*If I’m wrong you can feel justified asking for your money back as I’ve seen few of these guys. I try to stay away from other people’s lists to avoid bias so this one probably will seem a little out of left field compared to the rest of the Rays blogosphere. Age is for the upcoming season and level is a guess at where they will spend the majority of their season. As always, #flameon
36: Andrew Toles, 23, AA, CF
Legit athlete needs to channel energy into the game. Bat is a question mark, but has wheels and a glove. High volatility, but I didn’t want to leave him off #CYA
35: Burch Smith, 25, AAA, RHRP
Still a starter, but all signs point to a future in the pen where his deception will help and his stuff will play up. He looks like a busted prospect that will be going under the knife soon. Maybe that will help get him back to what he was a few years ago when he had some shine.
34: Nolan Gannon, 22, A-, RHSP
Remains a starter until he shows he can’t handle the load. Gannon is coming off a quietly nice season in Hudson Valley, albeit, at a park that slightly favors pitchers overall and very much so when it comes to limiting dingers. Keep an eye on him, but I don’t see a huge ceiling.
33: Tyler Goeddel, 22, AA, 3B
Position is pretty barren in the system which makes some sense with the big guy atop the pile in Tampa Bay. Goeddel is projectable, but needs to make strides across the board to turn those tools into skills. Someone handing him a sandwich could only help.
32: Johnny Field, 23, A+, CF
Gamer. Gritmonster. Hustle. Loyalty. Respect. Field is a classic “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight” guy which is really easy for most fans to pull for. Speed is good, not great. Bat to ball skills are good, not great. Probably not a CF, but if he can stay on the position he’ll have a chance to climb lists.
31: C.J. Riefenhauser, 25, AAA, LHRP
Riefer is this high simply because I think he’s going to have an impact in the Show this year. He’s a lefty one out guy, but every single team has a need for that. While I don’t think he’s the best iteration in the system (Beliveau, Montgomery?) I think Mr. Charles has a really high floor and is ready to contribute.
30: Boog Powell, 22, A+, CF
Shares similarities with Field, above, but a better comp is probably Sam Fuld. Another gritty gamer that runs really well in the field, less so on the bases, and gets on at an incredible rate due to good zone recognition and being able to fight. Approach reminds of John Jaso who was always told he wouldn’t have enough power for this to work, but in Boog’s case I think it’s a true statement. He’s still young and the things he does well are highly valued in this organization so close the booj on Boog at your peril.
29: Ryne Stanek, 24, A+, RHSP
I really wanted to leave him off the list, but let’s give him one more roll of the dice. The stuff and tools are there, but he needs to stay on the field and show it after a litany of injuries which was his calling card prior to the draft. The upside is that he could be a fast mover if he can manage to compile some innings. The Rays traditionally do not jump guys multiple levels in a year, but I could see Stanek getting a taste of AAA by the end of the year if everything goes to plan. If that happens you’ll see him shoot up lists. Tons of volatility here.
28: Nick Ciuffo, 20, A-, C
A first round pick in 2013 draft Ciuffo has shown very little with the bat, but I prefer my catchers to hone the glove and then worry about the bat later. All signs point to him being an athletic catcher with a very good arm and some ability to handle a staff. He’s still really young, but he’s also far away. The hidden gem here is that Ciuffo is the rare catcher that bats left handed. The glove is his carrying tool, but he has some value in that he would provide the counterweight for any sort of catcher platoon in the future. I’d love to have him higher, but a lack of information on his defensive skills relegate him to the bottom of the list until we know more about him. As such, I’m probably pretty low on him.
27: Kean Wong, 20, A+, 2B
Wong is a complete one-tool guy at this point, but the thing he does well is the most in demand commodity in the game right now. He hits everything. He profiles as a guy that should continue to be a good hitter for average while kicking in some walks. The glove is passable, but not electric at a position that is progressively becoming a good spot to hide a bat-first player. The hope is that he becomes something like his brother Kolten who is shaping up to be a very nice player, but Wong the Younger hasn’t quite blown up the scene as well as the Elder.
26: Jacob Faria, 22, A+, RHSP
An under the radar starter that would carry the moniker “Slim” if he lived in a less sensitive time. Guy continues to post solid peripherals, but at some point the train needs to leave the station after spending three seasons in rookie ball. If he can move up a level a year then you’re looking at him getting to Durham around 24 – 25 which isn’t bad. Tall guys usually take a while to develop so it’s encouraging to see him move up a level and maintain success. Another guy that could use a comprehensive minor league feeding program. I think he has a good chance at gaining a ton of recognition this year, but that will lag behind success.
