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John’s 2016 Midseason Top Rays Prospects

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SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game
Willy Adames at the Futures Game
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With a new draft class and another half-season of minor-league baseball completed, it’s time once again for prospect-ranking season.

While most outlets only update their MLB-wide list at this point, I’d like to add my insight on the Rays system, which has provided plenty of excitement this season. However, like all other writers, I can only predict so much. In the words of my fellow DRaysBay writer JT Morgan:

"Everybody is likely to look like an idiot in 4 years when they release a list of this nature and John is no exception."

To get a general feel of how I hash out these lists, check back to my preseason list where I described my process in-depth. In this list, I’m dividing the players up by what I think their future value is.

*Note: Blake Snell is not included, as I don’t see him ever returning to the minors. Without a doubt he’d be my top prospect if I did include him.

55 FV

1. SS Willy Adames-R/R, 6’1 180, 9/2/95

Adames has smashed Double-A pitching this year, tying his career high in home runs at eight with two months left in the season. His .180 ISO ranks fourth among all Southern League batters with 350 or more plate appearances. His strikeout rate has been cut back considerably from 2015. When coupled with his already-solid defense, it’s easy to see Adames as a first-division regular in 2017 and beyond.

2. RHP Brent Honeywell-R/R, 6’2 180, 3/31/95

Honeywell spent a month on the disabled list due to arm tenderness, but he returned still showing the same stuff. His 9.9 K/9 and 0.96 WHIP made him an easy selection for the Florida State League All-Star Team and earned him a promotion to Double-A Montgomery. With Snell graduated, Honeywell becomes the easy choice as the best pitcher in the Rays system with a solid four-pitch mix, including three-above average pitches in his fastball, screwball, and changeup.

50+ FV

3. OF Jake Bauers-L/L, 6’1 195, 10/6/95

It’s safe now to call Bauers an outfielder; he’s played outfield in a majority of Montgomery’s games this season without any bad reports. He’s shown adjustment to Double-A pitching with a 11.8% walk rate and similar hitting stats to his 2015 breakout in Class-A Advanced Charlotte. He’s hit 11 home runs so far, and he’ll always have the potential for more.

4. RHP Taylor Guerrieri-R/R, 6’3 195, 12/1/92

Guerrieri has struggled in Montgomery, carrying a 4.20 FIP while walking an unusually high 7.8% of opposing batters. He’s reigned his control in a bit since June 3 with a 2.02 BB/9. but it doesn’t balance out other areas of struggle. He’ll always have his raw abilities, but Tommy John surgery and his drug suspension in 2014 have limited Guerrieri’s time to develop his raw tools into in-game success.

5. 3B Joshua Lowe-L/R, 6’4 190, 2/2/98

It may be a bold move to put Lowe this high, but I’ve liked him since I first started analyzing this year’s draft class. The Rays first-round pick this year has plenty of raw power, although he can struggle with contact at times. His strong arm from pitching should help him stick at third, but if he can’t he has the athleticism to play the outfield and would be ideal for right. Lowe has struggled in the GCL, but it is still too early to tell with such a small sample size.

50 FV

6. 1B Casey Gillaspie-S/L, 6’4 238, 1/25/93

Gillaspie has redeemed his struggles in Charlotte and the AFL last year, swatting eleven home runs with Montgomery in 85 games. His .270 average in Double-A is marketable for a player with his power potential, and when you add in his solid 16% walk rate, Gillaspie showed the ability to get on base plenty even without an above-average hit tool. The 2014 first-rounder has stumbled out of the gate after his promotion to Triple-A Durham, but Gillaspie should have plenty of reps with the Bulls before he sees the major-leagues.

7. RHP Jacob Faria-R/R, 6’4 175, 7/30/93

Faria kept up his strong performance from the end of 2015 in Montgomery and continued to pitch well in 14 starts. He was promoted to Durham June 25 and has been solid in five starts, striking out 28.1% of opposing hitters. He struggled with the long ball in his last two starts with his command faltering.

