December 3, 2014
Tampa Bay Rays Top 10 Prospects
The Top Ten
1. Willy Adames
What Happened in 2014: The teenage shortstop put together a solid debut season stateside in A-Ball, where he held his own against more advanced competition, and also added being traded for David Price to his resume.
Strengths: Lean muscle; maturing body; strong legs; keeps hands in good hitting position during stride; generates plus bat speed; barrels up offerings into both gaps; flashes solid bat control; stays inside of ball; can learn how to muscle up and tap into strength; arm for left side of the infield; soft hands; shows feel for game at early age.
Weaknesses: Agility and quickness are only average; not the most natural player at shortstop; likely to lose some foot speed as he matures physically; could potentially slide to third or second; lunges at secondary offerings; tends to guess in counts leading to in-zone miss; may need to sacrifice power to sustain contact against higher quality arms; overall tool set is more solid average than plus.
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player
Realistic Role: 5; average major-leaguer
Risk Factor/Injury History: High; yet to reach upper levels; hit-tool translation.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Adames had a coming out party in fantasy leagues when he was the only prospect piece in the David Price deal, and it’s only continuing every time he’s ranked atop this admittedly weak system. Now might be a good time to cash in on him, as his fantasy upside could be similar to Jhonny Peralta, at peak, and he’s a good three years away from contributing with a lot of development ahead of him.
The Year Ahead: It was a successful stateside debut for the Dominican international signee, but also one that saw change midstream. Adames was the lone prospect acquired in the deadline deal that saw Tampa send long-time ace David Price to Detroit, and the 19-year-old immediately ascends to the forefront of this system. While the on-paper potential of each individual tool is more average to solid average, it’s about the composition of the skillset and the way it meshes together that makes this profile a potential first-division player. Adames flashes feel for hitting at an early age largely driven by his plus bat speed and the looseness of his hands. The shortstop gets the head of the bat to the point of contact efficiently to barrel up offerings hard into both gaps. His approach and the manner in which he attacks breaking balls need refinement, but there’s already maturity in his game that points to the ability to continue to adjust. The potential of the package does hinge on the premise that the prospect can stick up the middle, which isn’t a foregone conclusion. Evaluators are mixed on whether further physical gains—especially in the lower body—are going to slow him down enough to where a move makes the most sense, but for now he’s showing to be capable of handling the position and getting better. Adames is ready for the next step up the ranks, where an assignment in the Florida State League will be a good test to show that both the bat and glove are taking the next step forward.
Major league ETA: Late 2017
2. Jusin O’Conner
What Happened in 2014: O’Conner continued to flash the eye-popping arm strength and promise to control the running game at the highest level, while also showing some improvement making consistent contact and with his receiving skills.
Strengths: Elite arm strength; excellent throwing mechanics; lightning quick release; fires feet effectively; agile in crouch; improving receiving skills; using body more to advantage; developing leadership skills; plus bat speed; quick hands; ability to back spin the ball; some present lift in stroke; plus raw power; strong makeup.
Weaknesses: Gets loose and casual behind dish; glove hand isn’t overly firm; runs into trouble squeezing; ball control needs work; pulls up often; aggressive approach; likes to swing early and often; lacks plan at the plate; reluctant to go deep into counts; bat control is fringe; susceptible to spin away; power likely to play at fringe average; streaky-hitter profile.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; solid-average regular
Realistic Role: Low 5; backup/occasional starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; limited Double-A experience; dual threat development.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Catching prospects are not great bets in general, and O’Connor offers the potential for solid mixed-league value only if everything clicks at the plate. Unless you’re in a 16-team or two-catcher format, he’s best left on either the waiver wire or someone else’s roster.
The Year Ahead: When discussing O’Conner in industry circles, after getting past the initial comments on the well-documented arm strength, the theme from the past year or so is “improvement.” The backstop has pushed both his offensive and defensive games to the point where a major leaguer is coming into clearer focus. The question is, in what capacity? Evaluators who feel that there’s more progress to come into his mid-twenties, especially offensively, see a player who can hold down a regular job and hit in the bottom third of the lineup. The feel on impacting the running game is universal with those more optimistic on the stick seeing the both the potential for average power and hitting outputs. A .250s-.260s hitting catcher with 15 or so home-run pop and better-than-average defense is valuable. The main issue is whether O’Conner can tone things down at the plate to the point that high-quality arms are not going to exploit his aggressiveness. The less than bullish on the bat touch on how much work he has to go in that aspect and see a backup in the long run. A good showing in this year’s Arizona Fall League gives optimism that the 23-year-old can make adjustments when pushed by the level of competition and a placement in Double-A to start 2015 will serve as the next test for the prospect. It’s there where O’Conner will try to prove the bat is up to the challenge that higher quality arms will pose and attempt to show a legit big-league regular is emerging.
