Tampa Bay Rays’ 2021 Preseason Top 50 Prospects

Today's lesson: Don't trade with the Rays

As we prepare for the season ahead, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2021. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2021 hub here.

The reigning American League champions continue to churn out MLB talent at a rate few teams can rival. The Rays boast one of, if not the deepest system in baseball, continuing to compile talent every year. The Rays have built a reputation as one of the premier development pipelines in baseball, excelling not just at finding talent but also developing quality major leaguers out of thin air. Operating with the league’s smallest budget, the Rays have been forced to win from within and have succeeded in doing so dating back to the likes of Evan Longoria and David Price (just don’t ask what happens when those players hit arbitration).

While player development is an area that continues to grow around the league, credit the Rays for drawing a clear blueprint on how to produce a winning team and develop talent on a regular basis. Here are their top 50 prospects heading into 2021.

Note: These Top 50 lists are all done through a fantasy baseball-focused lens. Many players who are ranked higher or lower on other platforms will get a boost here. For example, players who profile as middle relievers or glove-first infielders likely won’t have much fantasy relevance, so they won’t be ranked as highly. 

(Players asterisked are currently on the 40-man roster)

 

1. SS Wander Franco*

 

Age: 19

Highest Level: Taxi Squad (?)

Wander Franco sits atop the Rays’ list and is baseball’s consensus top prospect. Having long drawn rave reviews from scouts, Franco’s skills are apparent even to the casual observer. His minor league numbers jump off the page, laying waste to rookie ball in his 2018 pro debut before slashing .336/.405/.523 across A-ball in 2019 with 71 extra-base hits, 20 steals, and nearly twice as many walks as strikeouts.

Franco spent 2020 on the Rays’ taxi squad but still managed to send baseball Twitter into a frenzy with speculation of a potential playoff debut. In a normal season, Franco would most likely have started at AA and pushed for a September call-up. So although a COVID-season debut did not come to fruition, the consideration of such shows that he may not have much left to prove in the minors. I would expect the Rays to start Franco’s 2021 season in the minors and keep him there until the projected super-two cutoff (usually around mid-May).

The Rays have infield depth, with mainstays Brandon Lowe and Willy Adames proving capable options up the middle, but Franco is the type of player teams make room for. The Rays could elect to move him around the infield, but ultimately he should end up as their everyday shortstop. From a fantasy production standpoint, Franco has the tools to be fantasy relevant even if he doesn’t become the best player in baseball right away. He has elite on-base skills, pairing a minor league leading contact rate with Juan Soto-esque plate discipline. He still hits the ball on the ground at a less-than-ideal rate (48% in 2019), but his swing has natural loft from both sides and should be able to develop more consistent power as he grows. He has 30 SB speed, though whether that manifests at the major league level remains to be seen.

Either way, Franco has established himself in a range anywhere from elite to generational talent. This is as close to can’t-miss as prospects come, and he should be a valuable fantasy asset for the foreseeable future.

ETA: 2021

 

2. OF Randy Arozarena*

 

Age: 25

Highest Level: MLB

Acquired from the Cardinals in an offseason trade that saw top pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore go the other way, Arozarena flew a bit under the radar in part due to missing the first month of the season due to COVID-19. Little did we know the monstrous postseason breakout that was in store. By now, the vast majority of baseball fans are familiar with Arozarena; the dancing, cowboy boot-donning, dinger-launching legend who had a postseason for the ages.

Arozarena came into the playoffs with just 99 regular-season PAs split between the Cardinals and Rays and impressed in that small sample. A native of Cuba, Arozarena was a budding star in Cuba’s 18U league and a member of their junior national team. His production in Cuba was good, constantly ranking in the top-10 Cuban prospects, but he did not have the hype that others (like junior national teammate Yoan Moncada) had.

Arozarena did not defect from Cuba until 2015, establishing residency and playing at an academy in Mexico before signing with the Cardinals in 2016. He continued to fly under the radar in the Cardinals’ system, with evaluators noting his physical ability but questioning whether it would ever translate to in-game power.

Clearly, it has.

Arozarena is the latest example of the Rays unlocking power from a smaller contact-oriented hitter, a player-type that is quite pronounced throughout this list. Arozarena’s breakout on the big stage assures that he may never fly under the radar again, and that will surely influence both his prospect stock and fantasy ADP. It’s entirely possible that his value is at an all-time high, though there are enough raw tools and traits that make me believe in his long-term outlook.

For starters, his swing reminds me a lot of Mookie Betts. He has a short, modified load that gets his bat to the zone quickly and a swing path that keeps the barrel in the zone for a long time. Like Betts, this manifested in a more contact-oriented approach early in Arozarena’s career (which as a result of older baseball thinking is often forced upon smaller, speedy players like Betts and Arozarena).

