One of the best parts of the month leading up to Opening Day — at least if you’re a fan of prospect write-ups — is seeing how the top players in your team’s farm system rank on different top 100 lists. The most recent of these lists to come out is Keith Law’s top 100. Law, who formerly did the list for ESPN Insider, has since moved to The Athletic, and taken his list with him.
What remains unchanged is Law’s love of Rays’ shortstop, who was in third place last year, but took top honors this time around. In addition to Franco, the Rays had five other players land in the top 100, with two-way prospect Brendan McKay likely making his last appearance on the list, as he will most likely see more regular MLB play this year.
Let’s break down what Law saw in the Rays prospect. The full list can be found here, and as with all pay-walled stories, we will only quote it minimally.
No. 1 — SS Wander Franco
Law was incredibly positive about Franco overall, as most prospect lists are, citing his mature plate discipline: “He has incredible hand speed as a hitter, along with an exceptional approach at the plate for someone his age, with 56 walks against just 35 strikeouts in 2019.” If there’s a negative, and Law seems disinclined to call it one, it’s Franco’s speed, which might be good news for Willy Adames.
Law acknowledges, “[Franco is] a shortstop by trade who has given no indication so far that he won’t stay there, although his lack of speed has led some scouts at least to speculate that he’ll end up at second or third.”
No. 18 — LHP Brendan McKay
Even Law admits that McKay just baaaaarely qualifies for his list, coming one inning short of exceeding rookie limitations.
Law highlights the reduction of McKay’s changeup in the majors as something that limited him in 2019, “[he] stopped throwing his changeup almost completely — it was just 3.6 percent of his pitches thrown in the big leagues — and suddenly right-handed hitters were all over him.”
As with previous years, Law’s assessment of McKay is that he’s best used as a pitcher-only, rather than continuing to be developed as a two-way player. And as a pitcher? “He’s got at least three 55s in his arsenal with plus command, enough to give him a mid-rotation floor and solid No. 2 kind of ceiling.”
No. 53 — 2B Vidal Brujan
The remainder of the Rays on Law’s list failed to crack the top 50, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t deserving of attention. Brujan, who Law calls “little but fierce” cites the infielder’s speed as one of his best assets, and sees him as a future second baseman.
Law likes Brujan at the plate, but with an asterisk: “[he has] a compact but potent swing, rarely missing and making quality contact, albeit without power as his swing isn’t geared to drive the ball that way.”
No. 56 — OF Josh Lowe
Not far behind Brujan is the Rays third Lowe: Josh. Lowe, the younger brother of Nate Lowe, is an outfielder, and Law likes how he improved as he moved up in the farm system.
In spite of Lowe’s recent shoulder surgery, Law thinks highly of the 22-year-old’s future. “[He has] a patient enough approach at the plate to make his long-but-fluid swing work. He’s still going to strike out, but there’s 30-homer power in here, and with a solid OBP, baserunning value, and potentially 70 defense in center, he might be a quiet star.”
No. 64 — 2B Xavier Edwards
Another infielder, Edwards was recently acquired by the Rays as part of the Tommy Pham trade. Law likes his speed, and suggests that if second base doesn’t pan out, centerfield could be an alternative option.
Much like Brujan, Edwards doesn’t pack a lot of power in his swing. “He’s got a good swing for line drives and eventually some doubles power, but it’ll never be home run power and he just needs to concentrate on gaining strength to make his contact more impactful.”
No. 66 — RHP Shane Baz
Baz, the third (ha) part of the trade for Chris Archer, has a lot to offer, but his less-than-stellar command and control lead Law to believe that he might be a future relief pitcher rather than a starter.
Baz has the velocity for greatness, and a potential four-pitch mix, but Law worries durability might be an issue long term. But for a team who uses their bullpen in unconventional ways, this is hardly a bad thing. “If he does have to go to the ‘pen eventually, however, we can already see that he would have some of the most unhittable stuff of any reliever in baseball.”
All in all, a good year for the Rays farm, even if they only landed two in the top 50. Law tends to value a higher ceiling above all else. To have six players make the top 100 list, and none lower than 66, speaks very highly of the system’s potential to possibly produce multiple stars in the near-future.