Major league ETA: 2016
3. Alex Colome
What Happened in 2014: A 50-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance delayed the start of Colome’s season, and likely cost the right-hander a shot at cementing himself on the major-league roster, but the stuff played up on par with previous looks and has him knocking on the door.
Strengths: Loose arm; generates easy velocity; fastball will work 93-96, with late life; heavy, sinking action in lower velocity band; ride in upper reaches; can touch higher in short bursts; snaps cutter with late bite and slicing break; difficult to barrel; curveball flashes teeth and deep bend through strike zone; potential bat-misser; turns over deceptive changeup; good guise to fastball.
Weaknesses: Struggles keeping delivery together in stretches; inconsistent release; command plays down as a result; gets too much into challenge mindset with heater; changeup can get too firm; body and arm will slow down when delivering; casts curve on occasion leading to early break; questions on ability to execute consistently in line with stuff’s potential.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; no. 3/4 starter
Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; achieved major leagues; delivery consistency
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The near-term upside is there, especially in light of the Jeremy Hellickson trade this offseason, but despite the raw stuff, Colome is unlikely to be better than a spot starter in mixed leagues—and that’s if he sticks in the rotation, which is anything but a lock. In the bullpen, he’s just another arm with potential trolling for saves.
The Year Ahead: When Colome has things going, the right-hander can be extremely tough on opposing batters, typically unleashing a barrage of mid-90s fastballs and mixing in an assortment of secondary stuff. The right-hander is very much a rhythm pitcher who feeds off of early count success and getting into a groove right off the bat. In these instances, the soon-to-be-26-year-old arm can look every bit the part of a mid-rotation starter, slicing and dicing his way through lineups or just plain overpowering them. Reality sets in when assessing Colome’s command over the grind of the season. It comes and goes, primarily driven by ruts of inconsistency with his delivery which stem from flying open early and a lack of being able to adjust quickly. There can be flashes or even stretches in a starting role where success is achievable, but this view sees the arm profiling the best in the bullpen, where short bursts will allow him to focus on keeping things together in a concentrated setting. The stuff also has a very good chance to play up further, especially the heater and cutter, where he can let loose without worry of pacing. Barring any type of major setbacks like last season, and the nature of being out of options, Colome is in line to break camp this season as part of the 25-man roster. A crack at holding down the fifth spot in the rotation is likely his to grasp, with the long term pointing to a potential bullpen fixture if performance is uneven.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2013
4. Adrian Rondon
What Happened in 2014: The Rays broke the bank to the tune of an almost $3 million bonus for the highly touted international prospect, who draws rave reviews for his feel for hitting and potential to stick up the middle.
Strengths: Highly athletic; fluid with actions; natural on the field; plus bat speed; compact stroke; feel for barreling up offerings; can turn around velocity; loose hands; bat head hangs within the zone; flashes gap power; instincts to stick at the position; soft hands; quick first step; good foundation to build fundamentals; strong feel for the game.
Weaknesses: Raw overall game; in the early stages of building professional approach; limited experience against quality breaking stuff; on the wild side with swing; power is all projection; line-drive stroke may play more to contact as game develops; crude footwork in field; arm can presently play a little hollow; projection player.
Overall Future Potential: 7; perennial all-star
Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer
Risk Factor/Injury History: Extreme; no professional experience; 16 years old; large gap between present and future.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: In a year with a shallower draft class, Rondon has enough fantasy potential to be a top-30 pick in dynasty drafts. But unfortunately for him, this is an absurdly deep class and he remains a very strong flier for the late rounds of drafts—though his advanced hit tool could play a role in shortening his ETA.
