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DRaysBay Top Rays Prospects for 2020: No. 1-15

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MILB: SEP 28 Florida Instructional League - FIL Braves at FIL Rays Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Concluding our coverage of Rays prospects ahead of the 2020 season is our top fifteen, led by baseball’s second year running top prospect Wander Franco. To catch up on the previous articles, go here:

On to the good stuff.

No. 15 - 3B Kevin Padlo

Kevin Padlo was the minor leaguer the Rays received along with Corey Dickerson in the trade that sent Jake McGee and German Marquez.

Padlo broke his hamate bone in 2017 and saw his power sapped in his return in 2018. This was expected as you combine the injury and the Florida State League.

Padlo hit 21 homers in 432 plate appearances split between Montgomery (AA) and Durham (AAA). He hit .265/.389/.538 and put up a 153 wRC+.

Padlo’s swing is built for the launch angle revolution and MLB ball that saw use in AAA starting in 2019. He’s always posted strong mid teen walk rates around 15% while striking out around 25%. The BABIPs won’t be strong with so many balls in the air, but should provide solid OBP and power.

Padlo would be expected to start the year in Durham, but now that he is on the 40 man roster he’ll be a call away from making his major league debut. He should be the first person called up when a right handed corner infielder is needed.

No. 14 - SS Taylor Walls

Taylor Walls was selected by the Rays in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft out of Florida State University.

Walls is a player that has no real standout skill but seems to do everything good enough. He’s rated very well defensively to this point in the minors. He hit .270/.343/.452 and put up a 130 wRC+ split between Port Charlotte (A+) and Montgomery (AA). He hit 10 homers and stole 28 bags but was caught 15 times.

Walls shows control of the zone. He swings at pitches he can put in play which led to a 10.6% walk rate and 18.7% strikeout rate. He won’t hit for much game power, but should hit plenty of doubles.

With so many switch hitting middle infielders in his way it’s hard to see a role for Walls, in fact a top-15 ranking is aggressive in my view when considering the Rays system as a whole. He’s a guy I would call about if I needed a utility infielder with another organization with some chance he sticks as a below average regular.

A potential quick mover through the system, Walls could start the year in Montgomery (AA) or Durham (AAA) and will likely be determined by where the other middle infielders are assigned.

No. 13 - RHP Joe Ryan

Joe Ryan was drafted in the 7th round by the Rays in the 2018 draft. He’s done nothing but dominate in professional ball.

In 2019 he struck out 183 batters (38.0%) in 123.2 innings split between Bowling Green (A), Port Charlotte (A+), and Montgomery (AA). He posted a 1.96 ERA and 1.91 FIP.

The results have been stellar, but the way he gets there is unconventional. He threw his fastball approximately 75% of the time in 2019. It doesn’t have great velocity as it sits 91-94, but batters can’t seem to hit it. This reminds me of reports of Colin Poche heading into the 2019 season.

As a starter I’m less skeptical that this can work and he’ll need to improve his curveball or changeup to be a big league starter. As is, he can likely be an innings eater #5 starter or bulk guy for the Rays. Ryan likely starts in Montgomery (AA) after making three starts to end the 2019 season there.

No. 12 - SS Greg Jones

The Rays drafted Greg Jones with the 22nd pick in the 2019 draft out of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Jones is a speed demon with a raw bat.

After signing Jones went to Hudson Valley (A-) where he hit .335/.413/.461 with 1 homer and 19 stolen bases. His 25.7% strikeout rate is higher than you like especially as a 21 year old in the New York-Pennsylvania League.

Jones has some power in the bat, and will have a path to be an everyday player, but the variance is great.

The defensive home isn’t known at this point, but he should stay up the middle whether it’s as a shortstop or center fielder.

Jones should start the season in Bowling Green (A) and have the opportunity to force a promotion to Port Charlotte.

No. 11 - CF Josh Lowe

Josh Lowe is the younger brother of Rays first baseman Nate Lowe. Both were drafted by the Rays in the 2016 draft with the younger Josh being taken with the 13th overall pick and Nate taken in the 13th round. Nate beat Josh to the pros, but Josh has far more upside.

Josh Lowe was seen a potential first round pick as either a pitcher or position player. The Rays decided to try him at third base, but quickly moved him to center field where his athleticism plays more favorably.

