Over recent weeks, Baseball America has been rolling out its league top-20 prospect lists. The lists are free for everyone to see, as are the chats, but the scouting reports require a subscription. I would encourage everyone to check them out.
The focus is often on individual teams' top-10 lists, but I think the league lists may be even more helpful. When you see a ranking featuring Brent Honeywell and Taylor Guerrieri, what do you learn? You now know Honeywell is a better prospect than Guerrieri, but what does that mean? The team with the top farm system's No. 7 prospect could be better than the worst's No. 1.
That's where the league lists come in. By being able to compare Honeywell and Guerrieri to other well-known prospects in the Southern League like Milwaukee's Josh Hader and Cincinnati's Amir Garrett, you get a better picture of the quality of future Rays in comparison to future Brewers or Reds.
Here is a rundown of Rays on, and in some cases not on, those top-20s. To qualify for a league, a player must have played 1/3 of the season in that league, so players can appear on multiple lists. They can also remain on lists even if they exhausted rookie eligibility in the majors, as you'll quickly see.
On a final note, these reports are compiled using information from minor league managers, not scouts. While a similar list involving scouts would probably largely be similar, they do have different perspectives.
6. LHP Blake Snell
Snell was generally good for the Rays over 89 innings after starting the season with Durham. His work in 2016 is why he was the second best pitching prospect in the IL, sandwiched between Pirates rookies Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon. BA's Teddy Cahill notes that "(h)is curveball has surpassed his slider as his primary (and more effective) breaking ball. His plus changeup continues to be his most effective secondary offering," (BA, $). Snell's pitch usage stats on FanGraphs back that up.
Former first-rounder Casey Gillaspie did not make the cut. Cahill was questioned about this in the chat and said, "the feedback was solid. He played well after getting promoted to Durham, showing power and a feel to hit."
The absences of infielder Daniel Robertson and pitchers Jacob Faria and Jaime Schultz were not accounted for.
2. SS Willy Adames
There's no shame being ranked second to a former No. 1 pick,
Arizona Atlanta shortstop Dansby Swanson. Being one of the league's youngest players didn't stop him from being one of the league's best hitters. A promising note comes from Matt Eddy, who says, "most scouts regard as having the potential for a plus bat with plus power," and "Adames is light on his feet and projects to stay at the position," (BA $).
5. 1B/OF Jake Bauers
Bauers is the second hitter on the list who does not play in the middle infield, trailing just Mariners slugger Tyler O'Neill. There are always two questions with Bauers -- you may be familiar with them already -- and once again, Eddy has an encouraging report on both fronts: "Many believe he will develop into a plus hitter with plus power," and "(w)hile playable in the outfield, Bauers is a standout defender at first base with good hands and range for the position."
7. RHP Brent Honeywell
Behind the aforementioned Hader, Honeywell was the second-best pitching prospect in the SL in 2016. BA's report covers his deep arsenal which includes an explosive fastball, solid-average curveball, average changeup, excellent screwball, but "(he) doesn't use his high-80s cutter to work in on lefthanders enough." In each of his two full professional seasons, he actually has a superior OPS facing lefties, but I'm not a minor league manager.
14. RHP Chih-Wei Hu
A "strong candidate to become a competitive mid-rotation starter" sounds like the kind of a prospect a team that just lost 100-plus games could use, but unfortunately for that team, Hu is with the Rays. While his changeup is his only plus pitch, "managers marveled at his mound demeanor, pitchability and toughness," which will help him reach that ceiling.
15. 1B Casey Gillaspie
Gillaspie did make this list, though. Eddy's report focused on his improved body and defense, although this report was not as bullish on his hit tool.
Catcher Mike Marjama merited a mention in the chat, as did Ryne Stanek, who "pitches at 98 mph with an excellent slider". One really interesting note that came out of a question regarding Guerreri:
Guerrieri is something of an anomaly in a Rays organization with very few groundball pitches. Montgomery had the lowest groundout/airout ratio (1.21) in the league — and the fourth lowest in the full-season minors. It’s not a coincidence. The Rays’ Low-A Bowling Green affiliate had the lowest ratio (1.12) among the 120 full-season affiliates, and High-A Charlotte ranked ninth lowest at 1.23.
Hunter Wood appears to have been eligible but did not make the cut. Justin Williams was not eligible, but he was in our next league.
