Baseball America kicked their Rays coverage off early this off-season, with the team’s Top-10 list for 2019 debuting prior to the World Series.
Soaring to the top of the Rays top 10 in 17 year wunderkind, Wander Franco, who took the baseball world by storm this summer as he excelled at every facet of the game. Meanwhile, the likes of Brent Honeywell and Brendan McKay remain near the top of the Rays rankings.
Baseball America raves about the Rays system and how deep it is, stating how ridiculous it is that the Rays had two first round talents in this year’s past draft, who were not able to crack the team’s top 10.
1. SS Wander Franco
2018 preseason ranking - 6th
The scouting report on Franco is unbelievable. Some of the best snippets from BA’s writeup.
“Franco projects as a future .300 or better hitter with the ability to hit 25-30 home runs [...] Scouts differ more on how much power Franco will develop, but most are confident projecting plus or even 70-grade power.”
The future is incredibly bright for El Patron. The Rays were aggressive in assigning Franco to Princeton for his first taste of professional baseball. They could continue that aggressiveness by assigning him to Bowling Green to start out the 2019 season.
You should have seen my first draft of it...— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) October 23, 2018
BA’s projection - “Multiple scouts from other organizations said they feel comfortable projecting he will be a perennial all-star as an elite hitter who can play up the middle defensively.”
2. RHP Brent Honeywell
2018 preseason ranking - 1st
Honeywell enter spring training this past season as a possible member of the Opening Day rotation. Unfortunately, his UCL had other plans, and he would have to undergo Tommy John surgery before the first spring training game was played, costing him the entire season and at least half of the 2019 campaign.
Nonetheless, Honeywell is still among the top pitching prospects in baseball with a plus fastball and devastating secondary pitches, including his famous screwball.
Once he returns from his rehab, Honeywell may be ticketed for the majors rather quickly.
BA’s projection - “If his stuff returns to form, Honeywell has all the pieces to be a No. 2 starter. He will likely be ready to join the Rays by June or July.”
3. LHP/1B Brendan McKay
2018 preseason ranking - 3rd
It was an injury plagued season for Brendan McKay, who struggled with oblique issues several times over the course of the year.
When healthy, the two-way standout excelled on the mound, but left much to be desired from an the offensive side of his game. Nearly unhittable as a pitcher, McKay overmatched batters in the Florida State League.
The next rung on the ladder will be Double-A, where McKay may ultimately decide his fate as a two-way player. As a pitcher, he is projected a future number three in a rotation.
BA’s projection - “McKay is ready for Double-A as a pitcher. That will test him as a hitter, but the Rays see no reason to force him to focus on solely pitching just yet.”
4. C Ronaldo Hernandez
2018 preseason ranking - 12th
The best catching prospect the Rays have seen in their system since Toby Hall lit up the charts in the early 2000’s reaches the hype Baseball Prospectus gave him last preseason.
Hernandez is an exceptional hitter who could potentially hit 20 homers annually in the majors, the only question is how he’ll hold up behind the plate, both durability wise and defensively. A former infielder, whom the Rays converted to behind the plate, Hernandez has a lot to improve upon in receiving, but does feature a 70-grade arm.
He is slated to begin the 2019 season campaign with the High-A Charlotte Stone Crabs.
BA’s projection - “ If Hernandez continues to put in the work defensively, he has potential to be the rare catcher who is an offensive asset.”
5. LHP Matthew Liberatore
2018 preseason ranking - N/A
The Rays first selection in the 2018 draft (16th overall), Liberatore dominated in his first taste as a professional athlete and earned a midseason promotion to Princeton.
He has a decent fastball, but it’s his plus curveball and change-up that allow him to tear through opposing hitters. Over 32 2⁄3 innings pitched between the GCL and Princeton, Liberatore maintained a 29.1 K% and held opposing hitters to a meager .189 average against.
He is slated to begin 2019 with Hudson Valley.
BA’s projection - “Liberatore has the look of a mid-rotation starter, and if he adds strength and velocity, he could end up being a potential front-of-the-rotation stalwart.”
6. OF Jesus Sanchez
2018 preseason ranking - 5th
Although Jesus Sanchez moved down in the rankings, he is still among the Top-100 prospects in baseball (No. 40 on BA’s midseason 2018 list).
Sanchez features elite bat speed that has helped hit well above league average at every stop in his professional career thus far. Sanchez turned 21 just a few weeks ago, and finished the year with the Montgomery Biscuits in Double-A.
BA’s projection - “He profiles as an athletic right fielder.”
7. 2B Vidal Brujan
2018 preseason ranking - 20th
Among the breakout stars and highest risers in the Rays system, Vidal Brujan amazed with his plus-plus speed and solid contact ability.
He was among the minor league leaders in stolen bases this past season and his contact ability may lead to him being a perennial .300 hitter as well as an on-base machine thanks to his ability to work at-bats.
Brujan is slated to join the Montgomery Biscuits to start out the 2019 season.
BA’s projection - “He will play in the big leagues because of his athleticism, but he has a chance to be much more than just a role player.”
8. 2B Brandon Lowe
2018 preseason ranking - 16th
Brandon Lowe (rhymes with “wow”) has mashed his way to the big leagues.
After belting just 16 home runs combined over his first two years as a professional, Lowe clobbered minor league pitching during the first few months of the season and eventually made his way onto the major league roster in August. Overall, between AA/AAA/MLB, Lowe crushed 28 home runs.
The Rays have a middle infield log jam currently, and Lowe’s average defense may take away reps, but, with his offensive capability, he’ll force his way into the lineup somewhere.
BA’s projection - “The Rays have emphasized developing second basemen who can hit. Lowe should earn at-bats with the Rays in the outfield and at second base.”
9. 1B Nate Lowe
2018 preseason ranking - Not ranked
The elder brother to Joshua Lowe, a former Rays first round pick, Nathan Lowe (rhymes with “woah”) emerged as one of the minor leagues most impressive hitters during the 2018 season. Soaring from A+ to AAA this past season, Lowe earned himself a spot on the Futures’ Game roster, where he singled in a run but was thrown out trying to stretch the single into a double.
Lowe made a slight change to his swing that eliminated a hole and turned his offense into a strength as he began to compile extremely competitive at-bats and punished mistakes.
Lowe is slated to be the Durham Bulls first baseman to start out the year, but a hot start could have him knocking on the door to the majors.
BA’s projection - “Lowe has one season on his résumé in which he has produced, but scouts say that his newfound power and improved swing are no flukes. He currently stands behind Jake Bauers on the Rays’ depth chart, but his plus power is alluring.”
10. OF Moises Gomez
2018 preseason ranking - Not ranked
Gomez is yet another breakout star in the deep Rays system that features plus power, mashing 19 home runs (60 extra base hits) with the Bowling Green Hot Rods this past season. Just 20 years old, Gomez is slated to make the leap to Port Charlotte, where his offensive game will be tested in the Florida State League.
BA’s projection - “Gomez could be an above-average regular if he improves his pitch recognition”
To give an example of how deep this system is. There are thin systems where being picked in the 1st round immediately makes you a top 2-3 prospect in the system at worst. The Rays had 2 2018 first round picks who didn't crack the Top 10.https://t.co/VX9wdyahqo— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) October 23, 2018
Notable graduations: Willy Adames (No. 2) made his debut in June and took over as the team’s starting shortstop in August; Jake Bauers (No. 4) debuted in June and excelled out of the game, but ultimately endured a brutal slump over the course of the second half; 3B Christian Arroyo is dealing with injuries but appears to have graduated as well.