Tampa Bay Rays' Top 10 Prospects for 2015

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterJanuary 7, 2015

Tampa Bay Rays' Top 10 Prospects for 2015

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    It was an overall quiet year for Tampa Bay Rays prospects, as the team failed to produce impact players at the highest level like it had in previous years. Granted, the Rays received contributions from right-hander Jake Odorizzi and outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, but nothing along the lines of Wil Myers, Chris Archer and Matt Moore. Therefore, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when the Rays, who were already out of the playoff race, began restocking their farm system in late July.

    First, the Rays landed 19-year-old shortstop Willy Adames at the trade deadline, receiving him from the Detroit Tigers as part of a three-team deal for David Price. The club then began its offseason by acquiring two more young hitters, shortstop Andrew Velazquez and outfielder Justin Williams, from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Jeremy Hellickson.

    More recently, the Rays decided to part with Myers in another three-team trade, this time involving the Washington Nationals and San Diego Padres, which netted them a slew of young talents, including outfielder Steven Souza, first baseman Jake Bauers and right-handers Burch Smith and Jose Dominguez.

    Other than that, catcher Justin O’Conner has always been known for his strong defense and cannon arm, but the 22-year-old finally came into his own at the dish last season and put up solid numbers in challenging leagues. On the mound, 22-year-old left-hander Blake Snell continued to miss more than a bat per inning between both A-ball levels.

    As for the Rays’ 2014 draft class, first baseman Casey Gillaspie (No. 20 overall) showed good power and an advanced eye in the New York-Penn League, while second-rounder Brent Honeywell opened eyes in the Appalachian League with his low to mid-90s fastball and filthy screwball.

    Here are the Tampa Bay Rays’ top 10 prospects for the 2015 season.

How They're Ranked

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Position Players

    • Body type/athleticism
    • Speed
    • Hitting mechanics, bat speed
    • Injury history
    • Statistical trends
    • Age vs. level: How well a player fared at a certain level relative to his age and that of the competition
    • Tools: Number of projectable tools a player possesses in relation to his position, age and competition; present vs. future tool grades
    • Hit tool: In the evolution of the prospect landscape, the hit tool is the most importantbut also the hardest to project
    • League and park factors
    • On-base skills: Approach; strike-zone management; pitch recognition
    • Makeup/character
    • Defensive tools and skill sets; present vs. projected position
    • Place on organization's depth chart
    • Positional scarcity; up-the-middle potential 

    Pitchers

    • Body type/athleticism/strength
    • Mechanics: delivery; arm speed; release point
    • Age vs. highest level of experience
    • Injury history (durability)
    • Statistical trends
    • Arsenal quality and depth
    • Pitch projections: Present vs. future grades
    • Hitability: How tough is he to barrel? Does he keep the ball on the ground/in the park?
    • Control/command: Is he usually around the zone? Does he effectively command his stuff? How much development/refinement is needed?
    • Pitchability: Feel (and confidence) for using and sequencing entire arsenal
    • Approach: Does he fearlessly attack and challenge opposing hitters?  
    • Projection: Does he project as a starter? If so, what type? Or is he likely to be relegated to the bullpen? If so, why?

    Resources

Close Calls

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    Nate Karns, RHP

    Taylor Guerrieri, RHP

    Nick Ciuffo, C

    Justin Williams, OF

    Enny Romero, LHP

    Jake Bauers, 1B

10. Casey Gillaspie, 1B

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    Brian Blanco/Getty Images

    Position: 1B

    DOB: 01/25/1993 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6’4”, 240 lbs

    Bats/Throws: S/L

    Drafted: First round, 2014 (Wichita State, Kansas)

    Last Year’s Rank: N/A

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats (SS): 71 G, 308 PA, .262/.364/.411, 34.8 XBH%, 7 HR, 13.6 BB%, 21.1 K%

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5055354550

    Scouting Report

    As a 6’4”, 240-pound switch-hitter, Casey Gillapsie has always featured more power from the left side of the plate—which is expected considering he faces mostly right-handed pitchers—thanks to a swing that’s longer and more leveraged compared to his relatively compact stroke as a righty.