Florida State League
12. RHP Brent Honeywell
In this league, Honeywell was the No. 3 pitching prospect. There's really nothing new in the scouting report, but BA's John Manuel did relay this nice anecdote (BA $):
Charlotte manager Michael Johns recounted a story of when the pitcher, while on the DL, came to the park to welcome teammates to the clubhouse at 2 a.m., after a bus trip from a road series. "He's cut from a different cloth," Johns said.
19. OF Justin Williams
I have to admit that I was not expecting to see Williams on this list, but after thinking about it from the perspective of an FSL manager, I'm not too surprised since he has tools and performed well. Everyone knows about the tools, but the key is his plate approach. Manuel offers that "(h)e made strides with his pitch recognition last winter playing in the Australian Baseball League and is learning how to hit for power without selling out or cheating in his swing."
Honeywell was briefly mentioned in the chat. Nick Ciuffo's defense didn't earn a spot on the list, nor did the Red Scare's nice all-around play. I'm not sure if Wood was eligible here, but Greg Harris definitely was.
18. SS Jake Cronenworth
Cronenworth's cup of coffee with Charlotte wasn't particularly good, but Midwest League managers probably didn't see that. Where he stands out most isn't one of the five tools, but his plate approach. At BA, Vince Lara-Cinisomo points out his strong two-strike approach (BA $), perhaps in contrast to some current Rays. He's a solid defender at short and makes contact. He was certainly a nice seventh-round find by the organization.
Lara-Cinisomo had a pretty long chat, but no Rays were brought up. Had I asked questions in the chat, I may have inquired about third baseman Kevin Padlo, and pitchers Jose Mujica and Genesis Cabrera.
New York-Penn League
18. OF Garrett Whitley
After the nice finish to the season, I thought Whitley may ranked higher than this. Regarding that start, BA's Michael Lananna points out something I don't believe I knew -- he had lingering hamstring problems to begin the season (BA $). He still has tools, even if his speed is apparently down a grade from his amateur days, but this was interesting:
"He's got a very, very open stance—almost Tony Bautista-like," a scout said. "Anything on the outer half he couldn't reach."
Apparently, sometimes BA does talk to scouts for this.
Naturally, Travis Ott came up in the chat. Lananna acknowledges he had a great season but feels he might be best suited as a left-handed specialist as he moves up the ladder. I know relievers typically don't make lists like these, but I'd be interested in hearing more about Joe Serrapica, who did not allow a run in 22 1/3 innings.
7. SS Adrian Rondon
Rondon is another player I thought my rank higher, but whether it's No. 2 or 7, it's certainly an improvement over his 2015 pro debut. As another slugging shortstop, he's going to be compared to Adames. Hudson Belinsky's report at BA says that "some evaluators question his actions and quickness at shortstop and see third base as a better fit," (BA $). If he does move, he has the power to profile at third.
11. 3B Josh Lowe
Lowe shook off a slow start to earn a promotion to the Appy League in his debut. A word that comes up in Belinsky's report twice is exciting. It's first used to describe his power potential and later his toolset as a whole. He also mentions two areas where evaluators are split on Lowe's future -- how much he'll hit, and if he can play third base. Obviously, the Rays like what they see.
Belinsky was asked about Jesus Sanchez's eligibility in the chat and confirmed he did not qualify. He also shared an interesting link on righty Peter Bayer.
Gulf Coast League
6. OF Jesus Sanchez
Ben Badler has been all over Sanchez for a while now, and Sanchez earned the No. 6 spot on Badler's GCL rankings, right behind Cardinals shortstop Delvin Perez, once considered a potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft. He raves about Sanchez's improving power and bat control, and he has the tools to play center field as well.
8. 3B Josh Lowe
Lowe was good in both leagues he played in. Both reports hint he'll need to shorten his swing.
17. RHP Austin Franklin
A third-round pick, Franklin also impressed in his pro debut. He racks up strikeouts with his plus curveball and throws strikes with his fastball. He's durable and showed feel for a changeup. The Rays know how to develop pitching, and it seems like Franklin gives them a good starter's kit to work with.
In the chat, Badler mentions a couple other pitchers the Rays drafted after Franklin -- Easton McGee and Zach Trageton -- who could be good values for the team down the road.