25: Enny Romero, 24, AAA, LHSP
This is almost assuredly low. Romero gives prospectors fatigue after appearing on lists since he was a teenager, but as Mr. Beane would say, “That’s not his fault.” The fastball is a real weapon when he commands it, which is rarer than you’d like. The secondary stuff exists as more than a whisper, but he needs to tighten up the consistency as some games he’ll flash plus breaking stuff and others he can’t keep it out of the dirt. At worst, he should push it as a reliever, which gives him a fairly high floor. He’s not far off and already has the stuff you can’t teach. Now he just needs to make incremental changes. We’ll see how that goes with Neil Allen moved on to greener pastures.
24: Jake Hager, 22, AAA, SS
One of the Rays 75 first round picks in 2011 Hager continues to plug along as a guy that won’t hit enough to satisfy those that prefer a bat-first profile at SS, but he looks to have the glove, hands, and feet to stay on the position. If he can and the bat starts to come around you’ll see him shoot up lists, but in the meantime he’ll walk the line between nice org guy and legit prospect. He should move up to AAA with the wealth of the system chasing him from below. That puts him into a time crunch with Hak-Ju Lee, but if the Rays are smart they’ll choose inertia over the stalled engine.
23: Jose Dominguez, 25, AAA, RHRP
Hot. Stinky. Ched. While the slider may be a fringe-average pitch it’s the fastball that is the calling card that he flicks in your general direction. Of course that card might end up literally anywhere, because he really has no idea where things go once they leave his hand. Think of him as a blind Gambit spraying hot fire in the general direction of the plate. The Rays have been down this road before with a number of veterans and just last year they turned Brad Boxberger from a guy wielding a shotgun into a honed sniper able to pick apart the zone. Dominguez profiles to the back of the pen, but could see a role as soon as this year as a low-lev reliever looking to move up the ladder as he gains trust from his overlords.
22: Patrick Leonard, 22, AA, 1B
The lottoiest piece of the Elliot Johnson trade finally made the full transition from third to first base this past year where his big frame and lack of mobility fated him from Day One. The struggle is now over to prove the glove can play and he can focus simply on the bat where he has mostly been a sheep in wolf’s clothing to this point. The power is there he just needs to tap into it within a game. Once he can consistently do that you’re going to see a guy that has a bit of whiff to his game, but should maintain a decent average, kick in some walks, and purvey extra base hits as if he were Dionysus at 4:45 on a Friday at a Fridays.
21: Grayson Garvin, 26, AA, LHSP
The man they call “Kid Gloves” might finally get a chance to stretch out this year after mostly being pulled before facing the leadoff man for a third time. He’s been around so long that the Rays had to add him to the 40-man this offseason, but that also gives you an idea of how highly they think of Garvin. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get hurt this year, but there’s a good chance that he turns at least one of his fringe offerings into a plus pitch while taking a step forward with his command and control. He’ll need to have a good season or management is going to start wondering if he’s really worth protecting.
20: Jake Bauers, 19, A+, 1B
Bauers has some room to fill out which is a necessity if you are the type that wants POWAH out of your first sacker. As is, he looks like an excellent ball striker with a great feel for the zone. Age is on his side and he really doesn’t have much competition in the system at his position. The Rays like him enough to ensure that he came over in the Souza ménage a trois. Folks like to put Daric Barton comps on him, which is and isn’t an insult at the same time, but those folks are probably viewing him as a finished product. I really like Bauers, but wanted to see him for a year before rocketing him up our rankings. Hopefully he brings it, because the Rays could use a player of his acumen.
19: Jaime Schultz, 24, A+, RHSP
Stuff is not the issue for Schultz as he can throw a peanut through a rhino. Guy’s got a plus fastball that he pairs with a solid-average slider that he loses the feel for over the course of a start. In fact, he needs to tighten up his control across the board, which might be tough as a less tall starter working on a lower, flatter plane. I think he ultimately becomes a pretty nice reliever, but I don’t want to give up the ghost of starting until we’re given a reason. The Rays ran him out to the Arizona Fall League where he was mostly electric. I think he can go either way right now so this year will be telling. I’ve got him starting the year in Charlotte, but I could easily see him promoted to Montgomery sometime this season where he will finish out the year. That will only happen if he comes out the gates soaring. Here’s hoping.
