The lull of the offseason where MLB’s best free agents are signed and fans are waiting for pitchers and catchers to report means one thing, it’s prospect season.
MLB Pipeline has just released its prospect breakdowns, reporting the Top 10 by position and its highly anticipated Top 100 overall. The resourceful Rays, who always ride that fine line of putting a competitive big league team on the field and preparing future big leaguers for the show top the list this year.
Headlined by the consensus top prospect in the game, teen sensation Wander Franco is their first of six prospects, the most by any team in the majors. Following the shortstop, Franco is LHP/DH Brendan McKay at 15th overall, 2B/SS Vidal Brujan at 45th, 2B/SS Xavier Edwards, who has just been acquired this offseason, is at 72nd overall, and righties Shane Baz and Brent Honeywell come in at 90th and 91st respectively.
Franco has been a steady riser according to scouts who are giving him the Vladimir Guerrero Jr. treatment, being amazed at his bat control and discipline at the dish. Unlike Vladdy his defensive prowess boosts his overall prospect status, as he joins the mold of exceptionally athletic shortstops with the ability to hit for power in the bigs. He only reached High-Class A last year, but through two levels, he slashed .387/.398/.487. Most impressively he had a 7% strikeout rate, showing elite plate discipline and a major-league feel for the zone. His hit tools got an 80 on the scouting scale, the highest mark possible. Many would love to see the teenager reach the majors this upcoming season. And if his development keeps progressing he might force the Rays hand come September, but a mild expectation is to see him compete in camp for a starting job in 2021.
McKay was able to reach the majors last season when the Rays were in desperate need of starting pitching halfway through the year when 3/5th’s of their opening day rotation went down with injuries. He may struggle to make the team out of camp barring miscellaneous injuries and he could use the time in Durham to work on his secondary pitches. Not to mention the need to develop as a hitter. In limited action at the dish, he slashed .200/.273/500 with a solo homer in 10 at-bats. The Rays aren’t giving up on the former first-round picks two-way talents and he’ll get more plate appearances in Durham.
Brujan and Edwards are similar style prospects with positional flexibility capable of playing middle infield and some projections have them as center fielders. Brujan, 22 and Edwards, 20 show good bat to ball skills, with the ability to hit for a high average. Each of them has shown elite base stealing abilities. Brujan stole 55 bags in 2018, and 48 in 2019 across High A and Double-A ball. Xavier “slapdick prospect” Edwards may have something to prove to Blake Snell, but he clearly showed enough to the Rays front office brass to bring him over along with slugger Hunter Renfroe in exchange for outfielder Tommy Pham. Edwards stole 34 bases in the Padres A-ball affiliates last year. Brujan reached AA this past year, he may start the year in AAA Durham, with the chance to make his MLB debut this year. Edwards, on the other hand, is still a few years away, and he is likely to climb further up MLB’s pipeline list before he is seriously considered to make the major league roster.
Shane Baz might be my personal favorite on this list. Not only is he a good twitter follow, but he is an intriguing prospect who is extremely “toolsy”. He was the “player to be named later” in the infamous Chris Archer trade with Pittsburgh a couple of summers ago. The Rays in return received Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow and Baz, a right-handed pitcher in Low-A ball with projected “big league stuff”. He was the Pirates first-round pick in 2017 and most recently pitched in the Arizona fall league impressing with a triple-digit fastball, and 11 innings he struck out 14 but walked 8. If he can harness his repertoire he has ace potential. His big-league ETA is slated for 2022.
Brent Honeywell is a familiar face for Rays fans. He was atop the Rays prospect list roughly two years ago but after Tommy John surgery and another elbow surgery in each of the past two years, he went from on the cusp of making his MLB debut to a developmental reclamation project with high hopes of regaining his old form. Honeywell projected as a frontline starter and after his first normal offseason in quite some time he is eager to get back on the mound and prove he’s still got it. He possesses a true 5 pitch mix with a firm fastball in the low to mid 90’s, changeup, slider, curveball and most intriguingly a screwball. He’s been spotted at the Trop for early workouts and answering questions from reporters about his health. He says he’s ready to work and said the elbow surgeries haven’t made him wary of his heavy breaking ball arsenal. Depending on how spring training goes, Honey could join the big league roster right away or work out a few kinks in Durham. The starting 5 appears to be set, if everyone stays healthy, with Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, and Tyler Glasnow operating as the three-headed monster at the top. And Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough holding down the 4th and 5th spots, as they proved they belong even without following an opener.
MLB.com has yet to publish the Top 30 prospects by team but the Rays certainly have a lot to be proud of in their scouting and player development. They would’ve had 7 total players if it weren’t for their most recent trade with the Cardinals that sent coveted lefty Matthew Liberatore to St. Louis as he ranked 58th in the top 100. And looking back to last summers trade with Miami that included Nick Anderson and Ryne Stanek, Miami acquired outfielder Jesus Sanchez who came in at 80th on the list. Making for an impressive 8 players somewhat associated with the Rays farm system within the last 8 months.
The present team is looking to repeat its playoff contention and the future is certainly bright for the Rays. It appears the Rays aren’t going away anytime soon, metaphorically speaking as they continue to try and resolve their stadium issue. Fans are just hoping Franco and company bring a championship to the Tampa-St. Pete area and not Montreal.