Before Baseball America rolls out their annual team top 10 prospect lists, they have another yearly feature: league top 20 prospect lists. For each minor league, from the domestic complex leagues to the pair of Triple-A leagues, they rank the top 20 prospects that saw action in that league.
To qualify, starters need to through roughly 46.2 innings in full-season leagues (23 in short-season), relievers have to make 20 appearances (10 in short-season), and batters need about 140 plate appearances (68 in short-season).
In a way, these league lists are actually more useful than the team ones. Instead of Casey Gillaspie being compared to Hak-Ju Lee which tells you very little, he's compared to his peers in the New York-Penn League, including a number of other first round picks. Being number one in an organization doesn't necessarily tell the fan anything because the system can stink, but being number one in a league shows a prospect is thought of highly compared to similar players in other organizations.
Here, I'll talk about the Rays that did, and didn't, make the cut among their short-season affiliates. All of their league top 20's are available here with links to scouting reports (for subscribers) and chats, some of which are open to everyone.
Rookie Gulf Coast League
17. LHP Jose Alvarado: Alvardo was mentioned in the daily recaps from time to time, but BA says it's time to acknowledge him as a prospect. They note that since he signed for $50,000, the 19 year old Alvarado has grown two inches and gained 30 pounds and now stands at 6'2 and 210 pounds. He boasts a hard sinker and good breaking ball, and his 25.8% strikeout rate backs that up. He has to throw more strikes and improve his third pitch, but the Rays may have something here.
Who's not ranked? Alvarado signed in 2012, the same year the Rays spent big dollars on catcher David Rodriguez and pitchers Jose Mujica and. The latter two had injuries that kept them from qualifying, but it was one of the smaller bonus players that popped up and made the list. That's not to disparage that trio who are still very young and could have good careers ahead of them, but it shows how wild the international marketplace can turn out to be.
Rookie Appalachian League
5. RHP Brent Honeywell: It was a bit of a head-scratcher to some (okay, me) when the Rays selected Honeywell 72nd overall, making him the first junior college player off the board in 2014. It seems clear now why they're the one making the decisions and I'm doing whatever it is that I'm doing. Honeywell dominated the Appy League with a 31.3% strikeout rate, and he walked just 4.7%. BA's report lauds his stuff (including his screwball) and competitiveness.
9. C Nick Ciuffo: I think there's probably some growing frustration with Ciuffo's lack of production since the Rays made him their first round pick in 2013, but scouts still like what they see, especially defensively. His plus arm helps control the running game, and his athleticism behind the plate provides the foundation for him to become a good pitcher blocker and receiver. He has to make more consistent contact to tap into his potential above average or plus power.
10. CF Angel Moreno: Moreno's youth and tools are on his side, but his production in his first stateside season were not. His 25.2% strikeout rate and .629 OPS weren't good, and his 1.5% walk rate was even worse. His swing needs a lot of work before he can contribute at the plate, let alone tap into his potential above average power. Fortunately, he's an athletic player with a good arm that could make him an above average defender in center field.
13. IF Riley Unroe: Unroe struggled at the end of season, but he's long been a favorite of this community. Despite his quick swing geared toward contact and not being a wild strikeout player, he's batted just .234 in his first 410 career at-bats. To his credit, he has maintained high walk rates. His defense might not be quite good enough for shortstop, but he's a good defender at second base. He should be able to steal some bases too.
Who's not ranked: BA's Clint Longenecker mentioned center fielder Thomas Milone in the accompanying chat. He's a really good defender, but with his lack of power potential, he's going to have to make sure he makes a lot of contact. Cristian Toribio's defensive ability is what moved Unroe to second base for most of the season, and he hit really well too. Manny Sanchez is another very young outfielder that hit better than Moreno. Damion Carroll touched 100 MPH in relief, but he did not make the cut.
Short-Season New York-Penn League
12. 1B Casey Gillaspie: Gillaspie is actually the second ranked first baseman on the list, behind Golden Spikes winner and second round pick A.J. Reed. They're ranked back to back though, so the difference is negligible. His seven home runs were a bit underwhelming, but it's a league that's very tough on power hitters. I can't imagine much has changed with his stock in just a few months since the draft, so we'll see what he's able to do next year in a full-season league.
14. RHP Enderson Franco: The Rays picked up Franco from Houston in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 draft, not exactly a hunting ground for top prospects. In his first season in the organization, he showed good stuff, and his 2.8% walk rate was one of the best in the minors. His fastball sits at 92-96 MPH with sink, and as one would expect from a Rays pitcher, works with a good changeup. He has to improve his slider.
Who's not ranked? Besides Gillaspie, the Rays picked a number of productive college player sin 2014, but infielders like Grant Kay didn't make the cut. Neither did Bralin Jackson and Hunter Lockwood, important players for the division winning Renegades that were already in the organization. On the pitching side, successful arms like Hunter Wood and Nolan Gannon were not listed.
Baseball America will wrap up their league top 20's this week, and that will bring in a second post covering the top Rays prospects in full-season leagues.