leagues, accumulating only 38.1 innings in the process. His inability to get on track in 2017 overshadowed De Leon's potential. He possesses a swing-and-miss arsenal that includes a low-to-mid 90s fastball with late movement, but at times was down to 86-90 mph in 2017. He mixes his heater with a changeup that keeps hitters from both sides of the plate off-balance. His slider also flashes above-average potential, particularly against righthanded hitters. The Rays hope that De Leon is able to open the 2018 season in the Triple-A rotation.
A Mariners senior sign, Yarbrough was sent to the Rays in the Drew Smyly trade. An intelligent pitcher who stays ahead in the count by commanding the strike zone, Yarbrough led the International League in strikeouts. He averaged 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings and walked 2.17 batters per nine, the fifth-best mark on the circuit. Yarbrough uses his 6-foot-5 frame to his advantage by throwing on a downhill plane to generate ground balls with his sinking 87-91 mph fastball. His plus changeup has outstanding deception. He continues to improve the consistency and bite of his slider while staying low in the zone. Yarbrough is tough on lefthanded hitters, limiting them to a .217/.278/.343 slash line. Yabrough's knocking on the door of the big leagues, where he could contribute as a swingman or situational reliever in 2018.
After three early-season starts, Hu received his first taste of the big leagues in 2017 as a reliever, and remained in the bullpen for the rest of the season. The Rays have liked the resilient Taiwanese righthander since acquiring him from the Twins in 2015 in the Kevin Jepsen deal. Hu sits 92-93 mph and can touch the mid 90s with his fastball in short stretches. He also features a deep repertoire that few bullpen arms can equal. His above-average changeup has outstanding late depth and is equally effective against righthanded and lefthanded hitters. He also mixes an overhand curveball, a cutter and a palmball that serves as a slower version of his changeup. With a stocky build and the stamina and willingness to be a workhorse as a multi-inning reliever Hu can give the Rays' bullpen some consistency over the course of the season, beginning as soon as 2018.
Schultz was on the verge of contributing at the major league level in 2017 before a groin injury suffered in his initial outing of the regular season ruined his year. Undersized for a righthander, Schultz generates pure power with a 94-95 mph fastball that flirts with the upper-90s and possesses hard armside run. He also has a plus swing-and-miss curveball that he throws from different arm slots while generating sharp, late movement. His changeup is solid average, and he uses it primarily as a show pitch. Both command and control are Schultz's greatest shortcomings, although he displayed improvement in those areas when healthy. He projects favorably as a big league reliever who could possibly close if he continues to improve his control.
Castillo has moved rapidly through the Rays organization since signing for $64,000 out of the Dominican Republic as a 20-year-old in 2014. He has received in-season promotions in each of the past three campaigns, and parlayed a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League in 2016 into stints at Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham in 2017. In 71.2 combined innings, the chunky, hard-throwing righthander went 15-for-18 in save opportunities, including saves in both the Governors' Cup-clinching victory and the Triple-A national championship game. Castillo is a classic fastball/slider, high-effort reliever who has touched 101 mph with his four-seamer. He generates a lot of ground balls but tends to give up a fair number of hits when hitters start making contact. Castillo has good overall control and command, but gets in trouble when he overthrows, reducing the movement on his pitches. Despite his late-season success as a closer, Castillo profiles better as a high-leverage reliever. He will compete for a job in the Rays bullpen in 2018.
Gibaut spent the final four months of last year as a dominant force in Double-A Montgomery's bullpen. A closer throughout his three-year stint at Tulane, Gibaut saved 10 of 15 opportunities with the Biscuits, but profiles more as a setup man at the major league level. Gibaut throws a fastball, slider and changeup, with his four-seamer sitting in the mid-90s and touching 97 mph. His power slider has a chance to be a difference-maker, but he's not consistent enough with the pitch to keep hitters from sitting on his fastball. His changeup, meanwhile, is nasty when he throws it correctly, and it works well in keeping hitters off-balance. Gibaut is equally dominant against righthanded and lefthanded batters, but lacks command and has struggled to find a consistent alignment in his stride with his landing foot. He also tends to leave pitches up in the strike zone. Gibault will open 2018 at Triple-A Durham with a chance to make his big league debut during the year.
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