18: Blake Snell, 23, AA, LHSP
Snell is going to pair with Garvin to give the Biskies one of the best left-handed starter pairings that you’re likely to find in the minors. Unlike Garvin, Snell has been allowed to face more batters, but the other difference is that Snell is a walk machine. It’s not as big of a deal because it’s coming with a ton of strikeouts and what looks like very little hard contact on balls in play with no homer issues thus far. This will be a big year for him as the Rays are craving that next high-ceiling arm to push the pipeline and Snell might be their best candidate. The repertoire is broad and deep, now he just needs to divine his pitches closer to the plate.
17: Matt Andriese, 26, AAA, RHSP
A worm-burner with the best of them continued the trend last year by getting around 20% more grounders than the International League average which allows him to work deeper into games by economizing his pitch count. There’s a real need for that at any level, though I think the Rays infield defense needs to be seen before believed right now which does not bode well. Andriese could probably function as a suitable swingman right now, which is probably his ultimate role, but don’t rule out the less nuanced extremes of being a back end starter or a nice set up arm. Lastly, the Rays don’t really have a dedicated groundball getter in their pen so Andriese could find himself riding the shuttle quite often this year.
16: Justin Williams, 19, A+, LF
The knock on the secondary piece of the Hellickson trade is that he isn’t much of a glove as he’s already relegated to LF. That might not matter as he looks like a throwback to the position when you saw Danny Tartabull dragging ass in the field, but lighting up the scoreboard at the dish.Williams is a lefty so it’s not a totally great comparison, but he sounds like a real bull with power being his carrying tool. The Rays don’t have many SLG over AVG guys so it’s nice to see some more diversity in the system. Once we see him handle anything with a wrinkle you’ll probably see national touts bark loudly, but in the mean time he’s got some stuff to prove. They’re not alone as I’d like to see what he does within this system before being less conservative.
15: German Marquez, 20, A+, RHRP
Marquez made a tweak around midseason last year that really helped him tap into his potential. As such, he’s getting some low-grade helium as a deep sleeper within the system. If he can continue to tighten up his command and control you’re looking at a guy that might have three average or above pitches with the fastball sitting plus. This is a big year for him as he should be a fulltime starter after bouncing around last year between the pen and the pre-game lineup card. I think the Rays will go low and slow with him as he’s still so young so it would not surprise me if he starts the year in Bowling Green, and I doubt he sees Montgomery before the end of the year. As such, temper your excitement, but know that the Rays might have another very good arm matriculating through the system.
14: Casey Gillaspie, 22, A, 1B
I’ve got Gillaspie starting the season in Bowling Green, but I could see him eschewing the steel for the Mag-Lev as a former first round pick out of college this past June. There was a transition period last year as he got acclimated to pro ball, but he really turned it on towards the end of the year. Keep in mind that prior to last year it was extremely common for draft picks to not even make their debut until the following season due to arcane, and frankly, stupid rules. To see Gillaspie already showing promise is an underrated quality. At his best he will be a Teixeira-lite that knows the zone, walks the line of passivity-patience, and has legit plus power. The reason he’s not a top-10 guy is due strictly to the fact that he’s already a first baseman that has zero chance of moving left on the spectrum. If he doesn’t hit, he doesn’t play. It’s that simple.
13: Dylan Floro, 25, AAA, RHSP
Since being drafted in the 13th round of the 2012 draft Floro has done nothing but shine. He immediately jumped into Hudson Valley in his draft year where he didn’t walk anybody and struck a fair amount of batters out while yielding nothing on balls in play. The next year saw him chew up A-ball before getting the rare (for the Rays) mid-season promotion to Charlotte where in four starts the Rays saw all that they needed as he played all of 2014 in AA Montgomery. Where yet again all he did was excel. He’s not a stuff guy, but he pitches deep into games while getting a ton of outs as a pitch-to-contact guy. He reminds me a TON of a guy named Jamie Shields that came through as a no-name, mid-round draft choice that put an early injury behind him and went on to be a pretty good pitcher in the Bigs. Prospect hounds have zero respect for him since he doesn’t blow up a gun, but the dude can flat out pitch. I’m higher on him than just about anybody I know, which should give you something to laugh about later if I’m not busy telling you, “I told you so.”