The Year Ahead: Rondon generated a ton of buzz during the international signing period, mainly due to the advanced nature of his offensive game for a player his age and strong potential to stick at a premium position. The life in his hands and early feel for controlling the head of the bat bode well for the shortstop to begin developing into a hitter who creates plenty of hard contact as the his experience builds. The compactness of the 16-year-old’s swing also lends strong clues that this player can evolve into a high-average hitter when all is said and done. The development of the power is a bit of a wild card at present, though Rondon does possess some lift in his stroke and stings offerings with authority into both gaps. At minimum, given the projection of the hit tool, the Dominican stands a good chance to bring extra-base pop to the table, and very well may surprise with the over-the-fence power as he progresses into his twenties. In the field this is very much a shortstop all the way. Despite some expected rawness with his technique, mainly the footwork, Rondon oozes the natural ability and fluidity seen in major-league defenders at the position in the same age bracket. There’s a lot of projection here, and the associated risk that comes with it, but the view here is of a player that can quickly start to eat into those gaps as early as this season.
Major league ETA: Late 2018
5. Brent Honeywell
What Happened in 2014: Honeywell began to make some waves during the JUCO season, which led to Tampa tabbing him in the second round, and then really turned heads during his professional debut in the Appalachian League.
Strengths: Good frame; room to continue filling out and add strength; clean arm action; fastball comfortably works 90-94, with some sink; can reach for more (95-96) when needs it; potential to sit in plus-to-better range; turns over screwball with quality action; excellent deception with offering; flashes feel for change; arm-side fade with drop; curve can show two-plane break; feel for craft; projectable arm.
Weaknesses: Strength levels need improvement to withstand rigors of position; fastball velocity can yo-yo from outing to outing; more control than command, presently; learning how to spot to both sides of the plate; inconsistent delivering change; tends to be on the deliberate side; slows body and arm down; curve is presently below average; tends to cast and break early; more projection than polish.
Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter
Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: High; limited pro experience; emergence of consistent third offering.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Honeywell is a perfect example of why dynasty drafts are going to be so deep this year. The collection of talent in the supplemental and second rounds of the 2014 draft put a bigger-than-usual value on non-first-round picks this spring. The fact that Honeywell, one of the better short-season arms for fantasy purposes, will be there in the third or fourth round, is your proof.
The Year Ahead: A very intriguing arm, this right-hander has come on strong since right before the draft, and was able to sustain the buzz through a professional debut that left many impressed with the potential for considerable gains now that the arm is entrenched in a more structured environment. Honeywell is an easy thrower, who generates good present velocity via solid arm speed and possesses mechanics that point to some increase in this area with natural strength progression. The soon-to-be-20-year-old does throw meaty strikes and frequently works in the fat part of the plate, but the overall looseness points to the potential for progress in this department as he builds experience through repetition. Honeywell’s screwball is the best offering in his repertoire, where the consistency and deception of the pitch gets bats started early and can play as a true weapon against advanced hitters. The righty’s other secondary pieces—a curveball and changeup—do presently lag behind and are unrefined. Honing at least one of these offerings into a viable option to consistently mix into sequences will be key in reaching the overall potential. This season will offer a look as to how well Honeywell can hold his stuff during a likely full-season assignment, and whether the gains witnessed last summer were just a short-term spike. There’s definitely something brewing here, with a good chance he further solidifies himself as a top arm within this system by season’s end.
Major league ETA: 2018
6. Nate Karns
What Happened in 2014: Karns logged a heavy workload as a starter in Triple-A, where the results were on the inconsistent side, but the bat-missing ability continued to play up and the loud front two pitches offer promise in a short-burst role.
Strengths: Well filled out; strong and physical player; quick arm; fastball comfortably works 93-95 as starter; capable of reaching for more (96-97) and sitting there in short bursts; snaps off power curveball at 84-86; hard break, with depth and teeth through strike zone; bat-missing ability; will throw for a strike; average command of arsenal; competitive demeanor; high potential for stuff to play up a tick in relief role.
Weaknesses: Changeup lags behind other offerings; presently fringe average; more of a show-me pitch than complimentary piece; not overly loose with wrist when turning over; aggressive nature on mound; can get too amped up; inconsistent with landing; lacks feel for craft as a starter.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; no. 3/4 starter
Realistic Role: 5; late-inning reliever (setup)
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; achieved major leagues; mature arsenal.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: You can look at the fact that there are only two pitches in his tools line above and think, “yep he must be a reliever,” but he’s not entirely in that bucket yet. But with his concentrated arsenal, he could have more fantasy value in a bullpen role than a starting one.
