MLB 2020 Farm System Overview: Tampa Bay Rays

While we wait for the 2020 MLB season to get underway, it’s time to take a closer look at players who could one day be on opening day rosters. For the next month or two, we’ll be examining each team’s farm system, which will contain several prospects that will either one day be contributors for them, or could be used to acquire impact major leaguers. 

Since we’ll be going in alphabetical order by city, our 27th farm system overview will be of the Tampa Bay Rays. We’ll rank their top ten prospects, discuss some of their other notable minor leaguers, and then analyze the overall state of the farm system.

#1: SS Wander Franco

franco
Photo Cred: CBS Sports

Age: 19

Height: 5’10” Weight: 189 lbs

Signed: July 2, 2017

Hit: 72.1 Power: 66 Field: 52.615 Arm: 60 Speed: 60

Overall Grade: 66.95755

We’ve seen a lot of exciting prospects make their major-league debuts, but in my opinion, Wander Franco may be the best all-around prospect since Bryce Harper made his MLB debut in 2012. The headliner of the 2017 international signing period, he’s wasted no time dominating in the minors, which is why he’s rightfully an extremely hyped-up player. In his two seasons in professional baseball, the 19-year-old has posted a weighted-runs-created plus (wrc+) of 155 or higher at every level, while he’s also walked more than he’s struck out as well. With that plate discipline, pure swing, elite bat speed, and great strength, there is no flaw to his offensive profile- if he was in the majors right now, I have no doubt he’d flourish, and he’s even a switch hitter! If there’s one minor problem with him, it’s that his defense isn’t exceptional, but yet, his athleticism is fantastic, so the Rays will be able to develop that facet of his game over time. He plays a valuable position, has no flaw, and is only 19-years-old; it’s almost like Wander Franco is too perfect of a prospect. We’ve seen some exciting players graduate in recent years, but Franco’s MLB debut is one that I simply get goosebumps even imagining. The Rays always need cheap star talent, and supplying Franco with that label would be a massive understatement.

#2: LHP/1B Brendan McKay

mckay
Photo Cred: Tampa Bay Times

Age: 24

Height: 6’2″ Weight: 212 lbs

Drafted: 4th Overall- 2017

Fastball: 55 Breaking Ball: 60 Third Pitch: 52.5 Command: 60

Overall Grade: 58

Coming out of Louisville, Brendan McKay was the talk of the 2017 draft; analysts were split on if he’d be a pitcher, a first baseman, or a two-way player. The Rays, with the 4th overall pick, decided to draft him and develop him both ways, though, at the moment, it appears most likely that he’ll end up being a pitcher. That’s not to discredit his abilities offensively, as he’s a disciplined hitter with some raw power, but his upside as a pitcher is much stronger. In 49 innings in the MLB last season, the 24-year-old showed that potential, posting a 3.50 K/BB ratio, and that was after he dominated in Double-A and Triple-A. With good firm fastball velocity, a power breaking ball, a sharp cutter, and a solid changeup, he has all the tools to succeed as a full-time pitcher, especially with his exceptional command. Therefore, while the idea of McKay contributing as a two-way player is intriguing, it’s probably not in his best interest. Nevertheless, he’ll be a foundational piece in Tampa Bay’s rotation.

#3: RHP Brent Honeywell

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Photo Cred: Tampa Bay Times

Age: 25

Height: 6’2″ Weight: 195 lbs

Drafted: Round CBB (72)- 2014

Fastball: 60 Breaking Ball: 60 Third Pitch: 60 Command: 57.5

Overall Grade: 56.10625*

Injuries are an unfortunate part of baseball, but sometimes, there are just certain players that get hit harder than others. If we could assume full health, Brent Honeywell would not only rank as the Rays’ top pitching prospect, but he’d also have made his MLB debut by now. However, he hasn’t pitched in two years; he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018 and a separate elbow surgery in 2019. With a violent delivery, he’s gonna always have durability concerns. Yet, when he is able to pitch, his skills are tantalizing. Having a screwball is very rare, but it’s Honeywell’s best pitch, though his fastball, changeup, and slider/cutter are also well above-average pitches. Add in his terrific command – he has a career 2 BB/9 – and it’s clear that if Honeywell can stay healthy, he can still be a frontline starter. That’s a major if, though, which is why he’s a very difficult player to project moving forward- if the 2020 season is canceled, he’ll go three years without pitching.