12: Mikie Mahtook, 25, AAA, RF
Most assuredly a 4th outfielder, and not even the long side of a platoon, the reason I like Mikie is the fact that he’s ready to do those things right now. I see him taking Brandon Guyer’s role after this season as a guy that can fake in in CF, but is plus in a corner while getting on base and slugging enough. He has not shown a wide platoon split so he probably has a little more value than just the short side of a platoon, but the ceiling isn’t appreciably high. I’d expect a bit of a down year from him in AAA as he regresses a bit from a season that showed a bit of luck to his benefit. I don’t care. I still like him a bit more than the guys behind him.
11: Taylor Guerrieri, 22, A, RHSP
I think TG starts the year in Hudson Valley before a relatively quick promotion. It’s all about continuing to put his Tommy John recovery behind him. If it was strictly based on the stuff you’d be staring at a top of the rotation guy, but we can’t just look at one thing over all others. This is lower than I had him last year when I was just hoping to see him get back on the mound, but even that was cut short by an issue. He’s a year older, but not a year better, so it’s difficult for me to see him hold serve on a farm that is flush with guys who’s questions are much less fatal.
10: Brent Honeywell, 20, A-, RHSP
Soooooo much to like here. Honeywell is eminently likeable as a brash guy that has fun outside the chalk, but knows how to turn into a Pit Bull once he crosses that line. The fastball is better than he gets credit for and the change is clearly the third pitch, albeit useful, but the reason you buy the ticket is to watch his screwball that is anything, but a trick pitch. It’s a legit offering in the mid-70s showing more run than the typical two seamer or change with a ton of that movement coming late. Go watch this courtesy of Nathaniel Stoltz, prospector to the stars. It’s easy to get excited about that, but you need to pull the chain, because he’s still on the other side of the planet in a system that almost never moves guys quickly. We’re going to have a long time to let that anticipation build, but the tantric rush when he comes up is going to be worth the wait.
9: Andrew Velazquez, 20, A, SS
The other piece of the Hellickson trade courtesy of fish-out-of-water GM Dave Stewart that should provide oodles of excitement. The jury is out on whether he can play SS in the long term, but you could make that same case for virtually every single guy in the minors if you want to be a big enough dick about it. There’s only one Andrelton Simmons. Only one Omar Vizquel. It’s stupid to pretend that those are the only guys slated to stick on the position. /rant, though this will be a common refrain throughout the rest of the top-1o. Velazquez is a speed merchant that shows very strong ability to put bat to ball as a spray hitter with a bit of gap power. As a switch hitter with wheels and walks he fits the mold of prototypical leadoff hitter that this team has lacked for quite some time.
8: Adrian Rondon, 17, Rok, SS
The Rays broke the bank for what was the consensus best Latin player in this past July’s signing class. Touts rave about his ability to square up a baseball as a teenager while he shows smooth actions and a good arm already in the field. Maybe he gets too big for the position, but until then he looks like, not a, but THE prototype for what you want out of a SS. If I preached patience on Honeywell above then I beg that doubly so here. The hope is that he stays healthy and on the field while progressively becoming something that looks like a stud. The encouraging this is that he’s slated to start the year in Princeton of the Appy league or perhaps even Hudson Valley in the NY-P instead of the usual treatment that sees these guys playing in the Dominican or Venezuelan leagues. Set your sun dial, because one of these days Rondon is going to cast a very large shadow.
7: Alex Colome, 26, MLB, RHSP
If you felt fatigued on Enny Romero I remember first learning of Colome while I was in college at least seven years ago. Here we are all these years later and he is neither sure thing, nor write off. Alex looks like a guy that can be a league average (or close enough) starter that probably will never go 150 innings. The stuff is good enough for success, but the 150 innings he threw in 2011 blows every other year out of the water, before or since. Luckily, this should play right into the Rays hands. Matt Moore looks like he will be ready sometime this season with the target mid-June and realists looking toward the All Star Break. This gives Colome a great chance to lock down the fifth starter spot until then, whereupon he can transition to the pen to keep his innings count down. It’s time to shit or get off the pot so this trial period is exactly what the doctor ordered and who knows maybe he bucks the rider and stampedes the league.
