This year was one of the most difficult years to put together a prospect list. Unless a player played in the majors, there is just very little information to be found that doesn’t come from team sources that have to be taken with a grain of salt.
The Tampa Bay Rays continue to boast one of the most talented farm systems I have ever seen. There is top-end talent combined with quality depth that you rarely find.
Most of the players who make this list have some reasonable major league usefulness.
The Rays continued to amass talent through the draft, international free agency, and the trade market, while the only notable graduations were Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and Peter Fairbanks.
Our list this season is a combination of four voters: Danny Russell, Homin Lee, Scott Grauer, and myself.
1. Wander Franco, SS
Wander Franco has been one of the most hyped prospects in recent history. For the second straight winter, he has been the consensus number one overall prospect in the game. Franco is close to major league ready and turned 20 on March 1.
The switch-hitting shortstop was considered the best prospect in the international free agent market in 2017 and received the largest bonus in the signing period at $3.825 million. Since then, the Rays have aggressively promoted him, sending him to full season as an 18 year old and even promoting him to Charlotte (A+) for half of the season. It was expected he would have been assigned to Montgomery (AA) last season, but he instead spent the summer working at the Alternate Site. He made the expanded roster for the playoffs despite not having played a game in the majors.
In 2019, Franco hit .327/.398/.487 split between Bowling Green (A) and Charlotte. He has great plate discipline, putting up an 11.3% walk rate to go with a 7.1% strikeout rate. His contact is an elite skill that has the potential to be one of the best in the game.
The only real knock against Franco is that he doesn’t currently hit for more than average home-run power. That could come in the future as he posts above-average MLB exit velocities, but he would need to get the ball airborne more frequently to tap into his power.
As a shortstop, he does all things well. Franco has a strong arm and the range to stay at shortstop, but has the bat that could play at third base if needed.
2. Randy Arozarena, OF
The Rays received Randy Arozarena as part of a rare trade sending a top-100 prospect away when they traded left-handed pitcher Matthew Liberatore to the St. Louis Cardinals for Arozarena and Jose Martinez.
He made his presence in the league known with one of the most dominant playoff runs ever seen. He hit .377/.442/.831 and put up a 239 wRC+ in 86 plate appearances. He set many single-season playoff records, including home runs (10), hits (29), and total bases (64).
It wasn’t only the playoffs when Arozarena made his presence known. After starting the season late due to contracting COVID-19, he showed up in tremendous shape. He put on a lot of muscle, and it showed with elite exit velocities peaking at 113.1 mph.
Arozarena has plus power and speed to pair with an above-average contact rate. In the outfield he tends to play overaggressive at times, but the hope is that can be reigned in as he develops into an average to above average corner outfielder.
3. Luis Patiño, RHP
Luis Patiño was the major piece received in the Blake Snell trade with the San Diego Padres.
The 21 year old made his major league debut last season out of the bullpen. It was a tiny 17 1⁄3 inning sample, but it was the first time he had significant trouble with walks, posting a 16.5% walk rate. In two of his first four appearances, he walked four and three batters. In his final seven appearances, he walked six.
Patiño was likely amped up and overthrew out of the bullpen. He averaged 97 mph on his fastball while hitting 101 max velocity. His changeup hovered at 89 and his slider sat in the mid-80s. In shorter bursts, he was able to throw a tick or two harder, and his fastball should stabilize in the 95-96 range.
The concern going into 2021 surrounds quantity of innings rather than quality of innings. In 2019, he threw a career-high 94 2⁄3 innings. Due to no minor league season last year, he wasn’t able to build on that innings total. Instead of expecting 150 innings this year, he’s likely going to be limited to around 120.
I expect he will grow into a No. 2 starter in the very near future, but he might not provide much value for the Rays until 2022.
4. Vidal Brujan, 2B/CF
Vidal Brujan was signed as an international free agent in October 2014 for a very small signing bonus. He was undersized, and despite adding strength, is still very diminutive in stature.
