MLB Pipeline, the prospect scouting arm of mlb.com, has released their Top-100 prospects for 2017 — with some live tweeting from a couple Rays prospects along the way — and four Rays players have made the list.
Here are the highlights from mlb.com’s coverage:
No. 76 — OF/1B Jake Bauers
Scouting grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 50 | Run: 45 | Arm: 50 | Field: 55 | Overall: 55
[...] A left-handed hitter who has a knack for barreling the ball, Bauers employs a compact, clean swing that allows him to utilize the whole field. He hit the ball in the air more frequently in 2016, resulting in a career-high 14 homers, and more power should be on the way as he develops physically. Bauers' advanced approach and feel for working counts drives his on-base skills, and he runs the bases well despite having fringy speed. Meanwhile, after playing first base exclusively during his first three seasons, Bauers made a smooth transition to right field last season while continuing to see time at his regular position.
That Bauers played over 200 Double-A games before celebrating his 21st birthday speaks volumes about his abilities as a hitter. Questions remain about his ultimate power ceiling, but the bat could have Bauers competing for playing time in Tampa Bay at some point in 2017.
The national media was slow to recognize the athletic ability of Bauers in his transition to the outfield last season, which he did in the spotlight at the 2015 Arizona Fall League. Inconsistent defensive performances in that instructional league kept Bauers low on prospects accordingly.
Now that he’s had regular appearances and regular viewings, his defense is described as having a “smooth transition.” That’s nice to read in print.
No. 33 — RHP Jose De Leon
Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 65 | Control: 60 | Overall: 55
De Leon [...] broke out in 2014, when he was the Rookie-level Pioneer League pitcher of the year and broke Clayton Kershaw's low Class A Great Lakes strikeout record with 14 in one game. He led the Minors in whiffs per nine innings (12.8) in 2015, then dominated Triple-A and made his big league debut with the Dodgers last year, only to be traded to the Rays in exchange for Logan Forsythe in January.
After he improved his conditioning and polished his mechanics after his rough debut, De Leon saw his stuff and command take off. He works with a 92-94 mph fastball that tops out at 96 and has some riding life, though big league hitters taught him that it can get pounded when he leaves it up in the strike zone. His changeup has improved so much that it now may be his best pitch, a legitimate double-plus offering at times.
De Leon's slider is more effective when he gets right-handers to chase it off the plate rather than when he puts it in the strike zone. He provides a ton of strikes and usually locates his pitches where he wants. Though he missed time in 2016 with an ankle injury and shoulder inflammation, he projects as a reliable mid-rotation starter.
The important note above has to do with De Leon’s conditioning, with comes to us by his own admission in interview with Sam Dykstra at milb.com:
MiLB.com: [...] How are you preparing for the 2017 campaign this offseason?
De Leon: I've been trying to work on my off-speed stuff, especially my breaking ball. I know I have to improve that pitch if I'm going to do well, so I've been working on that. I also know my body a bit better this offseason. Last year, I came in weighing 190, which was about 15 pounds under normal. I thought that would be good for me to be a bit lighter, but in the beginning, I couldn't throw harder than 90. So I've changed my workouts. I'm not running as much. I'm working more in the gym and getting way stronger. I think I'll be better off for that.
MiLB.com: I'm glad you mentioned workouts because a knock against you in recent years has been your durability. Last year, it was reported that ankle and shoulder problems held you back. How have you worked to address those worries?
De Leon: Last year, the shoulder problem was the only issue that was real. To be honest, I stayed in extended spring training because they wanted me to gain weight. It wasn't my ankle. After the issue with my shoulder, I still threw 100 innings, and I was happy with that. My body feels great now. My mind feels great. I'm ready to go.
The far ranging interview is well worth your time if you’d like to learn more about this soon-to-be-featured Rays starter, including his experiences being dealt and playing against the Yankees. From the above, it would appear his “ankle injury” had far more to do with his preparation for the season, and his need for more time that Spring. Consider it more of a learning experience.
MLB.com’s best tools list had high praise for De Leon as well, attributing him with the second best changeup and the second best command in the minor leagues. Overall De Leon was the eighth highest ranked RHP on mlb.com’s list. They consider De Leon’s FB/CH combo to be plus, and his slider to be major league average.
No. 31 — RHP Brent Honeywell
Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Screwball: 65 | Curveball: 45 | Cutter: 55 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 60 | Overall: 55
[...] Honeywell has a bevy of weapons at his disposal, with the ability to both throw strikes and generate whiffs with five distinct pitches. He throws his fastball in the low- to mid-90s with late sinking action and backs it with a host of secondary offerings, including his trademark screwball as well as a plus changeup. His feel for commanding his above-average cutter down in the zone gives him yet another out pitch, while his curveball represents a quality change-of-pace offering.
With natural athleticism, smooth mechanics and a repeatable delivery, Honeywell has proved to be a gifted strike-thrower early in his career, showing command that has improved as he's climbed the Minor League ladder. He's also a fearless competitor on the mound and draws raves for his ability to mix pitches, set up hitters and execute a game plan.
The big takeaway in this write up are the comments on Honeywell’s delivery, which are echoed by the team. Speaking with Bill Chastain for mlb.com, Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics praised Honeywell for being “amazingly consistent," despite some time off this season to stave off injury concerns mid-year.
"His ability to repeat his delivery was in his favor from Day 1. And when you have a good delivery like he does, and it's repeatable, you can count on consistent, quality strikes. And that's what he brings."
Honeywell went on to get more reps in the 2016 Arizona Fall League, where he was featured on the league’s All-Star team, striking out five of six batters faced. MLB.com’s best tools list credited Honeywell with the third best command in the minors, right behind De Leon.
No. 21 — SS Willy Adames
Scouting grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 50 | Run: 50 | Arm: 60 | Field: 55 | Overall: 55
Adames was anything but a known commodity when the Rays acquired him from the Tigers in the 2014 Trade Deadline blockbuster that sent David Price to Detroit. He has since blossomed into one of the better shortstops prospects in the Minor Leagues and advanced to Double-A at age 20 in 2016 [...].
Adames generates hard line drives across the entire field thanks to a combination of plus bat speed and barrel control, and he consistently puts himself in a good position to hit thanks to his advanced feel for the strike zone and knack for working deep counts. His power has come along as he's climbed the ladder [...], and scouts expect he'll offer at least average power at maturity. Adames compensates for his average speed with excellent instincts and quick feet at shortstop, where he profiles as an above-average defender with soft hands, smooth footwork and plus arm strength.
To go along with loud tools [on] both sides of the ball, Adames continues to receive raves from club officials for his plus makeup and leadership skills. He has all the ingredients to develop into an All-Star-caliber shortstop capable of hitting in the middle of a lineup and could be ready for his first taste of the Majors in 2018.
To quote someone who I recently spoke with who watched Adames nearly every day, “Adames is the truth. Most people don't even understand how good he is.”
Willy Adames made the second largest jump on MLB Pipeline’s list this season, 60 spots, from No. 81 to 21, and he still may be underrated. When former Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski dealt Adames, he credited the Rays with knowing what they were doing, slapping the All-Star projection on the young short stop back in 2014.
Adames compares favorably to Mets helium prospect SS Amed Rosario (No. 5) and high pedigree prospect Brendan Rodgers (No. 15) on mlb.com’s list.
Something not said here often enough: Thank you to mlb.com for their consistent public reports, and for the inclusion of scouting grades. Providing this level of detail and access is a rewarding aspect to following Rays prospects throughout the year.