8. SS Daniel Robertson-R/R, 6’0 190, 3/22/94

Robertson hasn’t wowed in Triple-A, holding a wRC+ of 93. The power he flashed early in 2015 for Montgomery has yet to return, as Robertson holds just a .073 ISO. On the bright side, Robertson has shown the ability to play all around the diamond, playing multiple games at both second and third base. With Adames nipping at Robertson’s heels, this versatility could become valuable quickly.

9. SS Adrian Rondon-R/R, 6’1 190, 7/7/98

I was unjustly harsh on Rondon’s struggles in 2015 with the GCL Rays, considering most guys his age would still be in one of the foreign rookie leagues. The club gave Rondon a change of scenery by sending him to the rookie Appalachian League with the Princeton Rays. Rondon has flashed major power there, hitting five homers with a .477 slugging percentage. The Dominican signee worked with Adames over the offseason, and it has shown with Rondon carrying a .261 average and overall showing more poise at the plate.

10. OF Garrett Whitley-R/R, 6’0 199, 3/13/97

Whitley has looked better - albeit not much better - in his second crack at short-season ball with Hudson Valley. I’ve seen prospect outlets describe Whitley as a “toolshed”, which is an apt description for last year’s first-rounder until he starts putting his tools to use in-game. On the other hand, Whitley has succeeded on the basepaths, swiping nine bases in 27 games.

11. RHP Jaime Schultz-R/R, 5’10 200, 6/20/91

Schultz has found his control, helping propel him to No. 10 in the Rays system on Baseball America’s Midseason Update. With that control, Schultz’s power stuff plays up even more, and the righty has struck out 10.55 batters per nine innings in 19 starts in Triple-A. While some question whether Schultz is better served in the bullpen or the rotation, either way Schultz should be a solid pitcher in the majors, especially with his newfound control.

45+ FV

12. RHP Chih-Wei Hu-R/R, 6’1 209, 11/4/93

Hu impressed in the Futures Game, striking out two in a perfect inning of work. The righty hasn’t been as impressive as his breakout in Class-A Advanced with Minnesota last year, but he has looked solid with a 3.38 FIP and 2.71 BB/9. He still has the makings to be a back-of-the-rotation starter without too much work needed.

13. Kevin Padlo-R/R, 6’2 200, 7/15/96

Padlo has looked better in Class-A Bowling Green compared to his full-season debut in Colorado’s system last year. Acquired in the Jake McGee-Corey Dickerson trade, Padlo has continued to walk at an extremely high rate at 16.3%, fueling his .351 on-base-percentage. Padlo has shown his raw power as well, hitting 12 home runs through 78 games. After a rough start getting his bat on the ball, Padlo has improved in that department in the last month, batting .284 since June 13. If his hit tool comes together, Padlo could easily move up a category.

14. OF Justin Williams-L/R, 6’2 215, 8/20/95

Williams will never walk much - and hasn’t this year - but he’s struck out less than usual at Charlotte this year. He’s also found his hit tool again, batting .330 for the Stone Crabs before his promotion to Montgomery. Williams spent a month on the disabled list early in the season, but it hasn’t affected his performance at the plate. His calling card - raw power - has flashed with four home runs over 50 games as well as a .450 slugging percentage while in the Florida State League with Charlotte.

15. RHP Ryne Stanek-R/R, 6’4 180, 7/26/91

Stanek has once again moved to the bullpen, but this time has found success there. His stuff has played up in the pen, hitting 100 in his Durham debut. With that kind of stuff, Stanek could turn into a solid back-end reliever. His command has to look better though, as he still walked 9.3% of batters working out of the bullpen with Montgomery. However, I’m much more hopeful for Stanek compared to the beginning of the season.