6: Nate Karns, 27, AAA, RHSP
Flip a coin between him and Colome. Honestly, go do it. The exact opportunity that is afforded to Colome is also on the table for Karns as a guy with nothing left to prove in AAA. In his favor is the fact that he’s the only one actually in the country known as the Goddamn United States of America, to date, while Colome floats around a holding cell in his native lands. Without further refinement of his change up he remains a two-pitch pitcher. The fastball is borderline plus plus and the curveball is only a notch behind, but as we’ve harped on time and time again with Chris Archer (who I’d grade both of his pitches as better) it’s just so very difficult to get by on two offerings. Add in some real issues with the walk (read: lefties, due to the lack of a change) and it’s easy to see him as a reliever. If the change just doesn’t take I’d love to see him develop the cutter to be able to get in the kitchen of southpaws and keep them honest. In the mean time I think he’s a guy that has really good starts when both pitches are sharp, but is prone to the blow up when he lacks the feel for one or the other or faces a lineup stacked with lefties. HI, BUCK!
5: Justin O’Conner, 23, AA, C
O’Conner has gotten a bunch of helium over the last year as he finally showed the smallest modicum of being able to hit. The arm has always been elite (no hyperbole) and if the blocking, game calling, framing, is there then it doesn’t really matter if the bat plays. If he does figure out how to swing it then he becomes an everyday player for 6-7 years as the first stud catcher that this franchise has ever developed (sorry Toby). I have my reservations about the bat as he looks like a guy that is so afraid of getting into a two-strike count that he’s swinging early and often, which works for some guys, but is rarely a recipe for success. I have no idea how the glove plays as the Rays are pretty guarded with information like that and I’ve seen very few third party opinions.
4: Ryan Brett, 23, AAA, 2B
Most folks cannot recall the day that they fell in love. They might remember a garment or a dinner, but I know the exact day that I fell head over lifts for Brett. When I saw that video I saw all that I needed to know about the player. He reminds me a ton of Brett Gardner as an athlete turned ballplayer. He’s the exact type of guy that folks love to point to what he can’t do (hit dingers) while overlooking all the things he does well (run, hit for average). I’ve already compared him to Gardner, but he also reminds me of that runt in the #bestcity who got by on ability to hit for average while shedding any semblance of power until he got promoted to that matchbox of a clown tent and became involved with an organization that has never shied away from doing everything that it takes to win. /subtlety Brett has worked on his glove to the point where it’s probably a plus. If he was left-handed he would easily be the best prospect in this system, alas.
3: Daniel Robertson, 21, AA, SS
Another guy that folks like to point to the things he can’t do rather than highlight the strengths, which should tell you that he’s a pretty highly thought of prospect. All this guy does is hit. He’s a spray hitter with gap power and he’s still pretty young. If he does move off the position, which seems to be the consensus opinion, then maybe that affords him the opportunity to strap on some more muscle so, for me, it’s really a can’t lose situation. At 21 and likely to play most of the year at AA it’s really hard to not like Robertson. He would be a plus defender anywhere else, though CF is probably out of the mix as his biggest weakness appears to be speed. I see a top of the order hitter and don’t care that if that’s at SS or 2B or LF. He looks poised to be a good player and he has the chance to be a great one if he can stay at SS. That’s rare.
2: Willy Adames, 19, A+, SS
Adames is a lot like Robertson in that he’s not a sure thing to stay on the position, but while he trades some contact for power and patience I think the overall package is fairly similar. The fact that he tore apart the Midwest league at 18 years old gives me a ton of confidence and while the strikeout rate is difficult to swallow he’s getting the commensurate level of walks to go with it. Keep in mind that at 19 he’s likely not even close to be done growing. This is a player that I think will add some muscle still which will help turn all those doubles into homers. If that means he ends up at 3B or RF then so be it, because I think the bat plays.
1: Steven Souza, 26, MLB, LF
Finally we get to the number one prospect in the Rays system. Souza has traveled a long and winding road that includes a “drug” suspension (Adderall), leaving a team, finding Jesus and then hitting like the Son of God since then. I’m not a religious man, but if Souza can bring thunder and lightning to the Rays order I may have to get me some of that. The strengths are a good mix of power and an ability to put the ball in play. His glove looks around league average in a corner leaving him with nowhere to retreat to if that ticks down, but his peers aren’t going to be a whole lot better this year. Questions revolve around how he will translate from butthurt prospectors that have been burnt by guys like this previously. I’m all in. I like Souza a lot as a guy that should be a middle of the order threat that capably replaces his predecessor at the plate and in the field. Afterall, Matt Joyce was a very good hitter with a clear weakness. Souza should bring similar power without the huge split.
Thank you for reading this far, he says to no one. Here’s everybody in handy list format. I welcome all dialogue about this, but remember that these are mostly for fun. Anybody that sells you the answer to prospects is charging too much.