The switch hitter turned in a .277/.346/.389 line and put up a 117 wRC+ split between Port Charlotte and Montgomery in 2019. He takes violent hacks that look like he is out of control, yet he has control of the strike zone, showing the ability to lay off pitches out of the zone while not swinging and missing frequently. Throughout his time in the minors, he has generally ran strikeout rates in the 10-15% range.
Brujan’s natural position has been second base, but some believe he has enough arm that he could play shortstop if needed. Due to the surplus of middle infielders in the system, the Rays started working him in the outfield last spring, where his elite speed could allow him to play in center.
5. Brendan McKay, LHP/DH
Brendan McKay was the No. 4 pick by the Rays in the 2017 draft. He was drafted as a pitcher/first baseman hybrid, but the bat has lagged behind the arm. McKay made his major league debut in 2019 but did not exceed rookie limits and remains a prospect.
Unfortunately, McKay’s season was delayed in 2020 after testing positive for COVID-19. That wasn’t the end of the bad news for McKay, as he underwent shoulder surgery to clean out the labrum. McKay is in camp but is limited to hitting for the time being. If he stays on schedule, he could be ready to help the big league club in June or July. My understanding is this wasn’t a labrum tear, so the prognosis of him returning to form is better than most shoulder surgeries.
In 2019, McKay had a solid debut, putting up a 5.14 ERA/4.03 FIP/4.38 xFIP in 49 innings. He posted a strong 25.9% strikeout rate and 7.4% walk rate.
McKay throws a 93-96 mph fastball and a 80-83 mph curve as his two main weapons. He will sprinkle in a 89-91 mph cutter and 86-88 mph changeup to keep hitters off balance. It’s a four-pitch repertoire with plus command that should lead to a middle-of-the-rotation starter with some chance he maxes out as a No. 2.
6. Shane McClanahan, LHP
Shane McClanahan was the No. 31 pick in the 2018 draft by the Rays out of the University of South Florida.
McClanahan was the first pitcher ever to make his MLB debut in the playoffs. In 4 1⁄3 innings, he allowed four earned runs. He picked up four strikeouts and walked two. He looked like he suffered from overthrowing while receiving his cup of coffee as a reliever.
The stuff was electric. The fastball averaged over 97 and maxed out at 101. His secondary weapon of choice is generally described as a curveball, but due to its 82-85 mph velocity, it sometimes is classified as a slider. It’s a real weapon. He will throw an 85-88 mph changeup to keep right-handed hitters off his fastball.
There were reliever concerns at the time of the draft, and they still remain among some scouts. However, McClanahan was able to make his delivery more consistent in the minors. He could end up as a late-inning reliever with an elite fastball and curveball combo, but I expect the Rays will continue to build up his innings and use him as a bulk-inning option.
7. Shane Baz, RHP
Shane Baz was the player to be named later in the trade that sent Chris Archer to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Many thought he was the best player at the time of the trade in a deal that also included Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow.
Baz shows a lot of similarities to Archer as a prospect. The biggest problem has been his lack of control that has led walk rates in the 12-15% range in the minors. The stuff is electric, as he combines a fastball that works 95-97 mph and can touch 100 mph as a starter. He has a plus or better slider as his put-away pitch that sits around 90 mph.
The reliever concerns are real, but the Rays will continue to try to keep him stretched out, hoping his athleticism leads to a more consistent delivery down the road. If he does become a reliever, it’s not a worst case scenario, as he could be a dominant force in the back of the Rays’ bullpen as soon as 2021.
8. Taylor Walls, SS
Taylor Walls was the Rays’ third-round pick in the 2017 draft out of Florida State University.
This version of switch-hitting middle infielder is the best defender of the group. Walls should be an above average or plus defender at shortstop.
In 2019, Walls hit .270/.343/.452. Offensively, nothing stands out, but he does control the strike zone well. At the major league level, it’s expected he’ll be challenged by pitchers as he doesn’t possess much power and only average speed.
Currently, he’s likely in front of the line of the middle infielders as he is the oldest and will turn 25 in July.
In another system, he’d likely get an opportunity to prove whether he can hit enough to be an everyday shortstop; however, with the Rays, that window could be short lived, but he should be a very useful player to have on the bench in a worst case scenario.
