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2019 DRaysBay Community Prospect No. 1

Who is the Rays’ top prospect?

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays
Willy Adames is congratulated for graduating from prospect status
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the latest edition of the DRaysBay Community Prospect poll. Last week, we posted a preview with a description of how things work. I’ll reiterate some of the key points here:

If you’ve never seen it before, it’s quite simple, albeit it not as simple as just setting up a poll. In the comments section, there will be a selection of players available. You just have to reply to the comment with that player’s name with “+1.”

We encourage you to vote for the player you honestly feel is best, even if he doesn’t appear to have a chance of winning that vote.

Please vote using whichever criteria you prefer! If you like stats, use stats. If you like scouting reports, reference those reports. There’s no one right way to do this — that’s what makes this exercise fun.

If you want to vote for a player who is not listed, there will be an “Others” comment. Reply to that comment with the name of your selection. This is incredibly rare because there will eventually be up to 10 players to choose from, but it’s possible a player you feel strongly about slipped through the cracks.

If you want to nominate a player to be included in the next poll, reply to the “Testers” comment with that player’s name. I will often limit the number of players accepted for the next poll to prevent the list from becoming cumbersome. All players in one poll who do not win the vote are automatically included in the next poll — there is no need to renominate.

Here are your choices for the No. 1 spot.

SS Wander Franco (S/R, 5’10 189, 18 in 2019)

2018 statistics with rookie-level Princeton: 273 PA, .351/.418/.587, 11 HR, 28 XBH, 9.9 BB%, 7.0 K%

After signing for $3.83 million, Franco quickly proved the Rays made a wise investment. He got on base in nearly every game he played and was named Appalachian League Player of the Year. In addition to his impressive tools — his hit and power grades could both be plus — he already has a mature plate approach and drew more walks than he had strikeouts. He has a good chance to stick at shortstop.

C Ronaldo Hernandez (R/R, 6’1 185, 21 in 2019)

2018 statistics with Class-A Bowling Green: 449 PA, .284/.339/.494, 21 HR, 42 XBH, 10/14 SB6.9 BB%, 15.4 K%

Hernandez was a star with Princeton in 2017, and he was nearly as good in his full-season debut in 2018. He was second among minor league catchers in home runs (Baseball America $). He makes consistent contact as well. However, he has a lot of work to do behind the plate. His plus arm helps him manage the run game, but he has to improve his receiving to stick at catcher.

RHP Brent Honeywell (6’2 180, 24 in 2019)

Did not pitch in 2018

Honeywell was surely part of the Rays’ plans in 2018, but he went down with an elbow injury very early in spring training and soon underwent Tommy John surgery. The Rays hope he can begin pitching in games in May. Prior to the surgery, the righty worked with a deep arsenal, led by his mid-90s fastball. His screwball and changeup may be his best secondary pitches, and he also has a pair of breaking balls.

LHP Matthew Liberatore (6’5 200, 19 in 2019)

2018 statistics with the Gulf Coast League Rays and rookie-level Princeton: 32 23 IP, 1.38 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 10.2 BB%, 29.1 K%

The Rays were fortunate to land Liberatore — one of the top players available — with the No. 16 pick in the 2018 draft. His fastball sits in the low-90s, and he could add to that as he gets stronger. His curveball and changeup could both be plus pitches, and his ability to throw strikes is much better than the usual high school pitcher, although his walk rate was a bit high in his pro debut.

1B/LHP Brendan McKay (L/L, 6’2 212, 23 in 2019)

2018 statistics with Class-A Bowling Green and Class A-Advanced Charlotte: 242 PA, .214/.368/.359, 6 HR, 15 XBH, 18.2 BB%, 21.5 K% — 78 13 IP, 2.41 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 4.7 BB%, 34.4 K%

McKay’s two-way experiment was twice disrupted by oblique injuries, costing him quite a few plate appearances and innings. When he was healthy, he showed more on the mound than he did at the plate. He locates all of his pitches well, including a plus fastball and cutter along with a breaking ball and changeup. As a hitter, he can make good contact and has a strong plate approach, but he didn’t hit for much power in 2018.

OF Jesus Sanchez (L/R, 6’3 210, 21 in 2019)

2018 statistics with Class A-Advanced Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery: 488 PA, .282/.324/.433, 11 HR, 45 XBH, 5.3 BB%, 18.9 K%

Sanchez continued his steady progress toward the majors in 2018 and earned a spot in the Futures Game. He has the hit tool and power potential to play a corner-outfield spot, where he belongs defensively. Despite not stealing many bases, he is a good athlete. While he can make contact with a lot of pitches, he has to become more selective, and he will continue to be tested when he returns to Double A in 2019.