In his brief 2020, Arozarana did strike out at a hefty 28% (by far a career-high, and possibly a result of small-sample noise), but in that same stretch also hit seven homers with four steals and a .422 wOBA. The 44% hard-hit rate and 14% barrel rate may not be sustainable, but the overall quality of contact profile paired with 93rd percentile sprint speed should have fantasy managers drooling.

It’s irrational to expect Arozarena to replicate his 2020 playoffs over a full season but he enters 2021 as the odds-on favorite for AL Rookie of the Year with a power and speed combination that makes him a budding fantasy superstar.

ETA: 2020

 

3. 2B Vidal Brujan*

 

Age: 22

Highest Level: AA

With Wander Franco the crown jewel of major league prospects, the Rays have acquired a handful of players with similar traits hoping to develop a small army of small switch-hitting middle infielders with sneaky pop and decent plate discipline.

Brujan is next in line, and among my favorites in this system. At 5-9, 160 pounds, Brujan’s profile is similar to that of Ozzie Albies in the minors, though he and Albies are roughly the same age and Brujan has yet to face AAA pitching. I initially brushed that aside as a lazy comp, but as I kept digging the resemblance was too hard to ignore.

A consensus top-100 prospect, the one knock on Brujan has always been a lack of power. His Trackman data is reportedly not great, but he still slashed a respectable .277/.346/.389 between Hi- and Double-A in 2019 to go along with 48 steals. His walk rate dipped in 2019 but isn’t close to worrisome levels, and he continued to show plus defense at all levels, including the Arizona Fall League. His swing from both sides is composed and explosive, with a  natural loft that tells me power is on the way. This past minor league season would have been a big one for Brujan, had he been able to show continued development in the upper minors. Unfortunately, we did not get the chance to see that but based purely on where he was at the end of 2019 I can see the makings of a productive big league regular. The contact, speed, and defense alone are enough to get him to the big leagues, but keep an eye on his early 2021 returns as any sort of power surge would catapult him to star-level status.

ETA: 2021

 

4. RHP Luis Patiño*

 

Age: 21

Highest Level: MLB

Luis Patiño enters the Rays list at #4, though you could make the case for him to be higher. The athletic righty has an electric arm and becomes Tampa’s top pitching prospect after headlining the return for Blake SnellA consensus top-20 MLB prospect, Patiño debuted out of the bullpen with the Padres in 2020 and should fit in well with the Rays stable of multi-inning power arms. He vaulted through the Padres farm system after adding nearly 10 mph of velocity since signing out of Columbia in 2016, dominating at every minor league level with a cumulative 2.35 ERA and 29% K-rate across 234 career minor league innings.

Though he struggled with a 5.19 ERA and even worse 6.03 xFIP in 17.1 major league innings in 2020, he has a raw but electric arsenal that could be special with just a few minor tweaks. I wrote more in-depth about potential improvements to Patiño’s repertoire in the trade recap which you can read here. To sum it up; he struggles with command and his fastball tends to naturally cut into hitter’s barrels, which means he isn’t able to generate whiffs despite elite velocity. This is a fixable trait, and something the Rays have done with other pitchers in the past. I think the Rays will make a few tweaks, and that development period paired with a move from the pitcher-friendly NL West to the AL East could push his fantasy impact back a bit, but overall this trade should improve both his present prospect stock and long-term outlook.

ETA: 2021

 

5. RHP Shane Baz*

 

Age: 21

Highest Level: A

Acquired as the Player to be Named Later in the (in)famous Chris Archer deal, the former 1st rounder is a flame-throwing right-hander who sat atop the Rays minor league stable prior to Patiño’s arrival. Baz has a deep pitch mix, pairing a high-90s fastball with a plus curve, good cutter, and developing changeup. Spending the entirety of his pro career as a starter, there is a non-zero chance Baz ends up in a high leverage relief role though his usage is hard to pinpoint given the Rays’ tendency to utilize pitchers in unorthodox roles. He started all 17 of his appearances at Hi-A in 2019, with a 2.99 ERA and 87Ks in just over 81 innings before seeing time out of the pen in the AFL (where his fastball flashed 100).  Though he may not have the command or stamina of a traditional starter, the pitch mix alone enables him to at least go multiple innings. The windup is simple, repeatable and he uses his big frame to get good extension, though his followthrough lacks fluidity and stops his momentum in whats looks like an uncomfortable way. Development wise he is behind a few pitchers I have lower on this list, but with the expectation of a big league starter beginning to blur I have seen enough to believe he is capable of at least going 4-5 innings with regularity. He should be a viable fantasy asset regardless, even with a move to the bullpen.