The Year Ahead: There are times when we can allow the age to influence how we see players, and though Karns is on the older side, this is a legit prospect. Both the fastball and curveball are weapons at the right-hander’s disposal. The offerings bring a high element of power to the arm’s game, lending both bat-missing ability and the option to slice up the strike zone. There’s also a strong competitive nature that shows in the way the pitcher goes about his business on the mound. Despite reaching the highest level in a starting capacity, sources see Karns fitting best in a relief role, fitting nicely at the back of a bullpen. His aggressive nature and lack of a true third offering make it tough to envision sustainment of the consistency necessary to churn through multiple lineups over the long run. The 27-year-old may continue to be stretched out as depth to start 2015, but when he’s officially let loose in the later stages of games, look out.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2013
7. Taylor Guerrieri
What Happened in 2014: The right-hander made his return to the mound late in the season, where the stuff showed flashes of pre-Tommy John form, but questions still do linger on keeping himself in check off the field.
Strengths: Excellent size; good present strength; repeatable delivery; smooth arm action; fastball works 91-93 with strong movement; arm-side run and sink with late life; can reach to mid-90s; snaps curveball with loose wrist; bends deeply with tight rotation; bat-missing offering; command growth potential.
Weaknesses: Still regaining feel for stuff post-surgery; can hold onto change too long when throwing; lacks quality action; often telegraphs secondary stuff; loose with fastball within the zone; works too elevated; makeup concerns (two drug of abuse violations).
Overall Future Potential: High 6; no. 2 starter
Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: High; Tommy John on resume (2013); progression of viable third pitch.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It’s impossible to ignore the risks with Guerrieri, but he checks in as the second-best fantasy prospect in this system (behind Adames) because the payoff could be closer to impact than anyone mentioned thus far. If he was dropped, or forgotten about, in your dynasty league, grab him now before he reminds owners why he was a first-round pick in the first place.
The Year Ahead: Guerrieri has the makings of a legit power arm, with the stuff to firmly cement himself in a rotation for many seasons to come. The 21-year-old right-hander brings to the table a lively heater and curveball that can be downright nasty on batters. His size, present strength, and athleticism lend strong clues that the pitcher can not only continue to physically develop to handle the rigors of the long season, but there’s also command growth that can be unlocked with further repetition. It’s a solid package that can emerge. The injury was a developmental setback, though, and the second violation last offseason for a drug of abuse leaves questions as to whether the player can stay on course. Reports from Guerrieri’s rehab and his return to the mound suggested there was the required focus and dedication to overcome the injury obstacle. This summer will provide a deeper look at this young arm’s progression out of surgery, likely ramping in full-season ball, with a strong chance that once momentum starts to build the prior shine will return.
Major league ETA: 2017
8. Casey Gillaspie
What Happened in 2014: The big first baseman mashed his way through the Missouri Valley Conference in the spring to a video game-like 1.202 OPS before being selected by Tampa 20th overall and embarking on his professional journey in the New York-Penn League.
Strengths: Excellent present strength; well filled-out body; powerful lower half; defined knowledge of strike zone; willing to go deep into counts; not afraid to hit with a strike or two; grinds through plate appearances looking for pitch to drive; generates loft with left-handed stroke; barrels up offerings hard; quick and efficient right-handed; uses the whole field from right side; potential for 20-plus home runs annually; soft hands; handles himself around bag well; shows ability to adjust.
Weaknesses: Tends to yank head of the bat, especially left-handed; deeper hand load from left side leads to concerns against high velocity on inner third; likely to see more swing and miss in game against premium stuff; will sell out for power; more of a contact hitter right-handed; needs improvement tapping into lower body for power to play to full potential; presently relies on upper body; limited range at first; lacks defensive versatility; first-base/DH type.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; solid-average regular
Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; limited professional experience; mature secondary skill set; first base-only profile.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: You’d expect a first-base profile who can move quickly to be a positive for fantasy value, and it is, but Gillaspie doesn’t provide the type of upside you need in a 1B/UT in shallow mixed formats. In deeper leagues, he makes for a solid value pick in dynasty drafts, but not among the first 30 picks.
