The start of Grapefruit and Cactus League games is a great time to get excited about the upcoming season. With these games come updated system rankings. Let’s see how the Rays fare.
2015 and 2016 Rankings
Over the last few seasons, the Rays have enjoyed mostly positive reviews for their farm system. Baseball Prospectus ranked the Rays 24th in 2015 and 11th in 2016. Baseball America, meanwhile, had the Rays 12th in 2015 and 13th in 2016. MiLB.com had the Rays at 13th overall in 2016 (18th for hitters, 3rd for pitchers) and TBD in 2017 (18th for hitters - again, top 20 so far for pitchers). SB Nation’s Minor League Ball had the Rays ranked 19th in 2015 and 9th in 2016.
Since then, the Rays have added quite a few top rated prospects. Jose De Leon, Lucius Fox, Michael Santos, Carlos Vargas, Dalton Kelly, Ryan Yarbrough and others were added through trade, while Josh Lowe, Ryan Boldt, Jake Fraley, Austin Franklin, and Kevin Santiago led the way among draft additions. The trade additions in particular helped the Rays build a much deeper system than it otherwise would have.
And although they were limited to $300K bonuses, the team also added at least 20 players through international free agency with 4 of those reaching the GCL in 2016. That’s a continued international focus that should not go unnoticed.
With these additions in mind, here is how the 2017 Organizational rankings look thus far (with AL East Rivals in Brackets):
- Baseball America: Rays 11th (BAL: 27th BOS: 14th NYY: 2nd TOR: 20th)
- MiLB.com Position Players: Rays 18th (BAL: 26th BOS: 8th NYY: 1st TOR: 20th)
- MiLB.com Pitchers: Rays 6th (BAL: 28th BOS: 18th NYY: 13th TOR: 20th)
- Minor League Ball: Rays 12th (BAL: 27th BOS: 24th NYY: 2nd TOR: 19th)
- MLB.com: Rays 10th
Overall, it seems that since the Red Sox traded for Chris Sale, the majority of the networks have shifted them down to the 14-20 range. That makes the Rays system the 2nd best rated among the AL East and continues a recent trend of being well ahead of both the Orioles and Blue Jays.
While there’s no automatic prediction to be made about these rankings, they are often used to point to the overall health of the system and forecast how rosy (or bleak) the future may be.
A depleted and thin system like the Orioles’, for instance, makes them a team mostly dependent on free agency and trades to be competitive. Since the Rays don’t have the luxury of a $140M+ Budget (BAL spent $147.6M in 2016), it’s a good thing they can depend on a cheaper and healthier system.
Meanwhile, Boston’s system isn’t quite what it used to be and it may get worse with Dave Dombrowski on board. As he showed in Detroit, he isn’t afraid to deal top-end talent for super-stars. Still, the Red Sox are pretty young overall and have a core to build around that should be there for years to come, making them a perennial contender.
Toronto’s system is still recuperating from the trades made by Alex Antholoulos and although it’s not a bare cupboard, like the Red Sox system it’s fairly top heavy.
The most dangerous competition for the Rays, however, is the Yankees system.
If Yankees prospects break out as expected, it’ll be hard to compete with that and an improving budget (Yankees obligations drop to $100M in 2018). With large and talented free agent classes coming up in 2018 and 2019, it’s a good thing the Rays are continuing to build from within, because the Yankees in particular will be able to benefit from both a strong system and money to spend.
Take Aways from Rays Perspective
- The Rays are the only AL East team to be ranked among the top 10 in pitchers rankings from MiLB.com
- Despite not having a Top 12 selection from 2009 through 2016, the Rays have ranked consistently among the top 12-13 over the last three seasons
- Rays budget restrictions, as compared to AL East rivals, have not impacted their ability to build a strong system
- Rays Scouting and Player Development deserve a pat on the back for bringing that talent in and improving it over time in order to achieve above-average rankings
- As noted in MLB.com’s breakdown of the Rays, the ETA of their top 30 Rays prospects break down as follows: 2017: 13 2018: 6 2019: 9 2020: 2. That means that within 3 years, the Rays will be able to depend on up to 28 players as reinforcements
- With the more significant international investments (2014 onwards) just starting to come through the system, reaching full season ball, this ranking could improve significantly in 2018
- The Rays also have the 4th overall pick in the 2017 draft and are currently considered favourites to land the top international prospect, Wander Franco, further enhancing the chances that this ranking improves in 2018
If you’re a dedicated Rays fan and you’ve been waiting for this franchise to put it all together since 2010, well, you may be in luck soon enough. The front office has been hitting all available avenues hard to add top-end-talent to this franchise and the organizational rankings are reflective of those efforts.
It may sometimes be daunting and frustrating to compete in the AL East with such a small budget, but as of right now in 2017, you can rest assured that this team is built to compete for the foreseeable future.
Just like the energizer bunny, if the Rays want to succeed in the AL East, its system improvements need to keep going, and going, and going....