    Specifically, I worry about his ability to hit high-end velocity, as his timing mechanism can make him late on fastballs and at times even prevent him from initiating a swing. However, Gillaspie knows how to work counts and, for the most part, does a good job keeping his weight back in order to barrel secondary pitches.

    The good news is that Gillaspie’s weaknesses, much like his strengths, are already apparent, which is a huge advantage. This way, he’ll be able to address those specific issues prior to his 2015 full-season debut rather than dealing with them once they intensify at higher levels.

    Ceiling (OFP): 50 (average major leaguer)—Medium risk

9. Ryan Brett, 2B

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    Position: 2B

    DOB: 10/09/1991 (Age: 23)

    Height/Weight: 5’9”, 180 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: Third round, 2010 (Highline HS, Washington)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 9

    ETA: Late 2015

    2014 Stats (AA): 107 G, 459 PA, .303/.346/.448, 30.5 XBH%, 8 HR, 27 SB, 5.7 BB%, 16.1 K%

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5540604550

    Scouting Report 

    Ryan Brett continued his climb toward the major leagues in 2015, setting career bests in batting average, hits, doubles, triples, home runs (eight) and total bases while playing in a career-high 107 games at Double-A Montgomery. It also marked the 23-year-old’s third consecutive season with at least 26 stolen bases.

    A 5’9”, 180-pound right-handed hitter, Brett is a solid ballplayer who gets the most out of his frame and tools, as he can do a little of everything except hit with power. His advanced bat-to-ball skills and barrel control allow him to spray line drives from line to line, and he’s adept at staying inside the ball so as to utilize his strong hands and wrists.

    Brett will jump the yard every now and then to his pull side, but his overall power is below average and mostly gap pop. He’s a plus runner capable of stealing 20-plus bases in a given season, and he always looks to take an extra base and challenge defenses.

    The 23-year-old’s combination of speed and quickness translates to above-average range at second base, where he also showcases a good glove and arm strength fitting for the position.

    Ceiling (OFP): 50 (major league regular)—Low risk

8. Blake Snell, LHP

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    Position: LHP

    DOB: 12/04/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6’4”, 180 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Drafted: First round, 2011 (Shorewood HS, Washington)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NR

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats (A/A+): 24 GS, 115.2 IP, 3.19 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, .225 BAA, 0.2 HR/9, 4.4 BB/9, 9.3 K/9

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballSliderChangeupControl
    65606045

    Scouting Report

    Snell finally started moving up the ladder in 2014, beginning the season back at Low-A Bowling Green but spending a majority of the year at High-A Charlotte. The 22-year-old left-hander made noticeable strides with his control and command at the more advanced level, all the while maintaining favorable ground-ball and strikeout rates.

    The 6’4” left-hander has highly projectable body and will need to get stronger as he matures, but the arm action is fluid and allows him to throw all of his pitches on a downward plane.

    Snell’s fastball works best in the low 90s, as the pitch’s late sinking action induces tons of groundouts and weak contact. He also demonstrates a good feel for his slider, though I’d like to see him use it to back-foot more right-handed hitters.

    Snell’s changeup flashes above-average potential but also is technically his least advanced offering, and he’ll need to develop it thoroughly to neutralize right-handed batters in the high minors, let alone land a spot in the Rays’ 2016 or 2017 starting rotation.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (No. 3 or 4 starter)—Medium risk

7. Brent Honeywell, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 03/31/1995 (Age: 19)

    Height/Weight: 6’2”, 180 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: Second round, 2014 (Walters State CC, Tennessee)

    Last Year’s Rank: N/A

    ETA: 2018

    2014 Stats (Rk): 9 G/8 GS, 33.2 IP, 1.07 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, .161 BAA, 0.3 HR/9, 1.6 BB/9, 10.7 K/9

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballCurveballScrewballChangeupControl
    6050605555

    Scouting Report

    Brent Honeywell was a late-rising draft prospect in 2014, as little was known about him prior to his selection by the Rays in the second round. However, the 19-year-old quickly proved to be worth the early-round gamble, with a dominant performance in the Rookie-level Appalachian League.