The Year Ahead: Gillaspie is an advanced bat, with the type of secondary skills at the plate and well-rounded approach that point to a quicker assimilation into full-season ball, along with the potential to track fairly quickly into the upper minors and beyond. The 21-year-old’s ability to control plate appearances and grind through sequences is very noticeable. It’s hard not to envision the first baseman taking advantage of inexperienced arms in the near term and doing some serious damage as he finds his footing in pro ball. This is also player oozing strength, with a body already built for handling the grind of the long season. There’s plenty of power for the switch-hitter to tap into, though opinions see the game power not playing up to the strength level unless Gillaspie can get more out of his lower half in the swing mechanics. The rubber is likely to meet the road when the prospect reaches Double-A, where the quality of arms will be more of a match for his skillset and some evaluators feel the lack of premium bat speed will start to catch up in the form of reduced contact. This isn’t an overly high-ceiling prospect, but one with a shorter lead time and high probability of major-league payout.
Major league ETA: 2017
9. Justin Williams
What Happened in 2014: Williams showed a better-than-expected nose for hard contact over 46 Pioneer League games and 28 Midwest League games, all but 12 of which saw the former second rounder take the field as an 18-year-old.
Strengths: Quick hands and above-average bat speed; strong build; knack for hard contact with ability to square up velocity; solid plate coverage; lots of whip, big torque through core out of firm lower half; will show easy-plus or better raw during BP; improved carry on throws with raw arm strength playable to plus; average runner underway; chance for average glove on a corner with continued reps and instruction; solid developmental progress over short span.
Weaknesses: Swing can skew to pull; yet to face advanced spin with regularity and has struggled to pick up in limited exposure; violence in swing can pull head off sight and swing off plane; ramp-up runner whose speed plays down; still smoothing outfield arm action and learning actions; can lock into aggressive approach and expand zone; limited track record and exposure to advanced stuff leaves evaluators wary as to hit tool utility; still working to lift in game with present plane playing more to line drive contact; limited value on base paths.
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division major leaguer
Realistic Role: High 4; reserve corner bat/fourth outfielder
Risk Factor/Injury History: High; limited full-season exposure; still building reps and learning nuance.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: A potential 25-homer bat moving from the Diamondbacks system to the Rays is a bit of a buzzkill, but Williams is too far away for that to matter. What does matter is that he has the potential to be a OF3 in the mold of a Marcell Ozuna.
The Year Ahead: Williams came to the Tampa organization as half of the return for Jeremy Hellickson, fresh off of a productive 2014 split between Rookie and Low-A ball. After being frequently pitched around in high school, and often struggling against premium stuff on the prep showcase circuit, Williams has been a pleasant surprise from the drop in pro ball. The lefty wields the barrel with confidence and accuracy in the box and shows quality contact rates, far superior than evaluators expected. Previously viewed as a power-based lotto ticket, over 500-plus pro plate appearances Williams has displayed the characteristics of a bat with a chance to hit for average at the highest level, thanks to his bat speed and natural bat-to-ball skills. Questions remain regarding his ability to spot quality spin and maintain a tight enough attack zone to ensure quality hitter’s counts and balls to drive, however, and until the raw power translates to regular in-game production the profile will be miscast as a tweener of sorts. The raw goods are present, and it would be a mistake to undersell the import of his impressive showings at the plate and the progress he has made defensively after shifting to the outfield. There’s a wide spread between upside and likely outcome, but the combination of youth, raw ability, physicality, and aptitude is a quality jumping-off point for Tampa’s development staff. He could begin 2015 back in the Midwest League where he will look to build on his success at the plate and continue to improve his execution both in the outfield and on the bases, and will play the bulk of next season at the age of 19.
Major league ETA: 2018
10. Blake Snell
What Happened in 2014: The young left-hander took steps forward improving his strike throwing ability across two levels this past year, where the bat-missing potential of his overall stuff continued to play and some tangible progress was seen polishing the overall package.
Strengths: Projectable body; room to continue to add size and strength; easy arm action; high level of naturalness; low energy-expending delivery; fastball works 91-94 with late tailing action; can reach back for more; turns over changeup with loose wrist; late arm-side fading action with some tumble; deceptive offering; slider flashes hard bite and late break; throws from same angle as fastball; athletic, with ability to finish.
Weaknesses: Lot of body to control; loses arm slot; tends to release early with heater; breaking ball can blend between slider and curveball; still finding identity to offering; can stand to improve consistency of snap; gets deliberate with change; command and control need about grade jump; raw overall game.
Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter
Realistic Role: High 4; 5th starter/middle reliever
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; yet to pitch at Double-A level; command progression.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The strikeout potential is higher with Snell than any arm in the system, including Guerreri, but his lack of control could leave him strictly as a three-category contributor. Snell could be both the good and bad version of C.J. Wilson at the same time—just like the real C.J. Wilson.
The Year Ahead: The 22-year-old left-hander is one of those intriguing arms that may end up taking bigger strides toward the end of his minor-league developmental cycle because of the nature of the rough edges he still needs to polish. Snell showed some improvement this past season repeating his delivery, which aided in keeping his arm in a more consistent slot and allowed the low-90s fastball to be thrown downhill more often. Previously, the struggles with the release drove a large amount of arm-side misses and a general lack of ability to execute consistently in all four quadrants of the strike zone. While Snell does still have a ways to go to push the command into a position suitable for a mainstay in a starting rotation, the room for growth due to the athleticism, along with the quality of the raw stuff, points to a potential late-blooming type as the repetitions continue to build. The view here sees this arm continuing to make strides in an assignment at High-A to start 2015, with a good chance the lefty gets a crack at the next level at some point in the middle of the summer, elevating his status in the system in the process.
Major league ETA: Late 2016
Prospects on the Rise:
1. C Nick Ciuffo: It was a mixed overall season for the former first-round pick, with the gap to go being a bit larger than previously identified, but the talent and potential remain. The stroke from the left side is pretty and smooth, while the defensive ability points to a backstop that can round into an above-average defender down the line. Dual-threat development can be tricky though. The pressure on both aspects of the game, along with the delicate balance that comes with splitting focus, can lead to unevenness or one side lagging in stretches while the other gets the attention. It may seem like being down on the 19-year-old, which isn’t the case, as reassessments and resetting the baseline are important. With progress showing the rough edges are starting to give way to more polish, especially in regards to picking up stuff with spin better at the plate and handling offerings more firmly behind the dish, Ciuffo has the potential to quickly shoot back up this system next offseason.
2. RHP Jaime Schultz: The 23-year-old right-hander is a name to keep an eye on, with scout sources spoken to when putting this list together praising the raw stuff as some of the best within the system. Schultz can easily pump his fastball into the mid-90s, where it also shows hard, arm-side run and late, downward finish in the lower tier of the strike zone. The New York native also possesses both a slider and curveball that each can flash solid-average-to-better with bat-missing ability. The knock on the arm is a more passive approach that often sees him trying to be too fine around the strike zone rather than coming after hitters in line with what the stuff suggests. It’s a likely bullpen profile, but one that can offer some impact in the latter innings at peak and push top-10 discussion next year with more confidence in the arsenal shown during this season.
3. OF Manuel Sanchez: The 2013 international signee brings plus-plus raw power to the diamond from an already strong and well filled-out frame. The 19-year-old can really turn heads with his batting practice displays and flashes of in-game, tape-measure shots. Sanchez possesses a sound swing from the right side, where he generates very good bat speed and excellent extension to create plenty of loft when barreling offerings up. The overall game is extremely crude, though, with a large gap showing, especially in regards to the hit tool. The outfielder is more of a wild swinger presently and lacks a plan at the plate, which drives a lot of non-productive plate appearances. There are some questions as to whether there’s going to be enough feel for hitting to produce the necessary contact needed to allow his massive raw power to play up, but this is a name to put on the radar within the system and one that if things start to click the attention is going to start turning to as a rising power-hitting prospect.
Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2015)
1. OF Mikie Mahtook: The ceiling isn’t huge for the Louisiana State University product, but the prospect enters the season with a chance to be in the major-league mix at some point in 2015. Mahtook is capable of playing all three outfield positions, and while he profiles best in a corner, the 24-year-old can spell center in stretches. The development of power has been an area of question for the outfielder since signing with the organization. The right-handed hitter showed more this past season in Triple-A, but it also came with some added swing and miss in his offensive game, which leaves many to suggest that a balance between contact and power will be a difficult line for the player to find against the highest competition. It’s a fourth-outfielder profile, with some below-average regular upside at peak, and brings value to a bench in the long run. Look for Mahtook to make his debut in 2015 and get a chance to begin carving out a role.