9. Xavier Edwards, 2B
Xavier Edwards is an undersized, switch-hitting middle infielder whose arm will keep him on the right side of the infield and was the major prospect received in the Tommy Pham trade with the San Diego Padres.
Edwards hit .322/.375/.396 and put up a 121 wRC+ in Fort Wayne (A-) and Lake Elsinore (A+) while in the Padres’ system in 2019. His carrying tool is 80 grade speed.
At the plate, Edwards rarely swings and misses as he runs strikeout rates around 10%. However he rarely hits for over-the-fence power with just one homer in 756 career minor league plate appearances.
How good he becomes will depend on how his power develops. As of now, his batted-ball profile takes advantage of his speed.
Edwards likely is behind several other switch-hitting middle infielders on the depth chart as he enters 2021, and would be a likely candidate to be traded if the Rays needed to move something of value for a good return in the near future.
10. Seth Johnson, RHP
Seth Johnson was the No. 40 pick by the Rays in the 2019 draft.
In college, Johnson started off as a shortstop but moved to the mound during his final collegiate season at Campbell. Despite being a raw pitcher, the Rays were interested in his electric stuff.
Johnson was one of the players who stood out in instructs with his fastball sitting in the 94-97 range and touching 99. His main secondary weapons are a mid 80s slider and high 70s curve. He will occasionally throw a mid 80s changeup to round out his repertoire.
Johnson has the athleticism that should allow him to repeat his delivery. The biggest remaining hurdle could be building up innings in his arm.
In 2019, he threw 66 1⁄3 innings in college while combining for 17 innings for the GCL Rays (Rookie) and Princeton Rays (Rookie). The loss of the 2020 season hurts him more than most prospects as the Rays likely would’ve liked to see him build up to around 100 innings, but now that timeframe is pushed back a year.
Due to the lack of innings, Johnson could be more of a 3-5 inning type if he’s called up within the next two seasons (re: bulk guy). He has the arm talent that the Rays will find a way to use the innings he has available.
11. Josh Lowe, CF
Josh Lowe was the No. 13 pick in the 2016 and could find himself the next outfielder called up if injuries strike the major league club.
At the time of the draft, there were teams who liked him more as a pitcher, but the Rays liked the bat. Initially, they tried him at third base, but he has moved to center field and thrived. He’s an above-average defender with a plus arm, and could wow in a corner outfield role if his bat transitions to the show.
Lowe hit .252/.341/.442 and put up a 128 wRC+ in Montgomery. His set a career high with 18 homers and added 30 stolen bases. There’s a fair amount of swing and miss to his game, but the power and walk rate should help the bat play.
12. Greg Jones, SS
Greg Jones was the No. 22 pick in the 2019 draft. Jones has a rare combination of speed and power. His defensive ability will keep up the middle, whether that comes at short or in center field.
Jones is a switch hitter that presently has a lot of swing and miss in his game. In 2019, he hit .335/.413/.461 despite having a 25.7% strikeout rate for Hudson Valley (short season). During the pandemic shortened season he was a late addition to the alternate site.
Jones turned 23 in March. He’s the type of prospect that was likely hurt the most by a lost minor league season. It will be interesting to see how aggressively they assign him in 2021. If the Rays are aggressive, they could assign him to Montgomery, but my expectation is that Bowling Green (A+) is more likely.
13. Cole Wilcox, RHP
Cole Wilcox was one of the secondary prospects received from the Padres in the Snell trade.
Wilcox was drafted in the third round by the Padres in the 2020 draft, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. His $3.3 million signing bonus is the highest ever for a player drafted in the third round and equivalent to the recommended slot bonus of the No. 20 selection.
Before the pandemic shut down college sports, Wilcox was having a fantastic start at the University of Georgia. In 23.0 innings, he had a 1.57 ERA and struck out 32 batters while only walking two.
As a starter, the fastball sits comfortable in the mid 90s and can touch 98. His 85-87 mph slider is his main secondary offering. The changeup is a work in progress and likely will decide if he’s a starter or reliever.
