Over at Fangraphs, Kiley McDaniel has released his top 200 prospect list, and it includes nine Rays prospects. For those not familiar with McDaniel's work, he's reviewed each farm system with tremendous, almost unbelievable depth. For reference sake, here's a link to his Rays list, which includes individual write-ups of 31 different prospects, then useful snippets on a multitude more. It's exhaustive, exhaustive research and includes some really interesting links to video, as well. It's worth noting that this list was created prior to the Ben Zobrist trade and prior to the Wil Myers trade, so you won't find Daniel Robertson or Steven Souza linked here, but both are linked on the main list.
McDaniel uses a different criteria for his rating system, a concept called Future Value (FV). In ranking his list, McDaniel said:
However, with more than 100 prospects receiving Future Value grades of 50 or higher, we decided to not arbitrarily cut off the list at 100 names, and ordered every prospect who achieved that FV score: 142 players in all. Because the Top 142 prospects sounds a little strange, however, I also included a secondary tier of unranked-but-still-listed prospects whose FVs fall on the higher side of 45; these are guys who weren’t too far off the list themselves, and in many cases, will be strong candidates for next year’s list.
Not surprisingly, McDaniel also has an excellent breakdown of how he scouts and rates players, which you can find here. As a note, in the arena where premium prospect analysis comes at a cost, I haven't found a better free (and perhaps free or paid) resource than McDaniel. It's a must read.
Without further delay, the Rays that made the list were as follows: Steven Souza (52), Willy Adames (90), Justin O'Connor (96), Daniel Robertson (97), Blake Snell, Taylor Guerrieri, Andrew Velazquez, Brent Honeywell and Alex Colome. The reason you don't see any rankings among the last five is that they were "outside" the FV 50+ rankings but at the top level of the FV 45 rankings. McDaniel didn't rank any prospects below FV 50, but since he went to 142, he figured he'd go all the way to 200. Interestingly, Adrian Rondon, Ryan Brett, Justin Williams and Casey Gillaspie (ranked 6-9 on the Rays list) did not make the top 200, while Guerrieri (tenth) and Honeywell (twelfth) did. All were ranked with FV 45, so I suspect there was some variance in the rankings, but it's interesting to see those two leapfrog the others over the course of basically two months. Don't worry, I've already asked:
@Matt_Minton when i talked to a wider group of people for the big list, they pushed for those guys— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) February 17, 2015
I tend to agree with McDaniel's ratings, too. Lets see what he has to say on Souza in his list, since Souza didn't get mention in the original:
Some scouts are all-in on Souza, but most are at least a little dubious that he’ll be able to keep it up in the majors, due to his approach, size and career path. After a slow start to his career as a 3rd round pick in 2007 out of high school (which included a drug suspension in 2010), Souza started crushing everything he faced in 2012 at age-23 in High-A. He followed that with huge years in 2013 at age-24 in Double-A and in 2014 at age-25 in Triple-A. All three of those seasons are two years old for the target age for a prospect to be at each level, so some scouts don’t even totally buy into the performance
This feels like a really good summation of why a player like Souza was available to the Rays; he's got all the tools to play everyday, but the skepticism really comes from him being a late bloomer and from being old for his levels when he had success there (bonus note: he also fits the Rays blueprint for drug offenders). If Souza was more age-appropriate, he'd be a top 10 prospect and simply wouldn't be available, so we can understand why the Rays had to make this trade.
Adames had a breakout year at Low-A in 2014 and was the significant second piece used to get LHP David Price. The Rays were pleasantly surprised how quickly the 19-year-old Adames became a leader for their Low-A club after the trade, but the reason they traded for him was his advanced feel for the game and easy everyday tools.
O’Conner is still a power over hit guy that will strike out a fair amount, but the offensive standard for catchers is low and he’ll be at least average behind the plate and likely be better due to his top-of-the-scale 80 arm with a freaky quick release that allows him to put up ridiculous pop times in the 1.7s.
Robertson was acquired by the Rays from the A’s this winter in the Ben Zobrist trade and he’s a steady player with solid tools that still gets somewhat wide-ranging reviews from scouts. From my limited look at his this fall, he can’t play shortstop and at least one-third of scouts agreed with what I saw, which I also realize could’ve just been a bad look. The A’s, Rays and execs from other clubs are convinced after seeing him a lot over the past few years that he can play shortstop, which would help his solid average bat fit even better in the lineup.
I think the key to the Robertson trade from the Rays perspective is that they believe he can stick at SS, otherwise there's not a great reason to swing the deal (unless they think he can also play 2B or a floating utility role). Everything I've read suggests he can be average at the position (and sometimes worse -- think Jed Lowrie), and I'm not quick to rush to one evaluation, as McDaniel fairly notes here.
I also think McDaniel does a good job of doing two other things: illustrating how important recent trades were to boosting this system (three top 100 prospects acquired since late July) and how boom and bust things seem (no other prospects inside the top 142, and my guess is, probably closer to the bottom half of the top 200, as well). I think if you read the individual Rays write-up, however, it's clear to see McDaniel thinks there is a huge opportunity for the Rays system to step forward in a big way. Also important to note is that only six teams had more players listed than Tampa (ATL, CHC, BOS, CIN, NYM, TEX), though they would be further down the list if you isolated the views for "elite" or "above average" prospects, instead.