ETA: 2022

 

6. OF Josh Lowe*

 

Age: 22

Highest Level: AA

Drafted in the first round as a third-baseman in 2016, Lowe is an athletic left-handed hitter that now projects as an above-average big league outfielder. Armed with a toolsy power/speed combo, Lowe should debut in the Rays outfield at some point in 2021 after being added to the 40-man roster for Rule IV protection. Lowe has played almost exclusively CF since his pro-debut where he showed passable defense but should end up in an OF corner given the Rays possess multiple elite OF defenders. Lowe reached Double-A in 2019 and slashed a productive .252/.341/.442 with a .358 wOBA and showed the power/speed combo with 17 homers and 30 steals. Lowe looks like the prototypical three-true-outcome hitter, with a 25% K-rate and 11% BB-rate but both have trended in positive directions since his pro-debut. He faces competition in a crowded Rays outfield and is at risk of being platooned in the short-term. He has the tools to be a productive fantasy-relevant big league regular but will have to wait for an injury or trade to provide him the chance.

ETA: 2021

 

7. LHP Shane McClanahan*

 

Age: 23

Highest Level: MLB

McClanahan made his major league debut in the 2020 playoffs for the Rays, with 4 appearances including the World Series where he flashed 100mph for the first time. A 2018 late-first rounder out of USF, he rose quickly through the Rays system after reaching Double-A in 2019. Injuries plagued his college career, losing a year to TJS and struggling with a finger issue in his draft year, but has stabilized since joining the Rays thanks in part to a more refined delivery. That refinement has led some to reconsider his future as a starter, with most assuming his lethal FB/CB was destined for a high-leverage bullpen role. Considering his usage in the 2020 playoffs, I still think he is more likely to be a late-inning bullpen piece but perhaps a more versatile one capable of pitching 2-3 innings at a time. His fantasy relevance will ultimately rest on usage, but he is a big-league ready lefty with gaudy strikeout totals and a fastball that hits triple digits. That will play, no matter the role.

ETA: 2021

 

8. C Blake Hunt

 

Age: 21

Highest Level: Low-A

Hunt is a 2021 sleeper prospect who joins the Rays list at #8 after coming over in the Snell trade. Hunt was overlooked in a talented crop of So-Cal prep players, but a senior season breakout led the Padres to take him 69th overall in 2017. Hunt is much more than his 6’3″ 215lbs R/R profile leads you to believe. He has great bat speed but the lower half of his swing is remarkably quiet for someone his size, with no leg kick and a simple load leading to a—you guessed it—contact-oriented approach. As if the Rays needed any help, Hunt has already started tapping into some power, with added lower-half movement and promising reports from his showings at 2020 instructs. This power development comes after consecutive seasons with an above-average offense (.251/.348/.384) and no qualms about his ability to stick behind the plate (unofficially clocking 1.88 pop times). Catcher was perhaps the only positional weakness in the Rays system, with Hunt easily jumping Roberto Hernandez as Tampa Bay’s catcher of the future. He should be ready to debut by 2022 if not before.

ETA: 2022

 

9. LHP Brendan McKay*

 

Age: 24

Highest Level: MLB

Had he thrown a single inning in 2020, McKay would have graduated from this list entirely. Unfortunately, he missed the season with a shoulder injury, and his 49 major league innings squeak him onto this list as a result. He underwent labrum surgery and may not be ready for the start of 2021. Known for his two-way prowess at the University of Louisville, the Rays let him continue it throughout the minors, leading to 11 MLB PAs in 2019. While he is certainly a better hitter than most pitchers, I’m not convinced of his future as a legitimate 2-way player. As a pitcher, he has a well-rounded pitch mix with a feel for all pitches and good command. He doesn’t have elite velocity (sits 93-94), but his FB, CH, CB, and CU are all average – good. He struggled with homers in his 2019 debut, uncharacteristic of someone with a minor league track record of homer suppression. What worries me from a fantasy perspective is the lack of bat-missing upside, without the solid floor of strikeouts providing contact suppression insurance. Still, he has the makings of a quality mid-rotation starter and should have the chance to prove it in 2021. There is less of an opportunity for him as a hitter, so any additional value he can provide with the bat is icing on the cake.

ETA: 2020

 

10. DH Heriberto Hernandez

 

Age: 20

Highest Level: A

The recently acquired Hernandez has the dreaded R/R corner profile but started gaining traction last year and is very much a relevant dynasty name to know. Defensively Heriberto’s best position is “hitter,” having moved from behind the plate soon after signing with the Rangers. He is a compact 6’1″ 200lbs, generating strength and torque with a short-to-the-ball swing (which Fangraphs’ Eric Logenhagen’s perfect description of genuinely made me laugh). Despite the short swing, video suggests Hernandez has great plate coverage, pitch recognition, and has the ability to make mid-swing adjustments. With a 12% BB-rate, 1.071 OPS, and 181 wRC+ in just over 200 A-ball ABs in 2019, Heriberto is trending up and will be a popular pick to click for 2021. It would be nice if he could be a catcher in a system that lacks quality catching options, but moving to a corner helps accelerate his timeline and get his bat to the big leagues sooner. He may be capable of the occasional corner outfield cameo, but the bat could be special and I expect to eventually find him in a DH role.

