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Rays Prospects: Five to Follow in 2017

These prospects could leap well into next year’s Top 30

As we review prospects’ minor league assignments, I thought it would be the perfect time to highlight some of the guys to follow closely in 2017. And since I plan on highlighting 5 who performed at their best each week, let’s go with that number for now, with notes on others I plan to follow very closely.

Here they are in no special order:

Rene Pinto - C - 20 years old - 5’11” 185 lbs - RHB

  • Assigned to Bowling Green after spending 2016 split between the GCL and Appy
  • Hit .222/.273/.321 over 81 games in the GCL yet still earned a promotion
  • Hit .309/.342/.676 over 68 games in the Appy league, proving the Rays right
  • His .368 ISO rating in the Appy league was ridiculous, and he earned a 168 wRC+ there
  • Threw out 29% (15 of 51), made 7 errors, and had 13 passed balls - will need some work there but shows promise defensively and threw out 50% while in VSL
  • 2016 was Pinto’s first on U.S. soil, and it was impressive enough to send him straight to Bowling Green, a clear indication of how the Rays feel about his skill-set
  • Things to Watch: the CS/PB rates will be telling and the main thing he’ll be looking to improve will be his defensive skills, but that bat holds a lot of promise and could carry him significantly if it continues to show above-average abilities

Vidal Brujan - 19 years old - 5’9” 155 lbs - SHB

  • Likely to begin the season in Hudson Vallley after spending 2016 in the GCL
  • Hit .282/.344/.406 in the GCL in 2016 with 18 extra-base hits and 8 SB in 202 ABs
  • Held an .810 OPS vs RHP and showed some required work vs LHP with a .646 OPS
  • After a rough June hit .317/.395/.436 in July (101 AB), getting into a groove
  • Only made 10 errors (.959 Fldg%) while showing impressive range with a 4.76 RF
  • May never hit 20+ HRs, but he has the hitting ability to succeed at higher levels and should develop at least gap power with decent speed
  • Things to Watch: the main thing to look for in 2017 for Brujan is whether he hits well enough to earn a promotion to BG this season, as well as whether his speed on the bases improves

Michael Russell - 24 years old - 6’2” 200 lbs - RHB

  • Promoted through 2 levels and will begin 2017 with the Montgomery Biscuits
  • Hit an impressive .293/.381/.449 for BG in 2016 but didn’t get the same credit as most would due to his age at the level (23)
  • Hit a blistering .315/.408/.484 with 32 extra-base hits in 279 AB vs RHP
  • Has an good balance of speed and power, with 41 extra-base hits and 29 SB in 2016
  • Can take a walk (9.8%) while rarely striking out (14%)
  • Has experience at 6 positions, allowing for the Rays to envision him in the super-utility role (41 G at 1B, 10 G at 2B, 11 G at 3B, 98 G at SS, 5 G in LF, 1 G in RF)
  • The fact that he’s skipping over Charlotte tells us they feel he can step in and handle AA pitching right away, and his 2016 performance indicates he should be able to
  • Things to watch: whether or not his SO% goes up significantly and where he is playing all season long, with SS and 1B being the most likely landing spots, but the OF being intriguing as they attempt to set him up for versatility going forward

Spencer Moran - 21 years old - 6’6” 200 lbs - RHP

  • Set to return to Hudson Valley for 2017 after pitching in 14 games there in 2016
  • While he didn’t last more than 5 innings through his first 8 starts in 2016, he went 6 strong in 3 of his last 4
  • His enemy is the BB rate and innings limit, which is likely why he’ll return to HV to work on those issues and set himself up for a possible mid-season promotion
  • Despite some innings and BB issues, he earned a 2.64 ERA and 1.17 Whip in 2016, proving himself hard to hit with 44 hits in 61.1 IP
  • Things to Watch: He needs to lower that BB rate, and also needs to limit the mistakes after allowing 7 HRs. If he can stay ahead in the count, he’s absolutely dominant (.114 average against, 0.74 ERA, 0 BB, and 0.37 Whip), but working behind in the count too often hurt him some (.220 average against, 2.60 Whip, 3.00 ERA), so look for his performance when behind in the count and whether alterations to his arsenal help him improve there. If he improves that, he’s set to become a dominant starter.

Brock Burke - 20 years old - 6’4” 190 lbs - LHP

  • Promoted to BG after spending 2016 in HV and has spent a year at each level since being selected in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft
  • Made 13 starts in 2016 and pitched 61 innings, earning a 3.39 ERA and 1.34 whip
  • Unlike Moran, Burke only allowed 1 HR, but like Moran he had issues with BBs with 29 on the season
  • Has a good enough change up to be effective vs both LHB and RHB, but it was his improved velocity (stemming from altered mechanics that added 8 MPH) in 2016 that set him up for success - now touching 95 MPH. As he stated after one of his more impressive starts:

"Overpowering [them] with the fastball was my main goal there," Burke said. "Out of the [83] pitches I threw, 74 were fastballs. It was going real well."

  • He and Genesis Cabrera (who was promoted to Charlotte) provide the Rays with two very intriguing prospects from the left side, and both may leap up the rankings if they develop as expected
  • Things to Watch: he noted not having the stamina to work deep into games in 2016, so the main thing to watch in 2017 will be the continued development of his off-speed stuff now that he has the velocity and the ability to lengthen his starts to 6+ innings while remaining effective.

Closing Thoughts

In addition to these prospects, I’d mention Deion Tansel, Kevin Santiago, Peter Bayer, and Eduar Lopez among potential impact players in the minors. But the guys noted are well worth the watch and could make a significant leap up the rankings throughout 2017 and into 2018.

I’ll be sure to update their progress throughout the season, so look for the “Five Guys” pieces for more on their development.