Earlier we discussed the strengths and weaknesses in the Rays upper minor leagues and the impact that could have on the team’s major league depth.
Now we’ll take a look at the lower level of the minor leagues to see what positions the Rays appear to be developing well, and which they may need to work a little more on.
Consider these names to follow in the coming season.
Lower Minors Strength: Outfielders and Catchers
The Rays have more talent in the outfield at Class-A and below than they know what to do with. Coming into 2016 they had 2015 first round pick Garrett Whitley and International Free Agent signings Jesus Sanchez and Eleardo Cabrera already rostered and about to have good seasons. Then the Rays went and drafted 3B Josh Lowe, OF Ryan Boldt and OF Jake Fraley with their first three picks in the draft. Josh Lowe began to work in CF this off season and if he stays they will truly have a stacked OF situation in the lower minors.
The catching situation isn’t as robust as the outfield, but it’s not far off either. Brett Sullivan and David Rodriguez provided a great 1-2 punch behind the plate for Bowling Green all year, while Chris Betts showed off an incredible walk rate as he returned from Tommy John Surgery, and athletic prospect Zacrey Law is transitioning to the position after showing an exceptional arm in CF previously in his career.
D-Rod has the best defense of the bunch by most metrics and accounts, while Sullivan held his own quite well in his first year transitioning to the position and Betts has the most upside with the bat. They all have plenty of time to work on the rest of the game.
Dark horses to watch: Princeton standouts RF Manny Sanchez and C Rene Pinto.
Outfield and Catching Talent Infusion: 2019-2020.
Lower Minors Weakness: Pitching and Middle Infield
Aside from the short seasons of 2016 draftees Austin Franklin and Peter Bayer, there was essentially one stand out pitching performance to get excited about below the AA level: Genesis Cabrera, and that was during a down year while he developed his stuff.
LHP Travis Ott had a pretty incredible year, but it was his third year spending time at that league level and didn’t progress his innings total year-over-year. The good news overall is that the Rays excel in developing their pitching prospects, so we could see some of the lesser known names take big steps forward soon.
Athletic starters like Sandy Brito (hitting 99 on the gun, less than a second to the plate) and Reimin Ramos are easily projectable, as would be Ethan Clark and his four pitch mix. The Rays also picked up prospect Yoel Espinal from the Yankees, a kid who hits 98 and commands a slider, but with walk rates that are severe.
On the position player side, there doesn’t appear to be any big names that project to stick at SS or 2B. The heralded Adrian Rondon was one guy there, but he worked out at 3B this off-season, in preparation for a likely permanent shift to that position, joining competitive position depth at third alongside spreadsheet darling Kevin Padlo.
Utility infielders Jake Cronenworth and Michael Russell have turned heads, but it’s unclear if their utility experience is a product of athletic ability or a lack of an ability to stick at any one position. Russell became a team leader last season, but was hurt and replaced on the roster by Cronenworth with an early promotion. Both players excelled when they did play at Class-A, and the Rays even tried bumping Cronenworth to High-A but without the same result.
Scouting the spreadsheets, someone who does appear to have the glove for SS right now is 2011 International Free Agent signing Bill Pujols. The Rays have moved him pretty slow, as he is just finishing his first year of Class-A Short Season after being in the system for five years. The bat isn’t anything to write home about, but he’s shown us a consistently above average walk rate. He might end up being an organization soldier, but his exceptional defense at the premium position of shortstop probably gives him gives him an eventual floor of a quad A player.
One more lesser known name I’d like to show some love is 2B Miles Mastrobuoni. The Rays took him with the 420th pick in the 2016 draft, and the 21 year old spent the year showing off his glove in Class-A Short Season. It wasn’t an aggressive assignment, but he hit for a 110 wRC+ to go with only 2 errors in 61 starts at 2B, good for a .993 fielding %. He is someone to certainly keep an eye on.
Other than that, there does not appear to be a true shortstop standing out in the low minors, a curious and confounding thing; however, the Rays may have addressed the issue by trading for Lucius Fox. He was acquired injured, to the Rays chagrin, and it remains to be seen if the tools will translate to the above average glove that he’ll likely need if the bat doesn’t improve at higher levels in his new organization.