As I have done for the past several years, I threw together a top 30 list. I spent quite a bit time debating who goes where, and my list would probably look different if I created it tomorrow. With the best prospect a borderline B+ prospect (by John Sickel's grading system), the range in talent is relatively small on this list compared to the past, when the best prospects were in the top 20 compared to C prospects at the back end. In my eyes, the top five prospects are nearly interchangeable.
Here is the list:
1. Hak-Ju Lee, SS (23) - I've mentioned this before, but it's worth reiterating: I tend to favor positional prospects (and prospects in general) with what I call a "carrying tool." By carrying tool, I mean one very good or very important tool that gives them a baseline value in the major leagues. It can be solid or good defense at a premium position, as is the case here. I think Lee can end up anywhere from a 85-110 wRC+ hitter, but his defense and speed on the basepaths will keep him in the majors for a while.
2. Jake Odorizzi, RHP (24) - While I normally prefer upside in pitchers, I think Odorizzi has enough stuff and athleticism to comfortably project as a #4 starter. I wouldn't put his upside any higher than a #3, but there is a high likelihood he is a solid pitcher. The fact that his offspeed pitches will flash above average on any given day gives me hope that he will improve with more time as he finds more consistency.
3. Enny Romero, LHP (23) - An admitted Romero fan, seeing his development over the past two years makes me believe that he has a shot at sticking in the starting rotation. The stuff is absolutely nasty: a fastball at 92-95 that has repeatedly hit 100, a curveball that can be a wipeout pitch, and an improving change-up that shows promise. However, he still needs a lot of work in the command and consistency departments, so I think he would greatly benefit from at least a full season more in Durham. If he puts it together, look out--he has the potential combination of stamina and stuff that gives him a #2 starter upside.
4. Taylor Guerrieri, RHP (21) - There is going to have to be patience on our parts with Guerrieri, as his development has been pushed back a year due to Tommy John surgery. I'm not part of the group that automatically assumes a perfect recovery, so we'll see where he is at when he returns. While he is more polished than other prep arm picks (say, Blake Snell), Guerrieri's low walk rate masks some command troubles. Still, he has an ideal frame and two plus pitches (90-95 mph fastball and a curveball) to his name, so there is #2/3 upside if everything works out.
5. Alex Colome, RHP (25) - After Jake Odorizzi, the next starting pitcher in line should be Alex Colome. Scouts haveworried over his arm action for years, and their concerns turned out to be accurate as he has failed to eclipse the 100 inning mark in either of the past two seasons. However, he avoided the knife and is said to be in full health now. I'm worried enough about his durability that I'm placing him behind the other three big arms in the system.
6. Andrew Toles, CF (22) - I'm a bit torn on how to rank Toles. On one hand, he has all the athletic talent to be a very good player, and his statistics last year with Bowling Green were impressive. Yet, he was a little old for the Midwest League, and scouting reports are very concerned about his pitch recognition skills. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that with more experience, his plate discipline will catch up. At the very least, his center field defense and his base running give him a high floor.
7. Kevin Kiermaier, CF (24) - Count me out of the group that see Kiermaier as an impact player; that 5 WAR Oliver projection is just ridiculous. However, if he truly is the elite defender we have been led to believe he is, he still has value even with a below average bat. He doesn't have much of a track record of hitting very well, but he wasn't a bad hitter before this year either. If he is an unremarkable bat (think 90-95 wRC+) who is good on the basepaths and one of the best defensive center fielders in the game, the Rays have themselves a valuable player.
8. Nathan Karns, RHP (26) - With two very strong pitches, Karns looks like a good bet to at least be a back-end of the bullpen pitcher. Unfamiliarity may be playing a part in my conservative ranking of him. In the Rays organization, he should get every shot to prove he can be an effective starter.
9. Ryne Stanek, RHP (22) - Stanek and Karns are both very similar pitchers, with both having hard plus fastballs (slight edge to Stanek) and plus breaking balls (slight edge to Karns). Both also have had health issues. While I am more confident in Stanek's ability to stick in the rotation, Karns is closer to the majors, hence the edge (not that there is a substantial gap between them).
10. Curt Casali, C (25) - As I highlighted in an earlier article, there are plenty of reasons to believe Casali can amount to a backup or a second division starting catcher. Hitting in the upper minors again this year will go a long way in affirming that belief.
11. Ryan Brett, 2B (22) - This is a little lower than the community has him, but I have reservations about Brett's ultimate upside. While he has made strides defensively at second base, he isn't an elite defender. He has lots of speed and a hit tool that should play at the majors though. If he can figure out the high minors this year, I think there is a good chance he becomes an average player.
12. Oscar Hernandez, C (20) - I debated between CIuffo and Hernandez for a while, ultimately opting for Hernandez due to his superior defense. The offense hasn't been spectacular stateside for the young Venezuelan, but he has the tools to be at least an average hitter. There is tons of upside here.