16. OF Ryan Boldt-L/R, 6’2 210, 11/22/94

Boldt has struggled to adjust to pro ball, carrying just a .211/.271/.245 line with the short-season Hudson Valley Renegades in 24 games. However, he showed a lot to like with Nebraska in college, including a solid hit tool and above-average defense in the outfield. Boldt has the potential for some power at the plate as well, but for now it is only potential. Right now he looks like a platoon/fourth outfielder with good defense, but with power he could become a starter.

17. OF Mikie Mahtook-R/R, 6’1 200, 11/30/89

Mahtook was a presence to start the year the Bulls, carrying a 163 wRC+ in 20 games before being promoted to the Rays. However, he 26-year old couldn’t repeat his insane numbers from 2015 in the majors this year with just a .385 OPS in 24 games. Mahtook broke his hand June 20 as one of many Rays outfielders to fall to the injury bug. Mahtook’s time as a prospect is nearing a close, and if he doesn’t turn it around at the plate he could get stuck in the purgatory between Triple-A and the majors.

18. 2B Ryan Brett-R/R, 5’9 180, 10/9/91

Brett had Tommy John surgery in May and hasn’t played at all this season. He may be able to return at the beginning of next year since he isn’t a pitcher, but he’ll have to jockey with Robertson and Adames for a spot on the major-league roster in spring training. Brett’s ability to hit will have to return after the surgery if he wants to have a chance to return to the Rays.

45 FV

19. RHP Hunter Wood-R/R, 6’1 171, 8/12/93

Wood showed better strikeout but worse control numbers with Charlotte this year in 10 apperances, but his 1.76 ERA - and 2.99 FIP - gave the team enough to warrant promoting Wood to Montgomery. There Wood lost his control, giving up 5.06 walks per nine innings. Without his control, Wood’s future as a starter is questionable, but he could have a future in the bullpen with his plus fastball-curve combo. He’s been on the disabled list since July 8 with a broken thumb and is out for at least a couple weeks.

20. 1B/3B/OF Richie Shaffer-R/R, 6’3 220, 3/15/91

Shaffer hasn’t flashed the same ridiculous power numbers as 2015 with a .123 ISO this year compared to .311 last year in Triple-A. Shaffer’s walked a bit more than usual, but he’s struck out as much as he has in previous years, and without the power he doesn’t have the same value. Shaffer has played right field in 24 games with the Bulls this year, and considering the bout of injuries the Rays have dealt with, Shaffer could get a chance there in the future despite his so-so numbers at the plate.

21. C Chris Betts-L/R, 6’1 215, 3/10/97

We’ve finally seen Betts make his pro debut after missing all of 2015 with Tommy John surgery. In 11 games so far, Betts has shown impressive plate discipline, walking more than 21% of the time while striking out an above-average 15.8% of his at-bats. He’s had to split time behind the plate with Rene Pinto, playing catcher only six games so far. We’ll get a better impression where he is behind the plate as he gets more reps there.

22. RHP Brandon Koch-R/R, 6’1 205, 12/25/93

Koch made only five appearances for Charlotte this year before being sent to the disabled list with right arm tenderness. His high-effort delivery has always raised concerns both about command and injuries, but his two plus-pitch combo can still make him a solid reliever if Koch’s injury concerns prove fruitless.

23. OF Jake Fraley-L/L, 6’0 195, 5/25/95

The Rays picked up Fraley in the second competitive-balance round after an impressive year at LSU. Fraley’s best asset is his plus speed, helping him out both on the basepaths and in the field. While his arm isn’t anything special, Fraley’s range makes him a solid fit in center field. While Fraley makes contact with the ball well enough, his wiry frame doesn’t generate much power and the lefty may always be limited to gap power. Despite that, he still profiles well as a leadoff guy.