    A 6’2”, 180-pound right-hander, Honeywell’s fastball registers in the 90-95 mph range with late life, in turn setting up his mid-70s curveball and above-average changeup in the low 80s. His best secondary offering is a plus screwball—yes, you read that right—thrown in the low to mid-70s with outstanding fading action to his arm side.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (No. 3 starter)—High risk

6. Andrew Velazquez, SS/2B

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    Position: SS/2B

    DOB: 07/14/1994 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 5’8”, 175 lbs

    Bats/Throws: S/R

    Drafted: Seventh round, 2012 by Diamondbacks (Fordham Prep, New York)

    Last Year’s Rank: NR (Diamondbacks)

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats (A): 134 G, 623 PA, .290/.367/.428, 26.6 XBH%, 9 HR, 50 SB, 10.0 BB%, 21.8 K%

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmGlove
    5035605545

    Scouting Report

    Andrew Velazquez posted impressive numbers this year in his return to the Midwest League, slashing .290/.367/.428 with a career-best 42 extra-base hits and 50 stolen bases in 134 games at Low-A South Bend. The 20-year-old also set a new minor league record by reaching base in 72 consecutive games.

    However, Velazquez’s time in Arizona’s system was short lived, as he was traded this offseason to Tampa Bay along with 2013 draftee Justin Williams in exchange for Jeremy Hellickson.

    The switch-hitting Velazquez may be undersized at 5’8”, 175 pounds, but he knows how to handle the bat from both sides of plate and possesses more power than his size suggests. At the same time, his game also features plenty of swing-and-miss, and it’ll be interesting to track the adjustments he makes next season in the Florida State League.

    Other than that, Velazquez’s plus wheels and feel for reading pitchers/situations make him a consistent threat on the basepaths, and it’s easy to see him swiping 25-30 bases as an everyday big leaguer.

    Defensively, Velazquez has the range and arm strength to remain at shortstop, but his actions and fielding mechanics are on the raw side and will need to be cleaned up as he moves up the ladder. Yet even if he’s forced off shortstop in the coming years, Velazquez’s overall profile should still be a clean fit at second base, and perhaps even center field.

    Ceiling (OFP): 50 (major league regular)—High risk

5. Adrian Rondon, SS

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    Position: SS

    DOB: 07/07/1998 (Age: 16)

    Height/Weight: 6’2”, 180 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Signed: 2014 (Dominican Republic)

    Last Year’s Rank: N/A

    ETA: 2018

    2014 Stats: NA

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmGlove
    6550506050

    Scouting Report

    The Tampa Bay Rays exceeded their international bonus pool this year to land Dominican shortstop Adrian Rondon, who signed for $2.95 million on his 16th birthday (July 7). Rondon was widely considered the top prospect in this year’s J2 class, as he ranked first on Baseball America's Top 30 list and third on MLB.com’s.

    Because I’ve never seen Rondon in person and there’s a limited amount of available video, I’ve decided to compile scouting notes from some of the top international voices.

    From Baseball America’s Ben Badler:

    He [Rondon] has good bat speed and a quick, compact stroke, showing a knack for barreling the ball with good plate coverage to make plenty of contact in games. He has good rhythm and balance with the ability to square up high-end velocity. He will chase hard breaking pitches off the plate at times, but he has a mature hitting approach for his age, working deep counts and using the whole field. He’s more of a line-drive hitter than a power threat, but there’s loft in his swing and projection in his frame, so his doubles should turn into more home runs with more strength.

    From MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez:

    The 6-foot-1, 170-pound infielder can do it all. Rondon has fluid actions on offense and defense, and he never seems out of control. He's expected to stay at shortstop when he signs with a Major League team because he projects to be a solid defender with a decent arm, quick feet and natural baseball instincts.