2019 was a breakout season offensively for Lowe. In 519 plate appearances he hit .252/.341/.442 with 18 homers and 30 stolen bases. The raw power that showed in batting practice finally showed up in games.

Lowe is a plus center fielder with plus speed and a plus-plus arm. He will strike out more than you would prefer, but the profile plays well as an above average center fielder or plus defender in a corner.

Lowe should start the year in Durham (AAA) just a call away from joining his brother as major leaguers. Lowe would be a top-ten prospect had Yoshi Tsutsugo not qualified as a prospect this year.

(^^^ Bat Flip Alert)

No. 10 - C Ronaldo Hernandez

Ronaldo Hernandez has become one of the high profile signs from the 2014 international free agent class for the Rays that included Brujan and Jesus Sanchez.

Hernandez is one of the few high profile prospects that had a disappointing year. He hit .265/.299/.397 and put up a 104 wRC+ for Port Charlotte (A+). The Florida State League does a good job at suppressing offense, but this was a step back from his very good 2018 campaign for Bowling Green (A), where he had 21 bombs and won the league’s HR Derby.

Hernandez makes contact, but got impatient at the plate last year. He swung at too many pitches out of the zone. He is able to make contact on many of these pitches, but not all contact is good contact.

Not all was a loss for Hernandez in the 2019 season. He made stride defensively. He’s always had a strong accurate arm, but made gains in blocking and framing.

Hernandez will likely spend the 2020 season in Montgomery (AA). He’s a good dude.

No. 9 - 3B/LF Yoshi Tsutsugo

If it were up to me, this ten-year veteran of the NPB would not be eligible for a prospect list, but to keep pace with the breadth of prospect ranking, we’re slotting Tsutsugo into the top ten.

If he were signed to longer than a two-year deal, he might place in the top-five, but his overall value to the Rays is limited by his age and length of contract. Tsutsugo is a professional athlete and will be part of the Rays starting lineup for the short term.

No. 8 - LF Randy Arozarena

The Rays shocked many including myself when they acquired Randy Arozarena from the St. Louis Cardinals for LHP Matthew Liberatore. Liberatore was one of the prospects I thought was least likely to be moved, but I see this as a win-now or win-soon move by the Rays, and like what Arozarena brings to the current roster.

Arozarena hit .344/.431/.571 in 399 MiLB plate appearances split between AA and AAA in 2019. He made his MLB debut in August and received another call up in September. He totaled 23 MLB plate appearances, but put up impressive exit velocities in the small sample with four balls at 100+ mph.

Arozarena is the right handed outfield bat the Rays needed to pick up to fill the only hole that couldn’t be filled from within at this time. He can play center field when needed with a 29.4 ft/sec sprint speed that would have tied Kevin Kiermaier for the team lead last year.

Much like the player the Rays will look for him to replace in the near future, Tommy Pham, Arozarena hits the ball hard, runs well even if it comes with over aggressiveness at time, and succeeds even when he doesn’t get the ball in the air enough to take full advantage of all the natural power that exists.

Arozarena likely was scheduled to start the season in Durham (AAA) especially after the late addition of Manny Margot. Even without starting in the majors he should still likely impact the 2020 Rays.

I have Arozarena as a top-five prospect in the Rays system, and expect him to take over left field on a regular basis, but he could fall short of an everyday role on a very good team.

No. 7 - RHP Brent Honeywell Jr.

Brent Honeywell Jr. was the hardest prospect for me to place on this list. In a perfect world he would have made his MLB debut in 2018 and established himself as a #2/3 starter in the majors already. However pitcher health rarely is perfect. On the first day of spring training in 2018 he tore his UCL and underwent Tommy John surgery. Before he was able to return to minor league games he fractured a bone in his elbow during a bullpen session losing all of the 2019 season.

It’s been two full years since we’ve seen Honeywell Jr. on a mound in game conditions. At his best he had a mid 90s fastball that could hit 97, and a plus to plus-plus changeup with an additional arsenal of three average to above average secondary offerings including a cruveball, cutter, and screwball.

At this point Honeywell Jr. is a wildcard. The delay to the season likely doesn’t matter as much to him as others. In spring training he was throwing bullpen sessions that started with fastballs only and had progressed to adding his change up. If he’s healthy and the stuff returns mostly in tact he could be a big addition for the Rays in the coming seasons.