13. Nick Ciuffo, C (19) - Scouts seemed impressed with Ciuffo last spring and summer. The lower ranking is a reflection of my skepticism of high school catchers, who have notoriously high bust rates.
14. Matt Andriese, RHP (24) - The more I read about Andriese, the more I am intrigued. The stuff doesn't play at the front of the rotation, but the statistics are excellent, particularly his ground ball rate.
15. Riley Unroe, SS (18) - There are a few things about Unroe that make it difficult for me to temper my enthusiasm for his future. For one, he players shortstop, and while he won't win any gold gloves there, he projects to stick att he position. He was also one of the youngest high school players in the past draft (recent studies suggest this is a huge advantage), and his pro ball debut was strong. In my opinion, he is the biggest sleeper in the system.
16. Jake Hager, SS (21) - His 81 wRC+ in the FSL last season won't turn heads, but he is another guy who should stick at a premium defensive position who has been pushed aggressively through the system. One has to wonder how much of an effect his injuries had on his offensive performance.
17. Tim Beckham, SS (24) - Beckham may have slotted in the top 10 if a torn ACL this offseason didn't knock him out for the entire 2014 season, barring an early return. While he wasn't going to make the 25 man roster out of spring training, he most likely would have seen major league time this year. And so the wait for Beckham continues....
18. Justin O'Conner, C (22) - Yes, "Bustin" O'Conner has found his way into my top 20. Very rarely does a player who has, through his first four professional seasons, never hit even league average make a system top 20. But if you look past his overall numbers, you see a guy who has cut his strikeout rate and shown some pop. What drives the intrigue is O'Conner's plus defense, especially his arm that has drawn an 80 grade from a scout. With some of the loudest tools in the system, O'Conner will continue to have a long leash.
19. Blake Snell, LHP (21) - Blake Snell's issue is easy to identify: command. He has the stuff to be a quality major league pitcher, but his success is tied to how much his command improves. Considering it was disastrous in 2013, he has a long way to go.
20. Juse Mujica, RHP (18) - I'm reluctant to draw any conclusions from GCL statistics, so my takeaway from this season for Mujica is that the Rays are very confident in him by sending him stateside. He was 16 for a significant portion of the season, so the competition he was facing was much older.
21. Jose Castillo, LHP (18) - At this point, there is very little separating Mujica and Castillo, the Rays two big bonus international pitchers from the 2012-2013 international signing period. Mujica offers more polish, but the edge in upside probably favors Castillo, who has the type of projectability and present stuff to where you can see him sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball in the future.
22. Richie Shaffer, 3B (23) - Shaffer's placement was one of the toughest decisions for me. The scouting reports on him were not terrible, and they praised improvement in the second half. But even with the alleged adjustments, he still was not hitting very well. I expected much more from one of the best college bats in the 2013 draft.
23. Jeff Ames, RHP (23) - I view Ames more as a reliever than a starter due to the lack of an effective third pitch. With a plus fastball and slider combination though, he could turn out to be a very strong bullpen arm.
24. CJ Riefenhauser, LHP (24) - One of my favorite prospects in the system, Riefenhauser has an array of effective pitches that should make him effective in the bullpen at the major league level. His fastball doesn't light up radar guns but it garners plus grades, and both his slider/curveball and changeup are weapons. At the very least, he should be an excellent LOOGY.
25. Tyler Goeddel, 3B (21) - Many hoped the Goeddel would build off of a strong first season while repeating Bowling Green. Though he improved in some categories, the overall boost was minimal. He still has a shed full of tools, and he should only improve as he fills out his lanky frame.
26. Jacob Faria, RHP (20) - With his solid stuff, projectability, and excellent season, I anticipated more industry hype over Faria. The lack of it makes me reluctant to fully board the Faria bandwagon.
27. Dylan Floro, RHP (24) - The scouting report on Floro won't elicit many "wows," but the statistics are far too good to ignore. Likely a back of the rotation starter or a swing man, his high floor gives him value.
28. Kean Wong, 2B (19) - A 4th round pick in the 2013 draft and the younger brother of Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong, Kean jumped off to a strong start in the GCL. His profiles reads similarly to a younger version of Ryan Brett.
29. David Rodriguez, C (18) - The third of the Rays trio of bonus babies during a year ago's international signing period, Rodriguez demolished the VSL, posting a .329/.409/.540 line (it should be noted that his home park is an extreme hitter's park though). He has the tools (both offensively and defensively) and pedigree -- now all he needs is experience. Expect a state-side debut in 2014, probably in the GCL.
30. Mikie Mahtook, OF (24) - Even though Mahtook was a widely praised selection in the 2011 draft, we all knew there was a chance that his solid tools across the board wouldn't shine in pro ball, making him a tweener. So far, that has been the case, and his future is most likely as a 4th outfielder.