14. JJ Goss, RHP
JJ Goss was selected by the Rays with the No. 36 pick of the 2019 draft. Unfortunately, he only has 17 professional innings on the books, but the stuff has reportedly taken a step forward since the draft.
Goss’ fastball now sits in the mid 90s. He throws a slider and a splitter as his secondary offerings. Unlike most young pitchers who are more throwers, he can really pitch. He has the size that should be able to handle a starter’s workload, and is a likely trade candidate if the Rays are looking to move a prospect the industry should value strongly.
15. Brent Honeywell, RHP
Brent Honeywell was the No. 72 pick in the 2014 draft, and is finally on the cusp of the majors in 2021, but whether he’ll make the leap is still an open question.
Honeywell is the hardest prospect to project at this point. If you told me he became a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter, a one-inning reliever, or never threw a pitch in the majors, I wouldn’t really be surprised.
At one time, Honeywell was in the discussion for best pitching prospect in the game, but the problem is the last time we’ve seen Honeywell on the mound in a game setting was when he closed out of the 2017 Triple-A National Championship for the Durham Bulls. That is three full seasons without throwing in a game.
During spring training in 2018, he tore his UCL and underwent Tommy John surgery. Then in 2019 while throwing a bullpen session during his recovery, he broke a bone in his elbow, causing him to miss the 2019 season. 2020 wasn’t his fault as there weren’t minor league games. He did throw at the Alternate Site, but we need to see if the stuff has returned.
Before undergoing surgery, he had a fastball that sat in the 93-95 mph range and had a five-pitch mix that included a curveball, changeup, cutter, and screwball. The changeup was the best of the secondary pitches and was plus to plus-plus. He also showed above-average command.
We don’t know if that is still an accurate report or not. The good news is Honeywell has been said to feel the best he has since before surgery. He received a fourth option, so he has one more year to see what he is before he has to try to stick on the Major League roster. Hopefully there will be a minor league season in order to see what he comes back as.
16. Blake Hunt, C
Blake Hunt was another one of the prospects received in the Snell trade, and has gotten high praise from the front office. In interviews, GM Erik Neander has referred to Hunt as a future every day catcher, which is high praise.
In 2019, Hunt hit .255/.331/.381 and put up a 108 wRC+ for Fort Wayne. There are reports of a swing change that has allowed him to get to his power, but we haven’t seen it in a game situation yet.
Behind the plate, he is a good athlete with a plus arm. Hunt looks to be the Rays’ long-term solution behind the plate, particularly after the trade of Ronaldo Hernandez to the Red Sox.
17. Nick Bitsko, RHP
Nick Bitsko was selected by the Rays with the No. 24 in the 2020 draft. Bitsko reclassified as a senior late in the process to be eligible for the 2020 draft as a 17 year old. He went viral with some impressive bullpens that showed big stuff.
Unfortunately, Bitsko underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. We’ll have to wait and see how his stuff returns when he’s back on a mound.
18. Joe Ryan, RHP
Joe Ryan was selected by the Rays in the seventh round of the 2018 draft out of Stanislaus State.
Ryan was dominant in 2019 with a 1.96 ERA split between Bowling Green, Charlotte, and Montgomery. He struck out 38.0% of the batters he faced while only walking 5.6%. His 183 strikeouts ranked second in all of minor league baseball for the season.
Despite the dominant results, nobody is quite sure how he does it. His fastball sits 90-94 and he threw it around 75% of the time. He will occasionally throw a curveball, changeup, and cutter to round out his mix, but those will likely need to be incorporated more frequently in the majors.
Ryan will likely start the season in Durham (AAA) but should be next in line for a spot start if the Rays need to add a pitcher to the 40 man.
19. Josh Fleming, LHP
Josh Fleming was the Rays’ fifth-round pick out of Webster University in the 2017 draft.
After the Rays’ pitching staff suffered an onslaught of injuries, it was Fleming who received the call ahead of other options. The results were quite good as he put up a 2.78 ERA/4.40 FIP/3.70 xFIP in 32 1⁄3 innings.
