It’s no surprise that the current Rays corner outfielders have been obtained in trade or through free agency. While they’ve done an outstanding job of drafting infielders, pitchers, and center fielders, the organization failed to draft powerful outfielders who profile well in the corners.
In 2010, the Rays selected the famous-for-all-the-wrong-reasons Josh Sale in the 1st round (17th overall) and signed him for $1.62M. Only 6 selections later, the Marlins selected Christian Yelich. In 2011, the Rays spent $625,000 on Kes Carter (56th overall), $490,000 on James Harris (60th overall), and $550,000 on Johnny Eierman (119th overall) after they were all taken within the top 3 rounds.
If you’re wondering “who?”, that’s about right and par for the course when it comes to corner outfield Draft scouting and the Rays.
The sole highlights from there on were Andrew Toles who was taken 119th overall in 2012 and given a $394,200 bonus (now with the Dodgers), and Joe McCarthy who received a $356,400 bonus after being taken in the 5th rd of the 2015 draft. If you’re wondering about Johnny Field, he was selected as a 2B.
Case in point was a 2016 draft that saw the Rays invest heavily in 2 CF while more advanced and powerful bats sat on the sidelines. While Ryan Boldt possesses intriguing defensive abilities in CF (not a knock on him), he offers little in the way of power. Instead of taking someone like Boldt, the Rays could have nabbed Bryan Reynolds out of Vanderbilt, a powerful bat that would have a much higher ceiling on an AL team where his power would play much higher than Boldt’s defensive abilities which have to play extremely well to make up for his 40 rated power.
In the same draft, the Rays also selected Jake Fraley (even lower rated power at 35), foregoing the more powerful and more intriguing bat of someone like Austin Hays, who was taken by the Orioles in the following round. Both Hays and Reynolds would have provided the Rays with internal power sources that would complement high-end CF caliber players like Garrett Whitley, Jesus Sanchez, and now reportedly Josh Lowe.
It’s been mind-boggling, it truly has.
The Rays, either consciously or not, have thankfully addressed some of this deficiency recently through international investments. Of those on this list, half are international additions who are beginning to make their marks and are becoming intriguing additions to the system. Hopefully a few of those pan out and support the organization with more power than those who they’ve drafted have shown.
Let’s kick it off with Mr. Rojas.
#6: Oscar Rojas | 20 - SS | 5’11” 165 lbs
Signed: December 12th, 2012 as an international FA for unknown amount
2016 SS Stats: 70 PA | 0 HR | 1 SB | 4.3 BB% | 30 SO% | .215 wOBA% | 33 wRC+
2016 Appy Stats: 146 PA | 2 HR | 7 SB | 6.8 BB% | 25.3 SO% | .385 wOBA% | 134 wRC+
Rojas began the year in HV for 8 games; despite a decent showing he was sent to Princeton where he dominated for much of the season. While his swing still has some holes, his .850 OPS and 7.0 speed rating showed off his potential as a productive player. While still undersized, Rojas showed some gap-power potential with 14 extra-base-hits in 146 PA in Princeton.
Although he did spend time in CF, Rojas spent the majority of his time in LF or RF at both levels and showed adequate range at all 3 positions.
Rojas struggled upon his return to HV late in the season, showing a lack of patience at the plate (in a small sample). But with a likely return there in 2017, he should be well-prepared to take another step forward. It remains to be seen whether he can make it to BG (LoA) by season’s end with so much high-end competition there (Jesus Sanchez, Garrett Whitley, and Josh Lowe to name a few).
The next player on our list can be seen in the video below just after 2:20 hitting a HR in his fifth consecutive game, showing us his power potential as well as how hot he can get in some stretches.
#5: Manny Sanchez | 21 - LoA | 6’2” 225 lbs
Signed: May 31st 2014 as an international FA for $132.5K
2016 LoA Stats: 329 PA | 12 HR | 8 SB | 8.2 BB% | 23.6 SO% | .334 wOBA% | 112 wRC+
A true RF, Sanchez tied for 12th in HRs in the MWL and showed good patience at the plate, leading to an 8.2% BB%. The HRs put him just behind teammates Kevin Padlo (16) and Brett Sullivan (13) despite receiving fewer PA (85 and 141 fewer respectively).
While the power surge was encouraging, the defensive abilities he showed in RF were even better. Sanchez managed 9 outfield assists and added 4 double-plays while simultaneously improving his reactions and range in RF. To put his range in perspective, Johnny Field managed a 1.81 RF while in BG, while Sanchez managed a 1.97 RF.
The one area where Sanchez took a step back in 2016 was in the speed department, caught stealing 9 times. His Spd dropped to 3.9 from 5.4 in 2015. That may be an indication of Sanchez filling out physically, and thereby trading speed for power.
Set to challenge in Charlotte for 2017, Sanchez is a prospect to watch as his power could be set to make a real impact this season and put him well-within the top 30 of the Rays prospect rankings should that happen.
#4: David Olmedo-Barrera | 22 - LoA | 6’1” 195 lbs
Drafted: in the 12th rd of the 2015 draft, signed for $100K
2016 LoA Stats: 283 PA | 6 HR | 13 SB | 6.0 BB% | 13.4 SO% | .385 wOBA% | 146 wRC+
One of the more polarizing players we voted on in this group, Olmedo-Barrera had a nice season in BG but had some saying “he’s supposed to dominate at 21 yrs old in LoA”, while others took his stats at face value. We won’t know which camp wins out until a few seasons from now, but he’s definitely put himself in the “must watch” category as he heads to Charlotte for 2017.
