Scouting the opposition: AL East top 20 prospects

Hak-Ju Lee swinging a good bat would be big for the Rays - Leon Halip

With a lot of young talent in the minors, the AL East is poised to be very competitive for a while

After spending the entire off-season focusing on the Rays, a comparison to the rest of the division is in order. Because of the handicap the Rays have competing financially with the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays, as we all know, they must excel in scouting and player development to produce their own talent.

I made a quick top 20 prospect list from the AL East. I made aggregate team lists using Baseball America's, Baseball Prospectus' (Rays list is free), and Keith Law's (ESPN, $) lists, and to place them on the overall list, I compared the five remaining top players in each organization. After the list, I rank the five organizations and offer a brief "state of the farm" for each.

1. Xander Bogaerts, SS (Boston) - This wasn't a particularly difficult choice. Bogaerts could have the bat to hit in the middle of a lineup, and his defense has improved in recent years, giving him a much better chance to stay at shortstop. I don't know if there's a source out there that doesn't have him as a top three prospect in baseball.

2. Kevin Gausman, RHP (Baltimore) - Gausman barely retains prospect eligibility after logging 47.2 big league innings in 2013. For a prospect, he has the ideal combination of a high ceiling and big league readiness. With top notch fastball velocity, a great changeup and improving breaking ball, he's one of the top arms in the minors.

3. Dylan Bundy, RHP (Baltimore) - After missing a year because of elbow surgery, it's almost easy to forget how quickly Bundy ascended through the minors. He has great stuff, pitchability, and the work ethic needed to come back from his injury. He could be a big factor down the stretch in a tight AL East race.

4. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF (Boston) - Bradley's brief stint as Boston's starting center fielder last year wasn't good, but despite a strong big league spring training, he wasn't ready. Next time, I think he'll be up for good as a very good leadoff hitter and defensive outfielder.

5. Aaron Sanchez, RHP (Toronto) - Sanchez has tremendous stuff, but so far in his professional career, he's had trouble utilizing it. Throwing consistent strikes has never been a strength, but recent mechanical problems exacerbated the issue. The in-game results have to start coming soon.

6. Marcus Stroman, RHP (Toronto) - Because of his height, most of the talk surrounding Stroman's career has focused on when he'll be moving to the bullpen. In 2013, he proved that it doesn't matter that much because his stuff is so good.

7. Gary Sanchez, C (New York) - Sanchez has a potential impact bat at an up-the-middle position, but the chance of him reaching his ceiling may be slimming. His biggest hurdle is improving his poor defense, and that's a pretty big hurdle with his low effort approach to the game.

8. Henry Owens, LHP (Boston) - Owens has already reached Double-A after being drafted in 2011, and he's not far away from reaching the majors. The big lefty has seen his velocity improve since he was an amateur, and that'll make his impressive changeup an even better weapon.

9. Garin Cecchini, 3B (Boston) - In what is likely the only correct thing I've ever analyzed on the internet, I had Cecchini on my top 100 list last year before his breakout season that got him more attention on the national scene.

10. Jake Odorizzi, RHP (Tampa Bay) - We finally arrive at our first Ray on the list. Odorizzi's ceiling is actually likely one of the lowest on this list, but who couldn't use an ML ready arm that should be a solid contributor very soon?

11. Eduardo Rodriguez LHP (Baltimore) - The Orioles have hurried prospects through the system quickly in recent years, and Rodriguez has shown he can handle it. Maybe his stuff is more good than great, but he should reach the majors soon.

12. Hak-Ju Lee, SS (Tampa Bay) - I'm still a big Lee backer, and this ranking reflects it. I'm not sure if many would have him this high, but if he hits a little to go along with his baserunning and defense, he's a really good player at a tough position to fill.

13. Hunter Harvey, RHP (Baltimore) - After being drafted 22nd overall, it didn't take long for Harvey to show that the Orioles probably got a steal. He's still very far away from the majors, but it's pretty clear that not many can equal Baltimore's pitching depth.

14. Jonathan Schoop, 2B (Baltimore) - Schoop is one of those Orioles prospects that probably hasn't been prepared for the challenges presented by the organization which is why his numbers have never been too impressive. If he stays put at one level for a while and is healthy, he could be a good all-around second baseman.

15. Blake Swihart, C (Boston) - Swihart could be much higher on this list next year. He has a chance to become a good defender behind the plate, and he took steps forward in the batter's box in 2013.

16. Allen Webster, RHP (Boston) - Webster bounced back from a difficult 2012, but that only applied to his time in the minor leagues. He was hit hard while up with the Red Sox, and his future may be in the bullpen because of command issues.

17. Matt Barnes, RHP (Boston) - Barnes' fastball is a major weapon against batters, but his breaking ball and changeup are lagging behind. If he can gain some consistency with those pitches, Boston could have a mid-rotation arm in the near future.

18. Mookie Betts, 2B (Boston) - Betts tore up two levels in 2013 with a strong approach, speed and surprising pop. In the 2011 draft, Boston got Barnes, Swihart, Owens, Bradley and Betts. A haul like that can be franchise-changing.

19. John Ryan Murphy, C (New York) - Murphy isn't strong in any one area, but he should be a quality defender and contribute a little as a hitter too. Like Sanchez, with Brian McCann set to catch for the Yankees for a long time, his future could be with another organization.

20. Taylor Guerrieri, RHP (Tampa Bay) - The other player I was considering for the last spot was Boston's Trey Ball, but Boston was represented more than enough. If Guerrieri wasn't missing the entire season, he would certainly be in the top 10 here.

State of the organizations

Boston- Barring some colossal mistakes, the Red Sox are in position to be competitive for a while, even if not all of these players pan out. In a draft where it seemed like the Rays had every other pick in 2011, the Red Sox seem to have hit on every pick. Key graduations from 2013: none

Baltimore- Developing young pitching is a huge component of winning for teams that can't routinely spend $150 million, and the Orioles look to be set on that front in the coming years. Huge misses in the top 10 of the 2006 and 2009 drafts set them back, but otherwise they took advantage of other top opportunities in the draft. Key graduations from 2013: None

Toronto- The Blue Jays' farm system has been hit hard in recent years with win now trades, taking players in the first round they're unable to sign (although they do get compensation for that,) and some lottery tickets not panning out, but Sanchez and Stroman is an impressive pitching duo at the top of their organization. Key graduations from 2013: None

New York- Give or take a few spots, the Yankees entered last season with a top 10 farm system in the league, but injuries and down seasons caused them to plummet to the bottom third of the league. One or two bounceback seasons could get them going in the right direction. I don't think the difference between the Yankees and Rays is very big. Key graduations from 2013: C Austin Romine

Tampa Bay- Having a system in the bottom third of the league is an unfamiliar situation for the Rays, but when part of the reason is two players graduating and finishing first and third in Rookie of the Year voting, it's more acceptable. A David Price trade would certainly restock the organization, but they also need to get back to having productive drafts. Key graduations from 2013: OF Wil Myers, RHP Chris Archer and LHP Alex Torres

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