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Breaking down Baseball America’s Top 10 prospect list for the Rays

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The Rays are stockpiled with young talent almost ready for the big leagues

MLB: All Star Game-Futures Game Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball America has updated their Top 10 prospect list for the Tampa Bay Rays. Headlined by Brent Honeywell, Willy Adames, Brendan McKay, and Jake Bauers, the Rays boast one of the premier farm systems in all of major league baseball, and the list demonstrates just how much depth the team has.

Notable Graduations: Jacob Faria (8) made 14 starts, while SS Daniel Robertson (15) started games at three infield positions.

1. RHP Brent Honeywell

Honeywell posted a respectable 3.65 ERA in 24 games started at Triple-A Durham last year, but his outsanding 2.84 FIP is a much better indicator of his true talent. He strikes out 29.1 percent of batters faced, thanks to a great arsenal with plenty of movement, while walking just 5.9 percent of batters faced.

One of the best arms in the Rays system has has proven himself in Durham, carving his way through any opposing hitter that dare enter the box. However, there are still a few things the team believes he needs to work on. He should make his MLB debut in early 2018.

2. SS Willy Adames

Adames hit for .277/.360/.415, 10 HR, 62 RBI, 11 SB, last season in Triple-A. His contact rate and ability to get on base in over 130 games has only improved since last year’s ranking.

Adames has been considered a premier defensive shortstop since the Rays acquired him for his projectable body and mature approach. He looks poised to be a special kind of player who can become part of the core of the team long-term and will give the team above-average performances both offensively and defensively at some point.

Some would say Adames should have been promoted already, but the Rays like to play the waiting game with some of their more elite prospects. He posted a 119 wRC+ as a 21-year-old in Durham and could take the Rays starting shortstop job in 2018.

3. LHP/1B Brendan McKay

The Rays’ fourth overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, the potential of Brendan McKay batting in the middle of the lineup and pitching 200 quality innings is certainly tantalizing, but whether it’s worth pursuing is up for debate and certainly was in front offices prior to the draft.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Louisville vs TCU Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

McKay was known for a quiet but easy swing during the draft process, as highlighted in our scouting report recap earlier this year:

According to MLB.com, McKay’s hit tool grades as plus with average power. According to FanGraphs’ tools primer, if he plays to those grades in the majors, he’d be a .280 hitter with 15-18 home runs annually. MLB’s report indicates his ceiling is that of a .300 hitter with 20 home runs.

Baseball America’s report is very similar, saying, “he was in the discussion for being the best pure hitter in the draft class,” but scouts “remain mixed on his overall power potential.”

4. 1B/OF Jake Bauers

Bauers, the Rays next best positional prospect behind Adames, is also just 21 years old and posted a 120 wRC+ during his first go around in Durham. He can play either in the outfield or at first base for the Rays.

Bauers was acquired via the Wil Myers deal and is an interesting profile with potential power and bat speed still in development, but an all-around consistent approach at the plate. Since he plays first base and sometimes the corner outfield, the power may be a concern, as he’s currently similar to a Casey Kotchman profile.

He has an advanced approach and enough present-day power to keep pitchers from challenging him too recklessly. He could add more strength to the natural loft in his swing and end up with average pop. Even if that doesn’t come, he profiles as an above-average hitter who gets on base.

MLB.com has assigned a scouting-grade of 55 to Bauers hit tool, and Fangraphs has assigned a future-grade of 60. Through 100 games in Triple-A, Bauers has a .263/.368/.412 slash-line and 120 wRC+ with a 19.5 K%, 13.6 BB%, 13 HR, and 20 SB.

5. Jesus Sanchez

Signed for $400k in 2014, Sanchez is probably a corner outfielder at the major league level but could get by in CF right now. He has great bat to ball skills, but doesn't show great plate discipline with lower than average walk rates. However, it mostly comes from making contact on balls in the zone and not just being passive.

After posting a slashline of .305/.348/.478 with 15 HR, 82 RBI, and a 130 wRC+, Sanchez was selected the 2017 Minor League Player of the Year for his outstanding season with the Bowling Green Hot Rods.

6. SS Wander Franco

Franco, the nephew of major league SS Erick Aybar, was a huge signing for the small market Rays in July. Between Brendan McKay and Wander Franco, the Rays added the top college prospect and the top international prospect to their farm system in less than a month.

Bill Mitchell

MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez also notes that his father played professionally. He added this about Franco while writing about the showcase that he took a part of as a 15-year-old:

The switch-hitting shortstop with superb hands, a smooth swing and a long list of professional ballplayers in his family is arguably the top international prospect in the 2017-18 class.

7. SS Lucius Fox

Fox came to the Rays in the trade that sent Matt Moore to the San Francisco Giants. Fox signed with the Giants as an international free agent back in 2015 and made his pro debut during the 2016 season, but struggled out of the gate and after being dealt to the Rays, sat out the rest of the year to rest an injury. Now, he comes in as the Rays number 7 prospect after a solid 2017 campaign with the Rays Single-A team.

He possesses the skills needed to succeed in the big leagues, but I don't think he's an impact type talent. He could be one day, but I don't see it yet. Ranked the Rays fastest baserunner on the farm, increasing his OBP and lowering his K% will be the next step in utilizing his quick legs.

8. OF Justin Williams

Acquired from Arizona in the Jeremy Hellickson trade, Justin Williams has morphed into a monster. In 409 plate appearances, he hit .301/.364/.489 and put up a 145 wRC+. He earned 37 walks (9.0% walk rate) while only striking out 69 times (16.9% strikeout rate) in 2017. This is more walks than he received in 848 plate appearances in 2015 and 2016 combined.

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Scottsdale Scorpions at Peoria Javelinas Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Importantly, Williams improved his batted ball profile. For the first time in his career his groundball rate was south of 55%.

9. OF Garrett Whitley

When the Rays picked Garrett Whitley in the first round in the 2015 MLB Draft, it was questioned whether he would even fall that far. Baseball America ranked him as high as seventh in the 2015 draft class. The fact that the Rays were able to grab him at No. 13 was instantly considered an ingenious move.

Slashing .249/.362/.430 with 13 HR, 61 RBI, and 127 wRC+ in 426 plate appearances with the Hot Rods this season, he has the ability to become at least a four-tool player with his speed, glove, arm, and power. If the contact comes around (28.6 K% in 2017), it should augment his power and upgrade him to a five-tool player.

10. RHP Austin Franklin

Selected in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft, Austin Franklin is a homegrown talent that Rays fans should be aware of and follow in 2018 and beyond.

In 13 games started last year with the Hudson Valley Renegades, Franklin posted a sensational 9.22 K/9 rate while displaying the best curveball in the Rays farm system.

It’s true that Rays fans continue to be spoiled with pitching talent, but truthfully, get excited about Austin Franklin’s growth. He may have a lot of work to do, but we’ll all enjoy the outcome if it’s as great as I expect it will be.

Rays Best Tools

Best Hitter for Average: Jesus Sanchez

Best Power Hitter: Brendan McKay

Best Power Hitter: Brendan McKay

Best Strike-Zone Discipline: Joe McCarthy

Fastest Baserunner: Lucius Fox

Best Athlete: Josh Lowe

Best Fastball: Ryne Stanek

Best Curveball: Austin Franklin

Best Slider: Jaime Schultz

Best Changeup: Chih-Wei Hu

Best Control: Drew Strotman

Best Defensive Catcher: Nick Ciuffo

Best Defensive INF: Willy Adames

Best INF Arm: Willy Adames

Best Defensive OF: Jake Fraley

Best OF Arm: Josh Lowe