Honeywell Jr. might have started the season in extended spring training as he works his way back to game shape, but now he’ll likely be ticketed to Durham (AAA) when the season begins.

No. 6 - 2B Xavier Edwards

Xavier Edwards is as prototypical Rays target as there could be. Second baseman? Check. Switch hitter? Check. Hits with little power present power? Check. Can cause havoc on the base paths? Check.

Edwards was a surprising add to the Rays system via the Tommy Pham trade, particularly when you consider that Edwards isn’t all that different from Vidal Brujan, who is ranked higher up this list.

Brujan shows more present power and has a swing and physical build that could turn him into a superstar if he’s able to get to that power in game. Edwards is no slouch though. He has elite contact skills that can only be rivaled by Wander Franco in the Rays minor league system and has more raw speed than Brujan.

In 2019 Edwards hit .322/.375/.396 with a single homer. He posted a 9.6% strikeout rate with a 7.8% walk rate.

Scouts who love Edwards think he can be an impactful offensive player if he even reaches a modest 10 homers a season. At present that seems to be optimistic, but a contact oriented approach with top of the scale speed and defense can be add a different dynamic to the major league offense.

After playing half a season in A+ last year it’s possible the Rays would have sent Edwards to Port Charlotte (A+) to start the minor league season with an expected promotion in the middle of the season. His assignment likely depends on Brujan’s with Edwards being one level behind.

No. 5 - RHP Shane Baz

Shane Baz was the player to be named later in the Chris Archer trade. Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows have already made their presence known among Rays fans. Baz was listed as a PTBNL at the time after he left his final start before the trade deadline after 3.0 innings. The Pirates skipped his next start before making two starts to show he was healthy before completing the acquisition.

Baz was the 12th overall pick in the 2017 draft. He has an explosive fastball that lives in the mid 90s as a starter, but hit 100 several times in the Arizona Fall League out of the bullpen. The secondary weapon of choice is a plus to plus-plus slider that sits in the 89-91 range. He throws a curve and a change sparingly. The curve looks more like a slower version of his slider sitting in the 84-86 range.

Much like the questions surrounding Archer when the Rays acquired him in the Matt Garza trade from the Chicago Cubs the question is will he start or be a monster out of the bullpen. The elite velocity fastball and slider combo is one that plays very well out of the bullpen.

The Rays aren’t ones to quickly move somebody out of the rotation so he’ll be given every chance to continue down that path, but ultimately I think it’s more likely he’ll be one of the Rays best high leverage relievers. There’s still a significant chance he’s able to make it as a starter though. In 17 starts for Bowling Green (A) he struck out 25.4% of batters and walked 10.8% while posting a 2.99 ERA and 3.66 FIP in 81.1 innings.

Baz should be on schedule to start the season in Port Charlotte (A+) and could be an option for Kevin Cash to summon out of the bullpen as soon as 2021 if that’s the route the Rays choose to go. Otherwise his arrival isn’t until the 2022 or 2023 seasons.

No. 4 - LHP Shane McClanahan

Shane McClanahan had an up and down road to his path from the University of South Florida to becoming the 31st overall pick in the 2018 draft by the Rays. Before playing his first game for the Bulls he underwent Tommy John surgery. He came out the other side with an electric fastball that touched 100 and heading into his sophomore season there was expectations he could be a top five pick.

McClanahan tailed off as the season wore down, and the Rays found him still on the board with their second pick of the draft. His story is very similar to former Rays pitcher Ryne Stanek.

The stuff was never in question on draft day. A plus-plus fastball and plus curveball combo would play at the major league level, but the question was about role. Would his command improve enough to remain a starter?

With continued development of a third pitch in a changeup that flashes average presently, his command took a big step forward in 2019, especially after being promoted to Port Charlotte (A+) and Montgomery (AA).

McClanahan racked up a career high 120.2 innings with a 30.6% strikeout rate and 8.9% walk rate. He posted a 3.36 ERA and 2.71 FIP.

I am confident he is a starter long term, but if he did move to the bullpen he could be an elite high leverage reliever. He’s likely to continue that path in Montgomery when the season begins.

No. 3 - 2B Vidal Brujan

Vidal Brujan continued to produce as he closes in his MLB debut. In 429 plate appearances split between Port Charlotte (A+) and Montgomery (AA) Brujan hit .277/.346/.389 and put up a 117 wRC+. He hit four homers and stole 48 bases.