    Ceiling (OFP): 65 (Potential All-Star)—Extreme risk

    Rondon is roughly six months removed from celebrating his 16th birthday—which is a way of saying he’s almost all projection right now—but the groundwork is there for him to develop into a five-tool talent. If that turns out to be the case, then Rondon could come close to approaching his All-Star-caliber ceiling.

4. Steven Souza, OF

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 04/24/1989 (Age: 25)

    Height/Weight: 6’4”, 225 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: Third round, 2007 by Nationals (Cascade HS, Washington)

    Last Year’s Rank:

    ETA: Debuted in 2014

    2014 Stats (A/A+/AAA): 100 G, 419 PA, .345/.427/.577, 36.6 XBH%, 18 HR, 28 SB, 12.4 BB%, 19.1 K%

    2014 MLB Stats: 21 G, 26 PA, .130 BA, 2 HR, 3 BB, 7 K

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5055555555

    Scouting Report

    Steven Souza was named MVP of International League last season after pacing the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. He also received his first taste of the major leagues in 2014, but he went just 3-for-23 (with two home runs) in 21 games, a majority of which he entered as a defensive replacement. That’s exactly what he did in Game 162 of the regular season, and we all know how that turned out...

    However, the lack of turnover in Washington’s outfield meant Souza was unlikely to see significant time in 2015, which is why the club decided to trade him to Tampa Bay in December as part of a three-team deal with the Padres.

    At 6’4”, 225 pounds, Souza is a standout athlete with the potential for four average-or-better tools at maturity, possibly five depending on how he adjusts to major league pitching. The 25-year-old’s carrying tool is his plus raw power, and he’s shown more consistent in-game thump over last two seasons after tightening his approach.

    Souza’s hit tool is still a bit of a question mark, but he should make enough contact to allow his power to translate at the highest level. His slightly above-average speed and strong instincts make him a threat on the basepaths, and it wouldn't be surprising if he continued swiping 15 to 20 bags over a full season.

    On the other side of the ball, Souza is a solid-average defender capable of playing all three outfield positions, though his range and arm strength are best suited for a corner.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (solid-average regular)—Low risk

    Souza is the type of player who will surprise people once given consistent playing time, as his combination of size, athleticism, tools and secondary skills profile favorably in a big league outfield. The 25-year-old’s ability to play all three positions could make him a near-everyday player for the Rays, though a platoon scenario is also possible given his ability to mash left-handed pitching.

3. Alex Colome, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 12/31/1988 (Age: 26)

    Height/Weight: 6’2”, 185 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Signed: 2007 (Dominican Republic)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 3

    ETA: Debuted in 2013

    2014 Stats (A+/AAA): 18 GS, 97 IP, 3.53 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, .252 BAA, 0.2 HR/9, 3.2 BB/9, 7.7 K/9

    2014 MLB Stats: 5 G/3 GS, 23.2 IP, 2.66 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .221 BAA, 0.4 HR/9, 3.8 BB/9, 4.9 K/9

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballCutterCurveballChangeupControl
    6560555050

    Scouting Report

    Alex Colome was expected to get his first extended audition in the major leagues in 2014, but a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs delayed the start of his season until late May and surely cost the 26-year-old many opportunities to land a role in the Rays rotation or bullpen. He did return to the major leagues and ultimately pitched 23.2 innings, but three of his five appearances on the year came after rosters expanded in September.

    When healthy, Colome boasts a low to mid-90s fastball that has late life and digs on the hands of right-handed hitters, and he also throws a good cutter in the low 90s with late slicing action. The right-hander’s second arsenal includes a curveball with above-average potential and a changeup that’s effective when sequenced off his fastball or cutter, but his command of both pitches is inconsistent and limits his overall potential as a starter.