#4: 2B Vidal Brujan

brujan
Photo Cred: Minor League Baseball

Age: 22

Height: 5’9″ Weight: 155 lbs

Signed: October 17, 2014

Hit: 58.075 Power: 49.05 Field: 60.3175 Arm: 55 Speed: 67.5

Overall Grade: 55.748725

While I could come up with a way to sum up Vidal Brujan in a few words, Fangraphs puts in perfectly: flawless outside of his frame. The 22-year-old may not pass the eye test at 5’9″ and 155 pounds, as he’ll definitely need to get stronger, but besides that, he’s a fantastic prospect. His power obviously isn’t great, but it’s better than expected, and those concerns are neutralized by his plate discipline and contact skills- he’s also a switch hitter, which adds even more value. Furthermore, he’s also an exceptional athlete, so although he’s listed at second base, he can easily play shortstop or the outfield. While you’d like for Brujan to have more strength in his frame, his on-base skills, gold-glove defense, and athleticism more than make up for it. He’s a potential All-Star in the future, and will form quite the double play tandem with Franco.

#5: LHP Resly Linares

Milb 2018: Cougars vs Hot Rods
Photo Cred: MiLB.com

Age: 22

Height: 6’2″ Weight: 170 lbs

Signed: September 10, 2014

Fastball: 55 Breaking Ball: 57.5 Third Pitch: 50 Command: 52.5

Overall Grade: 53.625

If you’re looking through the Rays’ top-30 prospects from MLB Pipeline or Fangraphs, you won’t find Resly Linares on either list. So, why does he rank 5th on my list? His stock appears down after he missed the 2019 season with a forearm injury, but he’s a very projectable and intriguing prospect. He still has room to grow into his lanky 6’2″ frame, which will allow him to add more velocity to his low-to-mid-90s fastball. Either way, though, he’ll be able to rely on his high-spin curveball, while he’s displayed better command than expected. The injury may hurt his development, but Linares was making a lot of progress before 2019. Still, I see him as a future piece in the Rays rotation, and overall, he’s one of the more underrated prospects in all of baseball.

#6: SS Taylor Walls

taylorwalls
Photo Cred: DRaysBay

Age: 23

Height: 5’10” Weight: 180 lbs

Drafted: 3rd Round- 2017

Hit: 56.65 Power: 44 Field: 60.50725 Arm: 52.5 Speed: 52.5

Overall Grade: 53.5107325

The Rays have always targeted high-upside players, mostly by selecting high school prospects. They skewed from that strategy slightly in 2017, however, taking Florida State shortstop Taylor Walls in the third round. Since then, as expected, the 23-year-old has consistently produced, to the point where it’d be hard to imagine him being some sort of contributor in the majors. He’s another prospect in this farm system with fantastic plate discipline and feel for contact, while his swing is both compact and smooth. Also, he’s a solid defender with more than enough athleticism, so he’s definitely an all-around player. Now, he won’t for any power, which lowers his ceiling. Still, he has a very high floor, and right now, I’d project him to be an everyday shortstop. The fact that he’s just the Rays’ third-best middle infield prospect speaks to how terrific their farm system is, and also how much emphasis they place on finding athletes on important positions.

#7: LHP Shane McClanahan

mncclanahan
Photo Cred: The Athletic

Age: 22

Height: 6’1″ Weight: 200 lbs

Drafted: 31st Overall- 2018

Fastball: 65 Breaking Ball: 55 Third Pitch: 50 Command: 47.5

Overall Grade: 53.25

Although the Rays usually take players with a lot of potential from high school, that doesn’t preclude them from taking chances on college players as well. Shane McClanahan was a very polarizing prospect in the 2018 draft, as although he had all the tools to succeed, was always going to need a lot of develop to maximize his abilities. Simply put, the South Florida product is an absolute power pitcher. His fastball touches 100 MPH with ease, and his slider is inconsistent but flashes plus, so, at the very least, he’ll have a dynamic two-pitch mix. Ultimately, it’ll be up to the refinement of his changeup and command that’ll dictate his future as a starting pitcher, but considering his walk rates have improved as he’s moved up the minors, the early signs are encouraging. I’m a little worried that he could be a full-time reliever in the future due to his inconsistencies and high-effort delivery, but his value will be as a starter. If all goes right, he’ll be a frontline starter for the Rays, or at least someone who can serve in their “bulk” role following an opener. Regardless, if there is one organization that’ll be able to get the most out of him, it’s them.

#8: RHP Shane Baz

baz
Photo Cred: Baseball America

Age: 20

Height: 6’2″ Weight: 190 lbs

Drafted: 12th Overall- PIT 2017

Fastball: 65 Breaking Ball: 60 Third Pitch: 50 Command: 45

Overall Grade: 52.75

The Rays acquired Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow in the Chris Archer trade with the Pirates, but is there a chance that there is another player coming through the pipeline that’ll make the trade even more lopsided? Shane Baz is a prospect that you can just dream of, as he has such an exciting skill set. He still needs to work on making it a less flat pitch, but his fastball sits in the upper 90s with late life, and he complements it with a  power breaking ball and a magnificent cutter. Heck, even his changeup is developing nicely, as well as his command, which is thanks to the Rays’ fantastic player development. After all, they had him ditch his two-seamer for a traditional four-seam fastball, which is precisely what they did to get the most out of Glasnow. With more time in the Rays’ farm system, I wouldn’t be shocked if Baz soars up these prospect rankings. If he can have better command and feel for pitching, his capabilities as a pitcher will be off-the-charts.

