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Rays top 50 prospects review: Nos. 31-40

Brandon Lowe once again stood out this season, and he earned a promotion to the majors.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason, we’re reviewing our preseason top-50 prospects list. This next group of players included two who made their big league debuts and some more who may join them in 2019.

Prospects 41-50

No. 40 LHP Brock Burke: 3.08 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 27.1 K%, 7.6 BB% in 137 13 IP for Class A-Advanced Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery

Burke entered 2018 as a solid minor league pitcher on the fringes of prospect radars at places like Baseball Prospectus ($). He then won the organization’s pitcher of the year honor with an impressive season, continuing to throw enough strikes while greatly increasing his strikeout rate. He led the organization in strikeouts.

The 22-year-old lefty is now firmly on the Rule 5 draft radar with his success in Double A. The Rays will have to decide whether to add him to the 40-man roster in November.

No. 39 1B Carlos Vargas: .256 BA/.333 OBP/.413 SLG, 4 HR, 16 XBH, 21.7 K%, 10.0 BB% in 180 PA for Rookie-level Princeton

For the Gulf Coast League Rays in 2017, Vargas split his time nearly evenly between shortstop and third base. For Princeton in 2018, every inning he spent in the field was at first base. That’s a significant change early in his career that puts more pressure on his bat to provide value. Across the board, his offensive statistics were quite similar to last season.

He’s still just 19, but if he’s now a full-time first baseman, he’s going to have to hit a lot more to rise in prospect rankings. It was never really likely that he would stick at shortstop, but I didn’t expect a move to first base this quickly.

No. 38 3B Adrian Rondon: .182 BA/.242 OBP/.387 SLG, 4 HR, 27 XBH, 26.3 K%, 6.8 BB% in 365 PA for short-season Hudson Valley and Class-A Bowling Green

Like Wander Franco, Rondon was once the top international prospect in his class. However, their careers have played out quite differently. After an inconsistent but promising 2016, Rondon has delivered consecutive poor seasons, even being sent down to the New York-Penn League to finish 2018. He has never been able to reduce his strikeouts and put the ball in play enough.

He’s still just 20, but it’s been a while since there have been any encouraging signs from his play.

No. 37 RHP Jose Mujica: 2.70 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 22.7 K%, 6.7 BB% in 36 23 IP for Triple-A Durham

Mujica had a strong start with the Bulls, striking out batters at a higher rate than he had in years. However, he went on the DL in May and eventually underwent Tommy John surgery in September. His injury cost him a likely opportunity to make his major league debut in 2018.

Because of the timing of his surgery, he’s almost certainly going to miss all of 2019. He’ll be 23 on Opening Day in 2020 when he tries to work his way back to the cusp of the majors.

No. 36 OF Ryan Boldt: .274 BA/.348 OBP/.461 SLG, 7 HR, 25 XBH, 12/14 SB, 21.2 K%, 8.8 BB% in 273 PA for Double-A Montgomery

Throughout his career, scouting reports have promised power potential from Boldt. In 2018, that began translating to in-game pop before an injury caused him to miss the last two months of the season. Without significantly increasing his strikeout rate, he hit a career-high seven home runs and increased his ISO by 76 points.

It’s good that his bat was more potent because he was almost exclusively a corner outfield in 2018. Before the injury, the 2016 second-round pick showed nice progress and should rank higher on prospect lists heading into 2019.

No. 35 RHP Curtis Taylor: 2.54 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 31.3 K%, 9.6 BB% in 78 IP for Class A-Advanced Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery

At the time of the acquisition, it was said that Taylor’s best role might be in relief. With the exception of four appearances as an opener, all of his outings were as a reliever this season. His transition went smoothly. In mostly multi-inning outings, he increased his strikeout rate and limited batters to a .571 OPS.

Now pitching in the upper minors, the 23-year-old righty could be on the major league radar sometime in 2019 if there’s an opportunity.

No. 34 2B Brandon Lowe: .297 BA/.391 OBP/.558 SLG, 22 HR, 54 XBH, 22.9 K%, 12.8 BB% in 445 PA for Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham — .233 BA/.324 OBP/.450 SLG, 6 HR, 14 XBH, 25.7 K%, 10.8 BB% in 148 PA for Tampa Bay

After a breakout 2017 season with Class A-Advanced Charlotte, Lowe proved it wasn’t a fluke with a strong follow-up campaign. Like Boldt, he was able to increase his power output without striking out substantially more. Although his defense up the middle is “average at best,” his kind of bat at second base is hard to come by.

By a small number of at-bats, he is still eligible for prospect lists this offseason. With another great season and a promising major league debut, his stock is clearly up.

No. 33 SS Jake Cronenworth: .253 BA/.321 OBP/.345 SLG, 29 XBH, 22/25 SB, 14.9 K%, 8.9 BB% in 496 PA for Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham

Like Lowe, Cronenworth had a slow start, but he dug a hole so deep that his season-long numbers still appear inadequate. In his first eight games, he batted 0-for-32. Over his final 107 games, he batted .270 with a .705 OPS, which is about how he hit for Montgomery last season. That was roughly league-average performance at the plate to go along with good baserunning and versatile defense.

The 24-year-old infielder is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this offseason. He brings a lot to the table, but since he failed to stand out in 2018, I don’t think the Rays have to worry about him being on another organization’s radar.

No. 32 RHP Michael Mercado: 5.22 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 17.3 K%, 7.3 BB% in 50 IP for short-season Hudson Valley

In his first full pro season, Mercado was quite inconsistent. In a two-start span in July, he struck out 13 and limited batters to a .198 OPS over nine innings. Over his next four starts, batters had a 1.099 OPS against him. Overall, his strikeout rate hardly changed budged from his pro debut in 2017.

Statistically, it wasn’t an impressive season, but there were still some encouraging signs to evaluators (BA $). He should move up to Bowling Green next season.

No. 31 C Nick Ciuffo: .262 BA/.301 OBP/.380 SLG, 5 HR, 16 XBH, 26.3 K%, 5.5 BB% in 236 PA for Triple-A Durham — .189 BA/.262 OBP/.297 SLG, 1 HR, 27.3 K%, 6.8 BB% in 44 PA for Tampa Bay

Ciuffo had his best career season in 2017, posting his first on-base percentage over .300 with a career-high .385 slugging percentage. However, a suspension delayed his start to the 2018 season. When he came back, he wasn’t quite as good, but he was still better than he had been prior to 2017. Still, he was able to make his major league debut.

Since being drafted in 2013, his potential at the plate has not yet been fulfilled, and to stick in the majors, he may have to rely on his solid defensive ability.

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