    Ceiling (OFP): 50 (No. 3 or 4 starter/late-inning reliever)—Low risk

    With Colome, it all comes down to whether he can stay on the field. The 26-year-old right-hander missed significant time with injuries in both 2012 and 2013, respectively, and he’s logged more than 120 innings in a season just twice in his eight-year career. All signs point to the 26-year-old ending up in the bullpen, but for now, the Rays will continue to develop him as a starter.

2. Justin O'Conner, C

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    Position: C

    DOB: 03/31/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6’0”, 190 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First round, 2010 (Cowan HS, Indiana)

    Last Year’s Rank: NR

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats (A+/AA): 101 G, 424 PA, .278/.316/.466, 44.1 XBH%, 12 HR, 3.8 BB%, 23.1 K%

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    4555457060

    Scouting Report

    O’Conner was a highly touted athlete with loud tools coming out of high school, which prompted the Rays to select him in the first round of the 2010 draft and then convert him to a catcher. However, his professional career didn’t take off as expected, as O’Conner batted just .199 with a 30.7 percent strikeout rate over his first three seasons (641 plate appearances), all of which were spent in the rookie and/or short season levels.

    Granted it took four years, but the 22-year-old backstop finally enjoyed a long-overdue breakout performance in 2014, hitting for both average and power while also making strides defensively.

    The right-handed-hitting O’Conner will always have some swing-and-miss to his game on account of his aggressive approach. However, he learned to trust his strong wrists/forearms last season and tightened his pitch selection, which in turn improved his contact rate, trimmed his strikeout rate and allowed him to tap into his raw power and apply it in games.

    Defensively, O’Conner’s athleticism and arm strength produce pop times that consistently register in the 1.75- to 1.85-second range, as he manages to get something on every throw (with accuracy) from several different arm slots. He’s also adept at blocking laterally and keeping the ball in front, which allows him to explode from the couch and generate momentum into throws.

    O’Conner’s receiving skills—especially pitch-framing—are still developing and lag behind his catch-and-throw skills. However, given the progress he’s made since moving behind the plate, there’s no reason to think he’ll be anything less than a solid-average defender at maturity.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (solid-average regular)—Medium risk

    O’Conner’s raw power and ability to control the running game could make him a valuable backup catcher in the major leagues. Whether he becomes anything greater than that will depend on the development of his approach and hit-tool utility, both of which might be tested next season in Double-A.

1. Willy Adames, SS

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    Position: SS

    DOB: 09/02/1995 (Age: 19)

    Height/Weight: 6’1”, 180 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Signed: 2012 by Tigers (Dominican Republic)

    Last Year’s Rank: NR

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats (A): 125 G, 514 PA, .271/.353/.429, 33.6 XBH%, 8 HR, 6 SB, 10.5 BB%, 24.5 K%

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmGlove
    5560506050

    Scouting Report

    Originally signed by the Tigers in 2012 out of the Dominican Republic, Adames put himself on the prospect radar this past season with an impressive full-season debut. The 19-year-old’s performance at Low-A Bowling Green led to him being traded to Tampa Bay at the July deadline as part of the David Price deal.

    Adames started to come into his own in 2014, as his fluid swing, bat speed and barrel control produced more consistent hard contact as well as in-game power. And given his projectable 6’1”, 180-pound frame, it’s easy to envision Adames adding more power in the coming years, possibly to the point where it’s an above-average tool at maturity.

    Though he’s technically just an average runner, Adames still moves well on both sides of the ball thanks to his athleticism and instincts. At shortstop, the teenager has the footwork, hands and arm strength to remain at the position long term, but his average range and his likelihood of losing a step or two with physical maturation could potentially force him to the hot corner.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (First-division regular)—High risk

    With one year of full-season ball under his belt, it goes without saying that there’s a huge gap between Adames’ present ability and overall potential. The 19-year-old has the makings of an impact hitter at maturity, which is all the more reason for the Rays to keep him at shortstop for as long as possible. He’ll likely open 2015 in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, which should be a healthy challenge for his promising bat.

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