Fleming’s a pitch-to-contact and control type. He led all pitchers with 30-plus innings in ground-ball rate in 2020. His primary pitch is a 90-94 mph sinker. Off the sinker, he uses an 85-87 mph cutter and 81-83 mph changeup. He will occasionally throw a 77-79 mph curveball.
It wouldn’t really surprise me if Fleming becomes one of the better prospects by production on this list as he just compiles innings, similar to Ryan Yarbrough. The stuff plays at the major league level, but he’ll likely start the year with Durham until needed.
20. Heriberto Hernandez, LF/1B
Heriberto Hernandez was one of the prospects the Rays received from the Texas Rangers in the Nate Lowe trade, and his positional future is uncertain. He originally started out as a catcher, and the Rangers had him play right field and first base, but his future might gravitate toward left field in the Rays system..
Hernandez has yet to receive a plate appearance in full season, but the results have been incredible. In 2019, he hit .345/.436/.635 and put up a 181 wRC+ over 234 plate appearances.
There’s the making of a plus hitter with plus power, but the question will be where can he play. I’d expect an aggressive assignment to either Bowling Green or maybe even Montgomery.
21. Drew Strotman, RHP
Drew Strotman was selected by the Rays in the fourth round of the 2017 draft out of Saint Mary’s College of California. In college, Strotman worked mostly as a multi-inning reliever, but the Rays converted him to a starter.
In 2018, he underwent Tommy John surgery, so he’s one of the few players that were relatively unaffected by the lack of minor league season.
Before the injury, the stuff looked like he had taken a step forward with a 93-95 mph fastball paired with a 78-81 mph breaking ball. According to reports, the stuff looked even better in instructs, where he added a cutter that has become his best secondary pitch. (Baseball America, $)
This season should be about building innings on the arm and seeing the if the stuff holds.
22. Carlos Colmenarez, SS
Carlos Colmenarez was the biggest addition the Rays made in the 2021 international free-agent market. He was in the discussion for top prospect not coming from Asia.
Colmenarez is a tall shortstop. At 17, he’s already over 6’0” tall. He’s a left-handed hitter that should hit for contact and power, and he has athleticism that should be able to keep him at shortstop. It’s the right ingredients for a star player, but he’s a long way off.
23. Kevin Padlo, 3B/1B
Kevin Padlo was the minor league included in the Corey Dickerson trade with the Colorado Rockies, and has yet to break through despite strong results. In 2019, he hit .265/.389/.538 and put up a 153 wRC+ split between Montgomery and Durham. He also hit 21 homers.
At the plate, he shows patience and attacks pitches he can get airborne. There’s some swing and miss concern, but he has plus power that he’s able to get to consistently.
Padlo is already on the 40-man roster, but due to depth of the Rays’ major roster, he is expected to start the season in Durham.
If the Rays need a right-handed bat off the bench through injury, similar to the role that Mike Brosseau was used in last year, Padlo is likely the Rays’ best option given his roster placement.
24. Alejandro Pie, SS
Alejandro Pie was the Rays’ biggest signing during the 2018 international free-agent period.
Due to the lack of minor league season in 2020, Pie has yet to make his stateside minor league debut. In the Dominican Summer League, he hit .289/.361/.342 and put up a 103 wRC+ in 2019.
Plus speed is his best current tool, but reports are that he has put on strength over the last year and a half that should lead to more power. Unless he puts bulk to go with that strength, he should be able to stay at shortstop. I expect he’ll get assigned to Charleston.
25. Alika Williams, SS
Alika Williams was the No. 37 selection by the Rays in the 2020 draft from Arizona State.
Williams is a defense-first shortstop. Offensively, he rarely strikes out (8.9% strikeout rate in college). He doesn’t hit for much power but has enough to jump on an inside pitch. Williams should see an assignment to Bowling Green.
26. Nick Schnell, RF
Nick Schnell was the No. 32 pick by the Rays in the 2018 draft. Schnell popped up late in the draft process because of his power and athleticism.
Injuries have prevented him from seeing much time on the field since the draft, and excessive swing and miss is a major concern at this point in time, but the quality of a first round pick remains.
