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Ten rookies who could impact the Rays in 2019

The window isn’t opening, it’s already open.

MLB: All Star Game-Futures Game
Brent Honeywell could be a big addition to the pitching staff down the stretch
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Outstanding rookie performances played a large part in the Tampa Bay Rays’ success in the 2018 season. On the current roster, players who exceeded rookie limits last season include Willy Adames, Austin Meadows, Christian Arroyo, Ryan Yarbrough, Jalen Beeks, Diego Castillo, Yonny Chirinos, Wilmer Font, Hunter Wood, and Ryne Stanek. Add guys who weren’t rookies but had breakouts, and that makes for a much longer list.

But now it’s 2019 and those guys are old news, right? Well, no. But there’s a whole new crop coming, and the Rays’ front office has either made room for them via trade or kept from acquiring certain players so as to not block their path to substantial playing time. Let’s take a look at 10 players we can expect to not only see but make an impact in the coming year.

Prospect rankings are courtesy of FanGraphs.

No. 3 - RHP Brent Honeywell

We were all ready to watch Honeywell make an impact in 2018. Unfortunately, the baseball gods had other plans, and he missed the entire season. When he’s healthy, he’ll be the team’s top major league-ready arm, and the Rays will need him as soon as he’s ready. In his most recent action for Triple-A Durham, he showed an elite skillset. If his 3.64 ERA in 2017 doesn’t jump off the page, his 2.84 FIP and 2.77 xFIP should.

Oh yeah, and then there’s this:

Steamer projection: 74 IP, 23.6 K%, 4.11 ERA, 4.16 FIP, 4.20 xFIP, 0.9 fWAR

No. 5 - 2B Brandon Lowe

Lowe was a contributor in his major league action in 2018, but he maintains rookie eligibility entering 2019. He started his career with an 0-for-19 slump, but once his luck changed, however, he caught fire, producing a 142 wRC+ and a .255 ISO in his remaining 126 plate appearances. His batted-ball profile isn’t something you’d expect from a guy with his frame — but his power is no fluke. In 353 plate appearances between Triple A and the majors, he swatted 20 home runs.

Steamer projection: 49 G, .329 wOBA, 110 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR

No. 12 - 1B Nathaniel Lowe

Showing a massive improvement in power and discipline in 2018, the older brother of Joshua could be the reason the Rays weren’t as aggressive as we thought they’d be in going after guys like Paul Goldschmidt and Jose Martinez. He was certainly a factor behind the Jake Bauers trade, and without a true first baseman on the roster, Lowe could get the call sooner rather than later.

Steamer Projection: 62 G, .335 wOBA, 114 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR

No. 14 - 1B/OF Joe McCarthy

Though his struggles to stay on the field are apparent and well documented — his only healthy season was in 2017 when he played 127 games — but when he has been on the field, the tools are there. He hasn’t produced a wRC+ below 114 in any season in his pro career. Most recently, he put up a ridiculous 151 wRC+ while showing fantastic plate discipline with Durham, albeit in only 47 games. Steamer hasn’t quite bought in just yet, but his ability to play both first base and the outfield will make him one of the first calls if injury strikes.

Steamer projection: 16 G, .310 wOBA, 97 wRC+, 0.1 fWAR

No. 22 - RHP Jose De Leon

After the 2016 season, the Rays sold high on Logan Forsythe, grabbing the Dodgers’ second-best pitching prospect at the time. He hasn’t been healthy since the acquisition and joined Honeywell in the Tommy John club last spring. It’s hard to predict what the team might get from him in ‘19, but he will be in the fold if he can get healthy. I look for him to be in the mix for bullpen days and bulk innings when he’s back.

Steamer projection: 46 IP, 23.1 K%, 4.41 ERA, 4.45 FIP, 4.46 xFIP, 0.4 fWAR

No. 24 - LHP Colin Poche

One of the players to be named later in the deal that sent outfielder Steven Souza Jr. to the Diamondbacks, Poche made fools of International League hitters after he was quickly promoted to Durham. He stuck out 41.5 percent of hitters, pitching to a microscopic 1.08 ERA. And that ERA wasn’t a fluke — he posted a 1.75 FIP and a 2.29 xFIP. He’s a master of deception, sitting in the low 90s with his fastball. How he manages to do it is anyone’s guess, but the Rays may have something good here. Heck they might even have a right handed version of him too in Spring Invite Cole Sulser.

Steamer projection: 25 IP, 30.8 K%, 3.39 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 3.79 xFIP, 0.2 fWAR

No. 30 - RHP Ian Gibaut

Like Poche, Gibaut dominated Triple-A hitters in 2018. Before that, he doiminated Double-A hitters in 2017. If all goes as planned, he should have no problem dominating hitters at the major league level as well. He has plus stuff — a mid-to-high-90s fastball with plus grades on his slider and change. His command grades as average, however, so until he can harness his tools, his ceiling is probably as a late-inning setup man or opener.

Steamer projection: 10 IP, 24.8 K%, 4.01 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 4.31 xFIP, 0.0 fWAR

No. 31 - C Michael Perez

Of all the players on this list, Perez is likely the only one who projects to make the Opening Day 25-man roster as it stands today. He had limited action after coming over from Arizona, in the Matt Andriese trade and he was, well, good. In 24 games with the Rays, he played good defense ans produced a respectable 89 wRC+. The bad news? That might be the best the Rays will get out of his bat. That said, he’s a capable major league catcher who could start on a number of clubs. On the days Kevin Cash wants to get Mike Zunino off his feet, Perez will be a capable replacement.

Steamer projection: 36 G, .281 wOBA, 77wRC+, 0.4 fWAR

No. 34 - LHP Matt Krook

Acquired by the Rays as a part of the deal that sent Evan Longoria to the Giants, Krook won’t wow anyone with pure stuff — his fastball sits in the high-80s. That fastball, however, has elite sinking movement. He too has shown the ability to use deception to his advantage. He hides the ball well and throws two different breaking balls along with his plus sinker. Take a look at this video:

Steamer projection: 1 IP (thumbs down emoji)

No. 1 - SS Wander Franco?

The Rays’ only 65 future-value prospect on Fangraphs, lauded as 70-grade elsewhere, Franco has been said to be the most exciting prospect outside of Vlad Guerrero Jr., and may be the next teenager to star in the majors.

Heck, he even has a whole website named after him.

He absolutely torched rookie-ball pitching as a 17 year old in 2018 with a 159 wRC+ and looks to ascend through multiple levels of the minors in 2019. Surely, a lot would have to happen for Franco to put on a Rays uniform this year, but there’s a non-zero chance that there’s a non-zero chance (you read that right) that it could happen.

Here’s a cool video:

Honorable Mentions

  • LHP Anthony Banda - The lefty contributed 14.2 innings at the major league level for the Rays in 2018, but then went down caught the Tommy John bug. If recovery goes as planned, he’ll return to action in 2019, but look for 2020 to be his breakout year.
  • UTIL Kean Wong - Finishing with a respectable .750 OPS in 2018, Wong set career highs with 9 home runs and 23 doubles. With far less players blocking his path, this could be the year he gets the call.
  • SS Andrew Velazquez - This switch hitting speedster has a leg up on his fellow rookies, as he has already made his major league debut and has the speed to swipe bases as an effective bench player in 2019.

Who are you guys most excited to see make an impact in 2019? Let us know in the comments!