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Unsung minor league performers in the Rays organization

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Jim Donten Photography
Jim Donten Photography

The Tampa Bay Rays have an incredibly deep and talented farm system with amazing talents stacked from the top to the bottom.

The top prospects — such as Wander Franco, Brendan McKay, Matthew Liberatore, and Shane Baz — are of course going to draw the most attention; however, they are not the only top performers in the system.

Here are some Rays prospect names that are quietly having exceptional years. They are listed below in no particular order, and in parentheses are their current ranking on the FanGraphs Prospect Board.

Statistics as of June 20, 2019

Nick Solak, INF/OF - 24 YO - Triple-A (No. 95 overall, No. 9 in system)

Solak enjoyed a breakout season in 2018 after being traded to the Rays as part of the three team deal that sent Steven Souza Jr to the Arizona Diamondbacks. A nice blend of speed and power, Solak has already clubbed 12 home runs thus far in 2019 and has a 119 wRC+.

Taylor Walls, SS - 22 YO - Class-A+ (No. 15 in system)

After a sluggish debut season in 2017, Walls has been fairly solid for the Rays as he climbs the ladder. Currently residing in the usually offensively starved Florida State League, Walls is hitting .273/.343/.434 with 4 HR over 166 plate appearances.

Alejandro Pie. SS - 17 YO - Rookie League, DSL (No. 29 in system)

Pie was among the top prospects in the 2018 international class when the Rays signed him last summer. He made his professional debut a few weeks ago, playing in the Dominican Summer League and has impressed early on, hitting .321/.438/.396 over 64 plate appearances.

At the plate, Pie displays above-average bat speed and projects to have above-average raw power in the future. He has shown smooth defensive actions and strong arm. He’s a also solid runner -- consistently clocked in the 6.6-6.7-second range in the 60-yard run. - MLB.com scouting report on Pie

Can he keep it up when he comes to the States?

Joel Peguero - RHP - 22 YO - Class-A (No. 35 in system)

His fastball may be one of the best in all of the minor leagues as FanGraphs pegs it with a future grade of 80 and current grade of 70.

Since being converted to the bullpen, Peguero touched triple digits on the regular. The Rays have eased him into action thus far in 2019 in Single-A, but he has been successful.

Chris Betts, C - 22 YO - Class-A (No. 41 in system)

It’s been a slow start to his professional career, but Chris Betts has seemingly figured it out. The 2015 2nd round draft pick dealt with Tommy John surgery during the year he was drafted and than would later have to undergo another surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow. Thus far in 2019, Betts has hit .226/.353/.443 with 12 HR over 255 plate appearances, good for a 131 wRC+ in that league. Betts was named to the league All-Star team, and won the Home Run derby last weekend, and was also named the All-Star Game MVP.

Paul Campbell, RHP - 23 YO - Double-A (unranked)

A lifetime .255/.308/.358 hitter with just 4 home runs over six Major League seasons, his career was interrupted by World War 2....sorry, wrong Paul Campbell.

The Rays’ Paul Campbell was taken in the 21st round of the 2017 draft and has quietly risen through the ranks of the Rays organization all the way up to Double-A. A couple of rough outings have skewed his numbers, but he has been solid thus far in 2019.

Jake Cronenworth, SS/RHP - 25 YO - Triple-A (unranked)

There isn’t much more that Jake Cronenworth can do to improve his stock. He is among the top hitters in Triple-A (3rd highest wRC+ at 164) and is putting up the best numbers of his professional career.

Although he is blocked in the majors in the infield, he also gone to the rubber and been excellent on the mound for the Bulls. He has opened four games, and has yet to allow a run over his four innings pitched. Cronenworth is one of the best stories in the Rays system.

Kaleo Johnson, 1B/3B - 22 YO - Class-A+ (unranked)

Despite being on the older side for his level, Johnson’s offensive numbers are solid. He was recently promoted to High-A after posting excellent numbers in Single-A. A corner infielder, Johnson was hitting .286/.337/.437 with 7 HR prior to his promotion to Charlotte. If his hot hitting ways continue, the Rays may have a pleasant surprise in Kaleo.