27. Osleivis Basabe, SS/CF
Osleivis Basabe was one of the minor leaguers received in the Nate Lowe deal. Basabe’s defensive home is unknown, although he has the athleticism that should keep him up the middle. Presently he doesn’t make the routine play often enough to stay at short, and that could be what forces a move to center field.
At the plate, Basabe is a contact hitter but unlike some of the other middle infielders in the system, he has the size that he projects to add some power to his game.
28. Taj Bradley, RHP
Taj Bradley was selected by the Rays in the fifth round of the 2018 draft. Prior to 2020, the projected velocity gains did not come to fruition as he sat in the low 90s and had an inconsistent delivery; however, in 2020, he made gains sitting in the mid 90s and was able to hit 97 at instructs.
Bradley’s slider is presently his best secondary pitch, but he will need to continue to develop his changeup to remain a starter.
29. Ford Proctor, C
Ford Proctor was selected by the Rays in the third round of the 2018 draft from rice.
Prior to 2020, he mostly played middle infield, but he converted to catcher. In the Australian Baseball League, he looked very athletic and shows the skills necessary to convert to the position, similar to Austin Nola.
Proctor shows strong plate discipline with a 12.9% walk rate and 16.8% strikeout rate playing for Bowling Green in 2019. He hit .290/.383/.402 and put up a 131 wRC+. The lack of power should allow pitchers to attack him, so I’d expect fewer walks.
At catcher, the pressure on the bat lessens, and the path of resistance to the majors should be much clearer than it would be at second base for this organization.
The development behind the plate will be one of the big things to look for in the minor leagues for the Rays.
30. Curtis Mead, 3B
The Rays acquired Curtis Mead from the Philadelphia Phillies for reliever Cristopher Sanchez. Mead is unique as he was signed as a 17 year old out of Australia as an international free agent.
In 2019, he hit .285/.351/.462 and put up a 132 wRC+ in the Gulf Coast League. He has a good idea of the strike zone and makes a lot of contact. He has the frame that could add more muscle and still remain athletic enough for third base.
31. Pedro Martinez, 2B
Pedro Martinez was the player to be named later that the Rays received from the Chicago Cubs in the Jose Martinez trade last summer.
In 2019, Martinez hit .311/.388/.437 in the Arizona League (Rookie) and Eugene (short-season) at 18 years old. Of course, this being the Rays list, Martinez is a switch-hitting middle infielder. Swing and miss could keep him from being able to be a big leaguer.
Defensively, he might be best suited for second base, as he doesn’t have as much speed as expected with the profile.
32. Michael Mercado, RHP
The Rays selected Michael Mercado in the second round of the 2017 draft. The Rays paid up to keep the high schooler out of his commitment to Stanford.
At the time of the draft, he only sat in the upper 80s but had the projectable body at 6’4” and the ability to add weight. He showed an ability to spin a curveball that allowed teams to dream on upside.
Reportedly, he showed up to instructs with a big uptick in velocity and a new slider. In 2021, the focus should be on building up his innings and seeing if the velocity holds.
33. Moises Gomez, LF
Moises Gomez was signed by the Rays during the 2015 international free agent period.
Gomez had a breakout season in 2018, posting a .280/.328/.503 line and 131 wRC+ for Bowling Green. His 2019 season was a step back, as he hit .220/.297/.402 and put up a 106 wRC+.
Gomez has plus power but lacks plate discipline. In 2019 he started to be more selective, but it caused an untenable increase in swing and miss. This is a make-or-break season for Gomez to show he can perform against upper-level pitching.
34. John Doxakis, LHP
John Doxakis was the Rays’ second-round selection in the 2019 draft out of Texas A&M.
Doxakis sits in the Ryan Yarbrough, crafty-lefty range of 88-91 mph. He throws an 83-84 mph slider that has a lot of movement as he comes from a funky arm slot. The changeup is a work in progress and mostly used to keep batters off balance at this point in time.
He could be the next in line of Yarbrough and Fleming types to succeed in the Rays system.
We also conducted our annual Community List this season. You can find the readership’s Top-42 Rays Prospect for 2021 here.