2. LHP Enny Romero: The 23-year-old took a bit of a step backwards, or at least remained in neutral, during 2014, primarily driven by very inconsistent command. Romero can certainly crank up his fastball, often popping into the mid-90s, and snaps off a tightly breaking power curveball. Both offerings can flash double-plus in stretches, especially when the left-hander is using his size to stay tall and above the baseball. The well below-average command is problematic as a starter, typically forcing Romero into long drawn out sequences and leaving his heater in dangerous areas where good hitters are waiting to pounce. The stuff and size lead to dreams of what might happen if things click, but the smart money says this is a reliever, and one who can play up as a power arm toward the back of a bullpen as soon as this season.
3. RHP Jose Dominguez: Recently acquired from the Dodgers, the 24-year-old right-hander offers the organization another potential late-inning arm at its disposal and enters the season in the mix to earn a spot in the bullpen. Dominguez is known for his high-90s heat that can downright overpower hitters when he’s staying above the baseball and creating leverage. The knock on the arm has been his ability to be consistent with his release, along with staying on the field over the course of the last few seasons. There is nothing tricky about this arm. He primarily leans on his fastball, where the secondary stuff is more of a quick look before turning right back to it. He lives and dies with the pitch. It’s an arm that can begin bridging the sixth or seventh innings as soon as this season.
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/89 or later)
The Rays failed to make it to .500 in 2014 after winning 90 or more games in the previous four seasons. After a slow start out of the gates due in large part to injuries, a midsummer push in the standings did not dissuade Tampa’s brass from trading highly coveted LHP David Price to the Detroit Tigers in a three-way deal with the Seattle Mariners that netted them three young, controllable pieces, all of whom strengthen this list. This year’s 25U hosts more game-ready, major-league contributors than in the past and represents a diversified portfolio of player procurement, including five trade acquisitions, four draft picks, and one international signee. With former GM Andrew Friedman now in Los Angeles and former manager Joe Maddon in Chicago, Tampa Bay marches forward with new leadership and a strong, young core of talent.
After putting together an outstanding rookie campaign in 2013, Wil Myers battled injuries this season and failed to live up to the promise he had established in his first exposure to the league. Despite the down year and the questions surrounding his plate coverage and aggressive approach, Myers, 24, remains atop this list due to the tools-based upside he possesses as a first-division outfielder. Matt Moore missed a majority of the season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery in April, though the Rays hope he will be back on the mound this coming May, and can recapture the front-of-the-rotation potential he showcased in 2012 and 2013.
After coming to the Rays in the Price trade, Drew Smyly was a revelation down the stretch, posting a 1.70 ERA in 7 starts. The deceptive lefty made some alterations to his approach in Tampa, increasing his cutter usage and pitching up in the zone with his fastball with more frequency in order to induce whiffs. While his raw stuff points to that of a back-end-of-the-rotation arm, Smyly, 25, has the requisite intelligence and confidence in his repertoire to pitch above what that stuff would suggest. Jake Odorizzi saw his strikeout rate spike in 2014, due in large part to the increased usage of his new split-change, completely revamping his repertoire and profile as a result. He and Smyly should form a dynamic duo in the middle of Tampa’s rotation for the next couple of seasons, though a slight edge was given to Smyly in these rankings due to a more complete and well-rounded profile from the left side.
Kevin Kiermaier, known best as a defensive maven, surprised everyone with his bat in 2014, posting a .283 TAv in 364 plate appearances. There are still some who are skeptical about the long-term viability of the 24-year-old’s bat, but the outstanding defense in the outfield should buoy his overall value if the offense slips below league average. This particular detail of his skillset places him above Nick Franklin, who struggled in Triple-A and in his brief time in Tampa after coming over as the second piece in the Price haul. Though the arm limits him defensively, Franklin, 23, is praised for his versatility in the field but struggles mightily from the right side of the plate, potentially limiting his offensive efficacy at the highest level. He will likely start the season on the major-league roster, however, and that is enough to place him ahead of a group of prospects headlined by 19-year-old Adames, the third and final piece in the Price deal. –Ethan Purser
A Parting Thought: This system lacks high-ceiling and impact talent, but offers some intriguing players—especially via the international market—who can start emerging further and fill the gaps left by slow development of prospects from recent drafts.