There’s no doubting Olmedo-Barrera’s speed, as he notched a 7.9 Spd rating and was only CS twice on the season. He cut down his SO%, going from 18.2% in 2015 (Appy) to 13.4% in 2016. Whether that’s an indication of being 0.5 yrs older than the average competition in the MWL or not is debatable, but any case it was still encouraging to see that kind of patience from him.
If he’s going to earn a roster spot with the Rays as a LF or RF, he’s going to have to turn on more pitches going forward and turn some of those doubles (17 in 2016) into HRs. If he doesn’t show signs of being a 20+ HR bat in MLB, he’ll be restricted to a ceiling of 4th outfielder providing speed off-the-bench.
Watch for his progress in 2017 and monitor the power stroke. If it comes through, he has a lot of potential and could be ready as early as 2019.
#3: Johnn Field | 25 - AAA | 5’10” 180 lbs
Drafted: in the 5th rd of the 2013 draft, signed for $247.5K
Twitter Handle: @JohnnyField1
2016 AA Stats: 206 PA | 7 HR | 13 SB | 4.4 BB% | 20.4 SO% | .342 wOBA% | 115 wRC+
2016 AAA Stats: 285 PA | 5 HR | 3 SB | 7.4 BB% | 22.5 SO% | .353 wOBA% | 126 wRC+
I’ve always been a big Johnny Field fan and that’s not about to change with him knocking on the door, possibly getting some MLB time in 2017. Field has the makeup coaches look for, is a consistent performer and won’t be outworked.
So how did Field improve in 2016? Well, first he improved his wOBA% after a promotion from AA to AAA and managed to BB more often, almost doubling his AA totals. He was also able to display above-average power with 14 extra-base-hits in 116 AB. And best of all, after a slower start of .250/.328/.423, Field finished the season strong with a .291/.345/.477 performance that left us wondering whether he’d get a late season look as a September call-up.
What Field could offer the Rays at some point in 2017 and beyond is a bat that can handle both LHP (.281/.352/.453) and RHP (.272/.333/.455) while providing defensive depth and at all 3 OF positions. It wouldn’t surprise us to see him earn a shot on the Rays bench in 2017 and expect him to make a strong case for such a role come June with the biggest hurdle being a roster spot.
#2: Eleardo Cabrera | 21 - Appy | 5’11” 195 lbs
Signed: on August 6th, 2013, as an international FA for unknown amount
2016 Appy Stats: 270 PA | 7 HR | 8 SB | 6.3 BB% | 27 SO% | .383 wOBA% | 133 wRC+
After spending 2 years in the VSL, Cabrera got his first shot stateside and did not disappoint. Playing the entire season at 20 yrs old, he managed a line of .311/.375/.466 which had him among the Princeton leaders. He finished the season tied for second in doubles and tied for the lead in HRs with Adrian Rondon.
Playing RF for the duration of the season, he contributed an impressive 12 assists, 4 double plays, and only made 3 errors on the year. His 2.05 Range Factor only increased his defensive profile. The bat and glove were strong enough in 2016 to earn him a spot on the Post-Season Appy League All-Star team.
With a consistently above-average performance in 2016, Cabrera could be ready for a look at HV this season. Going forward, he’ll have to bring the SO% down and show a bit ability to hit for extra bases.
Depending on how that experience goes, and how the competition performs, he could also get a look in BG at some point. He’ll need to show more power going forward - a trend among Rays prospects - to be a real candidate for LF or RF, but his defensive abilities already project to be above-average should he get a shot in The Show.
#1: Justin Williams | 21 - AA | 6’2” 215 lbs
Drafted: in the 2nd rd of the 2013 draft by ARZ, signed for $1,050,000
2016 HiA Stats: 203 PA | 4 HR | 0 SB | 3.0 BB% | 12.8 SO% | .369 wOBA% | 133 wRC+
2016 AA Stats: 155 PA | 6 HR | 0 SB | 3.2 BB% | 19.4 SO% | .328 wOBA% | 106 wRC+
Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 45 | Arm: 50 | Field: 50 | Overall: 50
The only player on MLB.com’s Top 30 Rays Prospects list (ranked 10th), Williams is by far the best player on this list. Baseball America called Williams “a man-child with huge raw power” when they wrote up his scouting report and he’s proven that to be correct since then. They also noted his feet needing to be quieter at the plate to allow him to tap into his power. Well since then, he’s worked on such issues and has been able to maintain a much more quiet and stable form at the plate.
Just like his Biscuit teammate Jake Bauers, Williams was pushed up through the system at a faster rate than most. Each time he’s shown the ability to handle one level, the organization’s been quick to promote him and continue to ask him to keep working on developing a sound approach at the plate. After the first half of July which saw him hit .457/.468/.696 with 3 HR and 2 doubles, Williams was promoted to AA.
Did he slow down at all once in AA? Hardly, for the remainder of July anyhow, hitting .302/.318/.605 with another 3 HR, 2 more doubles, and a triple in just 43 AB. That hot start was cooled thereafter. Most impressively while in AA, however, was his ability to hit with runners on base. Williams hit .314/.345/.627 with RISP and only .200/.231/.307 with the bases empty, which makes for a curious comparison but shows his ability to rise to the occasion.
On a personal note, I’d add that what I’ve enjoyed most about Williams’ progress through the minors is his humbleness, his willingness to put in the work (even going to Australia one winter), and how he’s incrementally gotten better over time. I envision him as an extremely productive 5 or 6 hole hitter who can drive in runs at an above-average rate regardless of whether or not he hits for average.
Set to begin the season in AA, there’s a very good chance you’ll see Williams get promoted to Durham at some point in 2017. As one of the more powerful bats in the Rays system, he’ll no doubt earn a roster spot next off season and challenge for a role on the team in 2018.
Here is his highlights and others’ thoughts about him.