24. OF Johnny Field-R/R, 5’10 195, 2/20/92

Field has always been described as a high-motor player, playing the game at 100% all the time. Field has steadily rose in the minors since his selection in the fifth round back in 2013. He put up some real power in his start with Montgomery, knocking seven home runs in 45 games while also stealing 13 bases. Durham has not treated Field as nicely, and he has just a .208 average since June 19. Hopefully he adjusts, which is likely from a player as dedicated as field. Field’s work ethic and solid tools across the board give him an easy projection as a fourth/platoon outfielder.

25. 1B/OF Joe McCarthy-L/L, 6’3 215, 2/23/94

Despite being drafted as an outfielder last year in the fifth round, McCarthy has mostly played first base to help save his back, which has troubled him since college. The 2015 fifth-rounder spent two weeks on the disabled list, but got on base at an impressive rate with Bowling Green at a .425 OBP and 17.1 BB%. After a promotion to Charlotte, McCarthy has still hit, batting .329 through 23 games. While he hasn’t hit for power - and probably never will - anyone who can get on base at the same rate as McCarthy will rise through the minors.

26. C Justin O’Conner-R/R, 6’0 190, 3/31/92

O’Conner is falling fast, missing all of this year with a back injury. (The closest he came to playing this year was being mistaken as Jaff Decker by the Cleveland Indians.) The former first-rounder struggled with plate discipline once again last year in Double-A, giving no indication that he has improved in that area. O’Conner’s plus defense behind the plate and true 80 arm gives him a floor of a solid backup catcher. However, even with the plus raw power, his utter lack of a hit tool is going to hinder him otherwise.

40+ FV

27. 1B/3B/OF Patrick Leonard-R/R, 6’4 200, 10/20/92

Leonard has had a Jekyll-and-Hyde season, crashing and burning in his Triple-A debut, batting just .198 and striking out more than 37% of the time. After a demotion to Montgomery, Leonard has shown the ability at the plate that makes him a prospect in the first place, carrying an .885 OPS with six home runs in 41 games. If he can carry that hit tool back to Durham, Leonard profiles out as a corner infield/outfield utility man.

28. 2B Brandon Lowe-L/R, 5’10 178, 7/6/94

Brandon Lowe made his professional debut with Bowling Green this year after being drafted in the third round last year. While his power numbers from college haven’t translated, the on-base numbers have with Lowe carrying a .274/.372/.359 line. Lowe’s 11.7% walk rate has helped fuel that high OBP. His glove has looked solid at second base, and he should stick there long-term. Lowe hasn’t played any other position, so his hit tool really has to carry if he wants to rise in the minors.

29. SS Jake Hager-R/R, 6’1 170, 3/4/93

Hager jumped all over the ball in April in Double-A, carrying a 163 wRC+, while showing he had recovered from the knee surgery that forced him to miss the 2015 season. He cooled off and then some afterwards, but got a promotion to Triple-A nonetheless where he has looked fringey at the plate. Hager has showed plenty of versatility this year, playing second and third base as well as shortstop, showing the ability to be a utility man in the majors, which is what he most likely will be.

30. RHP Cameron Varga-R/R, 6’3 205, 8/19/94

Varga’s 7.24 ERA this year may indicate struggles, but it was highly BABIP-driven. A 2.98 FIP, 10.54 K/9, and 2.63 BB/9 show how Varga was actually much better than his ERA indicated. Varga’s full-season debut went off the rails when he sustained an injury after just his third start, and he hasn’t returned since. According to Dan Farnsworth of Fangraphs, Varga’s delivery has “some late effort with a truncated arm action”, which raises doubts about his future as a starter and could also be the source of this injury. Varga has a floor of a middle-reliever with above-average combo in his fastball and curveball.

31. 2B Kean Wong-L/R, 5’11 190, 4/17/95

After an impressive rookie-league debut in the Rays system, Wong’s numbers have steadily declined since then, with this year being no exception. His .251 average and .644 OPS are both career lows, but Wong has brought his walk rate up to 7% this year with Montgomery. Wong has started playing third base as well, but he has room to improve with a .920 fielding percentage in 282 innings at the hot corner.

