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Early breakout performances from Rays prospects

Which minor leaguers have impressed in these first few weeks?

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays
Patrick Leonard connects during Spring Training
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks into the 2017 baseball season we’re starting to get an idea of who is taking that next big step, down on the farm. Some of the higher ranked prospects are off to a slow start, but there are many lesser known names that deserve recognition. Let’s take a look at the stand outs.

Brent Honeywell - By no means a lesser known name, he is one of the few higher ranked prospects that is performing exceptionally well in the early goings. It only took two starts (and a Taylor Guerrieri injury) to get promoted to the AAA Durham Bulls. A 43.5% strikeout rate as a starter tends to earn promotions pretty quickly. His absence from the 40-man roster may keep him out of the Trop this year, but I have a feeling they will add him in September if they are competing.

Patrick Leonard - Another guy that might see time with the Rays this year, Leonard is a 3B that has been known to mash lefties and not much else. This year is a little different. He’s hitting .372/.438/.512, though it comes with an unsustainable .517 BABIP. The walk, strikeout and ISO rates are all in line with his career, so the only big difference is that a few extra singles have fallen in for hits. A scorching 33% line drive drive rate will do that. He’s also doing almost all of this vs righties, which has not been his strong side in the past. Someone to keep an eye on.

Nick Ciuffo - 39 plate appearances into the season and he is already near his walk and XBH totals from last year. This is a big deal. Ciuffo has been a plus defender at a crucial, defense-first position; adding some offense to his profile makes him something special. He needs avoid striking out so much, but other than that there’s not a whole lot to dislike here. The home runs will come when he starts pulling fly balls more. He’s already sent a few oppo to the warning track.

Greg Harris - The RHP has been building up innings at an aggressive but steady pace since being drafted out of high school in 2013. Last year he racked up a career high 150 innings and I would expect him to clear that this year in class AA. So far in 13 innings across two starts he has 14:1 K:BB ratio. He’s also usually good for his fair share of pop ups, which will play well in the Trop with all of that foul territory.

Jake Cronenworth and Brandon Lowe - Two of the top three hitters in the Florida State League right now, these guys are on a roll and not slowing down. They are the one-two punch at the top of the lineup for the Port Charlotte Stone Crabs nearly every night, and they are also the resident middle infield double-play duo. Might there be a bro-mance here forming?

Kevin Padlo - And then there’s the third baseman, whose .324/.357/.541 slash is good for a 161 wRC+. It’s nice to see the strikeout rate starting to come down, but it’s also taking his exceptional walk rate with it. Padlo hits tons of fly balls and I hope he never stops, but the approach probably won’t look good in the box score this year because of the league he plays in. Charlotte Sports Park is a big park, and the entire FSL in general is very pitcher friendly. At only 20 years old, he’s going to grow into more power and start sending balls over the wall more often very soon. It just probably won’t happen while he’s a Stone Crab.

Michael Brosseau - Listed at 5’ 10” 185lbs, apparently he has home run power to his pull side because he’s hit two already in his first 30 PA with the Bowling Green Hot Rods, manning third base. Those home runs are carrying him to a lofty 218 wRC+, which is somehow only good for only 7th in the Midwest League right now. He needs to work on the K-rate, but there’s potential here.

Peter Bayer and J.D. Busfield - Two big right handed pitchers taken in the 7th and 9th rounds of the 2016 draft, Bayer and Busfield both got around 35 innings of work with the Rays in short season leagues last year, and are now starting for the full season Hot Rods. They’re both near the top of the league leader boards for ERA, FIP, and strikeouts, while also sporting incredibly low walk rates. With their physicality and this organization’s ability to develop pitchers, these guys might have more breakout potential than anyone in this system right now.