Dalton Kelly, 1B - 24 YO - Triple-A (unranked)

After excelling with Double-A Montgomery in 2017, Kelly stagnated and remained with the Biscuits for the entire the 2018 season and opened 2019 there as well. However, after posting a 149 wRC+ over 205 plates appearances, Kelly warranted a promotion to Triple-A. Unfortunately, Kelly has struggled mightily since the promotion, registering a measly 45 wRC+ in 11 games, but his promotion finally occurring is worth noting this season.

Sam McWilliams, RHP - 23 YO - Double-A (unranked)

The Rays almost lost McWilliams after the Kansas City Royals selected during the Rule 5 draft this past winter; however, they returned him after spring training. They may regret that decision as McWilliams has been fantastic. His 2.00 ERA is the 9th lowest in the upper levels of the minor leagues, and may warrant a promotion to Triple-A soon.

Riley O’Brien, RHP - 24 YO - Double-A (unranked)

After he dominated in Port Charlotte, O’Brien was promoted to Double-A in early May. He endured some struggles early on, but has been pitching much better as of late. Over his last three starts, he has allowed 3 ER over 16 innings pitched.

FanGraphs pegged O’Brien as a possible breakout candidate for the Rays

O’Brien, whose grandfather played for the Pirates in the ’50s, might break out next year. He’s a well-made 6-foot-4 righty who was a 2017 eighth rounder out of Idaho. He pitched well out of Bowling Green’s bullpen early in 2018, was moved to the rotation, kept pitching well, and was promoted to Charlotte. He could end up with a plus fastball and curveball combo.

Kevin Padlo, 3B - 22 YO - Double-A (unranked)

Set to turn 23 in July, it’s been a tumultuous couple of years in the Rays system for Padlo since being acquired in the Corey Dickerson-Jake McGee trade. After an excellent 2016 season in which he launched 16 HR in 115 games, Padlo suffered a broken hamate bone that seriously sapped his abilities at the plate. Now, in 2019, Padlo’s power has returned and he is having a resurgence as he is hitting .250/.386/.520 with 9 HR over 189 plate appearances.

His 164 wRC+ ranks 5th in all of Double-A

Simon Rosenblum-Larson, RHP - 22 YO - Class-A+ (unranked)

A promising reliever, Rosenblum-Larson is having a quality season as a high leverage arm in the Stone Crabs bullpen. Although his strikeout numbers aren’t quite as astronomical as they were in 2018, he is still mowing down 29.4% of opposing hitters and has allowed just 5 ER over 24 13 innings pitched, including just one home run allowed.

Joe Ryan, RHP - 23 YO - Class A+ (unranked)

Based on his results, Ryan has emerged as one of the premier pitching prospects in the Rays system. The Rays 7th round selection in 2018, Ryan dominated in Hudson Valley last summer and has continued that dominance between Bowling Green and Port Charlotte in 2019. His 38.4 K% between those two levels trails is the second highest in the minors, trailing just behind Mackenzie Gore.

The strong performances have him surfacing on Baseball America Hot Sheet reports, where they’ve reported, “The Cal State Stanislaus alum... features a 93-96 mph fastball with excellent life when elevated at the front of a traditional four-pitch mix. His slider is the best of his offspeed pitches.”

Sounds pretty good for an unranked player!

Caleb Sampen, RHP - 22 YO - Class-A (unranked)

One of the few, true starting pitching prospects in the Rays system, Sampen was acquired form the Los Angeles Dodgers in January in return for Jaime Schultz. It’s been a great organizational debut for Sampen in Bowling Green as he has been consistently pitching deep into games and giving his team the chance to win.

Adding length to his 3.49 ERA and 3.23 FIP is good, but if his strikeout rate can climb back up above 30% like it was in rookie league, Sampen will be one to follow.