32. C Nick Ciuffo-L/R, 6’1 205, 3/7/95

Nick Ciuffo had a solid opening two months in Charlotte, showing off his hit tool with a .289 batting average. However, he hasn’t returned to his rookie-league walk numbers, walking at a poor 2.9% rate. In addition, his lack of game power has continued to show, and with his downward swing, his raw power probably won’t ever show up in-game. The 2013 first-rounder has been on the disabled list since June 4 with an injury to his left pinky.

33. RHP Austin Franklin-R/R, 6’3 215, 10/2/97

Big and projectable, the Rays took Franklin in the third round this year out of the Florida high school ranks. He has put up impressive strikeout numbers and equally unimpressive walk numbers in the GCL. Franklin has an above-average fastball that sits in the low 90s but can hit 95 along with a power curve. The two provide a solid strikeout combination. Franklin’s command is less than ideal since he often gets out of balance in his delivery. Some see a future starter in Franklin, while others merely see a reliever.

34. RHP J.D. Busfield-R/R, 6’7 230, 5/5/95

For such a large pitcher, it’s quite unexpected that Busfield’s best asset is his control. The righty has walked only two batters in 15 innings of relief work with Hudson Valley. His sinker generates a good amount of groundouts with good movement, being his only major-league average pitch as of now. Busfield bounced between the rotation and the bullpen in college, but it seems the Rays will look to advance his rise to the majors by using him in the bullpen.

Just because I’m a masochist and 3000 words aren’t enough, here are a couple other prospects you should keep an eye on in no particular order:

  • RHP Jose Mujica-Mujica has regressed as a strike-thrower with his walk percentage rising to 7.1% with Bowling Green this year. Still a long way off from the majors, but he has the potential for a potent two-pitch mix with his fastball and changeup. VIDEO
  • LHP Genesis Cabrera-Still 19 and already in full-season ball, Cabrera hasn’t put up the same strikeout numbers as his time in the rookie leagues, albeit this is his first time in the rotation on a consistent basis. From this report by DRaysBay’s own Matt Germain, Cabrera relies a bit too much on his fastball, which could hurt him in the future. VIDEO
  • 2B/SS Riley Unroe-Unroe has a high floor as a defender who can play both middle-infield positions, but his contact-first approach has betrayed him this year with just a .235 average. VIDEO
  • SS Andrew Velazquez-The oft-injured Velazquez opened the year on the DL and missed a month before returning to Charlotte. He has cut back on his strikeouts, but hasn’t hit as well as previous years with a .250 average and a measly .038 ISO. VIDEO
  • RHP Andrew Bellatti-A rough year has seen Bellatti go all the way back to Class-A Advanced to try and find himself, with him now sitting in Montgomery’s bullpen. The Rays designated him for assignment June 24, leaving him off the 40-man roster. A good slider has helped him get striekouts, but his control has abandoned him. VIDEO
  • RHP Easton McGee-The Rays added McGee in the fourth round this year, and the 6’7 righty has a lot of projection to dream on. The 18-year old’s fastball tips into the low-90s as of now and there is hope he adds some more velocity as he develops. His secondary pitches are a definite work-in-progress, but McGee has had little opportunity for professional action, throwing just 5.2 innings in the GCL so far. VIDEO
  • 1B Nathaniel Lowe-Lowe is the older brother of Joshua, the Rays’ first-round pick this year. In college Lowe flashed a big bat and put up more walks than strikeouts, prompting the Rays to select him in the 13th round. The Mississippi State product will have to hit his way up the minor-league ladder, but he hasn’t necessarily ripped the cover off the ball so far with Hudson Valley. VIDEO
  • RHP Mikey York-Tommy John surgery in college raised enough questions for him to land in the fifth round, but the Rays saw enough to like to draft him. His delivery is repeatable, which could lead him to average command. York’s fastball is solid in the low-90s, but his secondary pitches still need some work. VIDEO