Brujan is a bundle of energy concentrated in a small frame. He swings like he’s trying to hit a homer in every at bat. It hasn’t caused contact problems to this point. He has posted strikeout rates in the low teens at every stop. He has a good eye that should allow him to post good OBP.

Brujan’s speed is his biggest weapon at this time. In two years of full season ball he has stolen 103 bases. Brujan has the speed that he might start a conversion to center field in the near future. Some scouts believe he could play shortstop, but he likely doesn’t have the arm to stick there everyday. Where he plays might be a mystery the Rays will need to solve before he’s in the bigs.

Brujan was likely to start the season in Montgomery (AA) with a fast promotion to Durham (AAA) expected by the mid point of the season. It’s possible he could have started in Durham anyway, but I would expect it to be more likely with a shortened season.

No. 2 - LHP/DH Brendan McKay

Brendan McKay was the fourth overall pick by the Rays in the 2017 draft. He made his MLB debut last season and barely qualifies as a rookie with 49.0 innings.

On the mound McKay features a 93-95 mph fastball, 85-87 changeup, 80-82 curveball, and 88-90 cutter. His fastball plays well at the top of the zone and put up a very impressive 11.24% swinging strike rate. His curve was his second pitch of choice. It is an above average to plus pitch at it’s best. He rarely threw his cutter and changeup at the major league level.

The changeup has been his best offspeed weapon in the minors, but he didn’t throw it at all to left handed batters and only 5% of the time to right handed batters. Going forward this is going to have to be a bigger part of his game, but that’s a normal part of a pitcher’s development.

McKay’s stuff isn’t the type that wows you, but it plays up due to plus to plus-plus command.

At the University of Louisville McKay was their everyday first baseman while being their number one starter. As a professional the results haven’t been there, but the exit velocity has been. In 11 MLB plate appearances he hit two balls harder than 105 mph including his home run hit at 108.0 mph as a pinch hitter.

The bat is behind the arm at this point. If he were playing for a National League team his bat would bring a lot of value to the table. His arm is a likely 60 FV grade that would play as a solid 3.0 WAR #3 starter, but would likely play up to 65-70 FV by being close to a league average hitter when the pitchers average a -15 to -20 wRC+.

Madison Bumgarner has put up 5.0 fWAR with the bat in 679 plate appearances as a pitcher with a 45 wRC+. Adding an additional win a year over 75-100 plate appearances with a 75-100 wRC+ is very likely. Unfortunately the Rays won’t be able to take advantage of it that frequently.

McKay was likely to start in Durham (AAA). Part of this was to help limit his innings after posting a career high of 122.1 innings last year. He also needs to get accustomed to a normal five man rotation schedule. Over his first two years in the minors he worked on a six day schedule and stayed on that schedule during his time in the majors.

The delay to the season makes it more likely he could earn a spot in the Major League rotation in a shortened season. Like Tsutsugo, McKay is already a big leaguer, and will bring immediate value to the Rays in 2020.

No. 1 - SS Wander Franco

What superlatives haven’t been written about the consensus number one overall prospect in all of baseball. Wander Franco has one of the best hit tools in the minors. He doesn’t swing and miss. At 19 he already produces MLB average exit velocities. The only real thing you would prefer is that he hits the ball on the ground too often. You don’t want to change what he’s doing at the plate for fear of messing up the rest of the package, but it could lead to a reasonable ceiling of only 15-20 homers.

Franco currently is a shortstop and could stay there long term, but to fit him on the MLB roster the Rays are going to look to play him all over the field. With Willy Adames looking to lock down shortstop for the short term third base is the likely home for Franco at the major league level, but he will also get reps in the outfield and second base in order to fit wherever is needed.

Franco is likely ticketed to start the season in Montgomery (AA) whenever the season does begin. Unfortunately it was looking like Franco was going to get every opportunity to force his way to the major leagues sometime in the second half of the season. Maybe he is able to jump straight to the majors and play a larger percentage of the season than he likely would have, but without a single at bat in AA or AAA that seems optimistic.

Franco was still 18 during that Spring Training outing.

If you’re looking for a new take on just how good Franco is, this month the prospect sphere compared Franco to Vlad Jr. where Franco compares favorably.

Kid’s good.

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