#9: RHP JJ Goss

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Photo Cred: Tampa Bay Times

Age: 19

Height: 6’3″ Weight: 185 lbs

Drafted: 36th Overall- 2019

Fastball: 55 Breaking Ball: 60 Third Pitch: 50 Command: 50

Overall Grade: 52.75

Heading into the draft, I saw JJ Goss as a top-20 prospect, and one of the premier high school pitches in the draft. Yet, he slipped outside the first round, before signing with slot value with the Rays when they drafted him with the 36th overall pick in the draft. When you’re as young as he is, it’s all about being projectable, and that’s exactly what Goss is. His fastball velocity, as a result, should eventually sit in the mid-90s, but still, it’s his breaking ball that is his best pitch. It’s a slider with advanced break and depth, which complements his late moving fastball. Obviously, he’ll need to continue to develop his changeup and command. That’s not uncommon for a 19-year-old, however, and his crossfire delivery creates all sorts of deceptions. He has a rare high floor for a prospect of his age, though that’s not to diminish his ceiling- he could even be a high-end #2 starter when it’s all said and done. He’d be the best pitching prospect for a lot of farm systems, so it’s important that he gets the recognition he deserves among a deep group of pitchers.

#10: RHP Drew Strotman

strotman
Photo Cred: Talkin’ Ball Interviews

Age: 23

Height: 6’3″ Weight: 195 lbs

Drafted: 4th Round- 2017

Fastball: 55 Breaking Ball: 55 Third Pitch: 47.5 Command: 50

Overall Grade: 51.75

The Rays have mostly been unfazed with prospects with injury concerns, which explains why they have three pitchers in their farm system that have dealt missed a significant amount of time due to injury. One example of this is Drew Strotman, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018, which has stalled his development. However, now that he’s back healthy – he pitched 24 innings in 2019 – I could see him moving quickly through the minors. Even though he doesn’t have an adequate changeup, he has a deep enough pitch mix with a solid fastball and two plus breaking balls, and there have been any apparent concerns with his command. Since he hasn’t pitched a lot, he may end up as a reliever, but then again, what team handles starter/reliever hybrids better than the Rays? Once again, it’s clear that this pitching prospect has found himself in the right organization.

Best of the Rest

  • Tyler Frank is a very similar player to Walls with strong plate discipline and feel for hitting, but he doesn’t have the defense skills that the Florida State product possesses.
  • Since he’s a catcher, Ronaldo Hernandez will continue to be a prospect that the Rays dream on. Still, he’s a .310-.320 OBP type of hitter, his defense is unrefined, and his choppy swing could lead to timing issues at the next level.
  • He’s on every top-five prospect list for the Rays after being acquired in exchange for Tommy Pham, but Xavier Edwards is limited as a prospect, outside of his blazing speed. If he can refine his offensive skill set, however, he’s a versatile player with strong defense.
  • Nick Schnell doesn’t have a clear strength, but he’s a pretty well-rounded center fielder.
  • He’s already 26-years-old, but lefty Anthony Banda still has a terrific pitching arsenal, and is another potential bulk pitcher for the Rays.
  • Tanner Dodson is currently a two-way player, but his future appears to be as a filthy two-pitch reliever.
  • Josh Lowe has a smooth swing and lifts the ball, which is encouraging, though he does strike out a lot and doesn’t hit for much power.
  • A high pick in last year’s draft, there aren’t many players faster than Greg Jones. However, he’s a massive project in every area other than speed.
  • Lucius Fox was once a huge international signing for the Giants, but he’s more of a utility player with decent on-base skills and defense, as well as fantastic athleticism.
  • Garrett Whitley posts high walk rates, but strikeout concerns are massive for him, and after missing all of 2018 with a labrum injury, isn’t living up to his first-round pedigree.
  • The Rays hope he can tap into his raw power, but Moises Gomez’s swing-and-miss concerns and mediocre corner outfield defense may ultimately doom him.

Farm System Overview

No team understands their current situation better than the Rays. They may not have the highest of payrolls, but their creativity and player development allows them to compete on a consistent basis. Not only do they have a tremendous track record in trades, but their international presence is massive, which is why they now have the services of Franco, Brujan, and others. The two most valuable prospects, outside of catchers, are athletic players up the middle and high-ceiling pitchers, and Tampa Bay is deep in both of those areas. It’s already sufficient that they have one of the best prospects in recent memory, but with a lot of young talent that’ll be ready to contribute soon, along with what they currently have with their MLB roster, their window is clearly opening. Watch out, Yankees; the Rays are going to be a force to be reckoned with over the next five years or so.

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