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Top talent takes a step closer to Tampa.
The Rays rode a talented, young Durham team to the Triple-A national championship. Led by righthander Brent Honeywell, shortstop Willy Adames, first baseman Jake Bauers and—in the playoffs—outfielder Justin Williams, Tampa Bay is swimming in near big league-ready talent.
The Rays’ pitching pipeline has delivered an entire rotation to the big leagues—including Blake Snell, Jacob Faria and German Marquez (albeit to the Rockies) in the past two seasons—but outside of Honeywell, the organization lacks rotation arms on the immediate horizon. Catching also remains a weak link in the organization after 2013 first-rounder Nick Ciuffo failed to make the 40-man roster (and is thus Rule 5 draft eligible) and 2010 first-rounder Justin O’Conner qualified as a minor league free agent.
Notable Graduations: Jacob Faria (8) made 14 starts, while SS Daniel Robertson (15) started games at three infield positions.
Track Record: Honeywell displays the necessary arrogance to succeed in the major leagues. That confidence was evident in 2017, when he shined as the MVP in the Futures Game and helped guide Durham to the Triple-A national championship. Honeywell has had success at every level and has ranked among the top prospects in every league in which he has pitched, 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 (due primarily to two subpar outings) before making adjustments in his final dozen turns, when he logged a 2.35 ERA. Scouting Report: Honeywell mixes five pitches--count 'em, five!--with precision to keep hitters off balance. He works off his plus fastball that sits 92-93 mph and touches 96, 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 its 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 getting better extension on his fastball. The Future: 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 that he would have already made his big league debut in many other organizations. The Rays, however, tend to move pitchers slowly. Many scouts project him as a No. 2 starter, while others envision him developing into a true ace.
Track Record: Adames made the jump to Triple-A Durham in 2017 and looked every bit the prospect he showed at Double-A the year before. The shortstop struggled with a slash line of .230/.309/.344 through May before rebounding to hit .303/.389/.455 over the final three months. Scouting Report: 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. Very coachable with a great work ethic, he is an average runner with good instincts. The Future: The Rays acquired Adeiny Hechavarria in 2017 as a placeholder because the organization did not want to rush Adames. With his tutelage nearly complete, Adames will be Tampa Bay's starting shortstop in 2018.
Track Record: A three-time All-American at Louisville and the 2017 College Player of the Year, McKay was drafted fourth overall and ranked as the top prospect in the short-season New York-Penn League. The Rays envision the two-way standout pursuing both pitching and hitting for the foreseeable future. Scouting Report: 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 should he add more loft to his swing. McKay worked on incorporating his lower half at the plate during instructional league. 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 and a slurvy slider that complements the other two offerings. The Future: McKay is determined to make the most of the rare opportunity to play both ways. He will likely open 2018 at low Class A Bowling Green.
Track Record: Acquired from the Padres as part of the three-team deal that sent Wil Meyers to the Padres, Bauers spent all of 2017 as one of the youngest players (21) in Triple-A. Scouting Report: Bauers 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. The Future: Much like Willy Adames at shortstop, Bauers is the Rays' long-term answer at first base. The organization traded Casey Gillaspie and shifted Bauers back to his natural position, which is where he'll have a chance to earn the starting job in 2018.
Track Record: Sanchez continued his emergence by challenging for the low Class A Midwest League batting crown (.305) and receiving Bowling Green's player of the year award in 2017. Scouting Report: Sanchez has shown the ability to perform every aspect of the game at a young age. As a 19-year-old in the MWL, he displayed excellent hand-eye coordination that led to hard and consistent contact, while limiting his strikeouts to 18 percent of the time. 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 the front side. He also needs to improve his overall pitch selection. 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 Future: The Rays believe that Sanchez has the ability to be a long-term solution in left field.
Track Record: 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. The No. 1 international prospect for 2017, the 16-year-old signed for $3.825 million, the largest bonus in his signing class. Scouting Report: 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. 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. The Future: 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.
Track Record: 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. Scouting Report: 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 prototype leadoff man. He possesses decent raw power and can drive the ball on occasion. 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. The Future: 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 be an impact big leaguer.
Track Record: The D-backs traded Williams to Tampa Bay in the 2014 Jeremy Hellickson deal. He reached Double-A Montgomery for the final month of 2016 then spent all of 2017 in the Southern League, where he battled minor injuries that led to his missing most of May. Scouting Report: 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. He 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 in reading balls off the bat. He's a fringe-average runner with solid-average arm strength featuring good accuracy and carry. The Future: Williams is another potential solid piece to the Rays' youth movement at the major league level. A promotion to Triple-A Durham awaits in 2018.
Track Record: The 13th overall pick in 2015, Whitley impressed the Rays with his tools, headlined by raw power and speed. The organization expected his inexperience against top competition to affect his early progress, but they loved the way he rebounded from slow start at low Class A Bowling Green in 2017 to hit .262 with power the rest of the way. Scouting Report: 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 chasing outside the zone, 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. The Future: Whitley is still a work in progress as he continues to improve his pitch recognition and pitch selection. He will remain challenged in 2018 at high Class A Charlotte in the Florida State League.
Track Record: 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. He has continued to hone his skills in pro ball while being moved conservatively through the system. Scouting Report: Franklin 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, after averaging 4.0 walks per nine innings at short-season Hudson Valley in 2017. The Future: 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.
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