ETA: 2023

 

11. INF Taylor Walls*

 

Age: 24

Highest Level: AA

This was a somewhat aggressive ranking for Walls before the additions of Patiño, Hunt, and Hernandez pushed his spot back down. That is more a testament to the Rays’ insanely talented depth, as Walls is still among my favorites in the system. He is a big league ready college hitter with the ability to play multiple positions, and yet another small switch-hitting middle infield prospect the Rays hope to unlock. Walls has the look of a major league utility player; good skills across the board without a true carrying tool. He has a polished contact-oriented approach but has begun to tap into his power like the other Rays with this profile. He slashed .270/.346/.479 at Double-A in 2019 with a 10% BB-rate and 15 steals. He was added to the 40-man this offseason and is among the most big-league ready players on this list. Walls is certainly not a flashy prospect, but I think he is pushing sleeper Top-100 status and should be a productive big leaguer very soon.

ETA: 2021 

12. SS Carlos Colmenarez

 

Age: 17

Highest Level: N/A

The Rays made it official with Colmenarez, one of the top international prospects in the 2020 class, for $3M soon after the delayed J2 period opened on January 15th. The 6’1″ shortstop has a lefty swing that makes you want to watch on loop, gracefully exploding through the zone with natural lift and laces line drives with ease. He has an advanced feel for the zone and should be able to grow into more power with maturity. He has the offensive tools to not just consistently make contact, but consistently make good contact. He has above average range and clean fundamentals at short and should be able to stick there long term, although we have discussed the abundance of middle-infield prospects on this list already. Granted he is still 17 and yet to see pro-level pitching, I couldn’t consciously put him above Hernandez and Walls (who are pushing top 100 status for me), but if we are talking pure upside he would easily be higher.

ETA: 2024

 

13. SS Alejandro Pie

 

Age: 18

Highest Level: Rookie

Pie is an intriguing 2018 J2 signing out of the DR and a raw prospect who could be pushing top-100 status in the near future. At 6’5″ 180lbs, Pie is an outlier in the Rays “short contact-oriented middle infielder” pipeline. Nevertheless, the success of taller shortstops like Carlos Correa and Corey Seager has given players like Pie a shot to stick. Scouts are still torn on whether he can actually stick at short, he is the size of a typical 1B but arm strength is not an issue and he is athletic enough to play CF. He has power to all fields, despite being held homer-less in his 2019 pro debut, and flashed his plus speed by swiping 24 bases. The contact skill is still developing, but that is not uncommon for raw hitters at this age. It will take a while for him to develop, with an extreme range of outcomes ranging from 5-tool SS to slugging corner OF. Not seeing him in 2020 adds even further mystery, but the tools are loud enough to be worth keeping an eye on when minor league teams return. He would easily be a top-10 prospect in other systems.

ETA: 2024

 

14. RHP Brent Honeywell

 

Age: 25

Highest Level: AAA

I first heard of Honeywell in 2015 as “that Rays prospect who throws a screwball.” He does in fact throw a screwball, with enough regularity that it is more than just a gimmick. To say injuries have derailed his progression would be an understatement; undergoing TJS, suffering nerve damage in his rehab, and fracturing his elbow in 2019. That type of wear is unfathomable, and the relative optimism that continues to surround him shows just how impressive he was pre-injuries. Now 25, Honeywell is major league ready and has been for the last several years. He is still one of my favorites in this system but the injury concern causes him to slide down the list and he is approaching the make-or-break portion of his career. Honeywell is more than just “that Rays prospect who throws a screwball,” also armed with a mid-90s FB, Cutter, CB, and a decent splitter. Even with average command, that unique pitch mix makes him extremely fun to watch and he is someone you should very much be rooting for in 2021.

ETA: 2021

 

15. RHP Nick Bitsko

 

Age: 18

Highest Level: 2020 draftee (24th overall)

Bitsko redeclared from the 2021 class to be draft eligible in 2020, where the Rays took him 24th overall. One of the youngest players in the class, he still looks like a highly projectable big league starter. At 6’3″ 220lbs his mechanics are composed and repeatable, with a mid-90s FB, power CB, and developing SL and CH rounding out the starter’s repertoire. Bitsko is also a noted pitch developer, known to post videos of bullpen sessions with motion capture and Rapsodo data. Assuming those readings are accurate, his FB sits around 2500rpm with impressive spin efficiency and a power CB with 12 inches of drop and hardly any horizontal movement. Unfortunately, Bitsko underwent shoulder surgery earlier this month with very little known about the severity or timetable for his return (though his younger age could alleviate the risk of missed development time). Prep pitchers are notoriously volatile prospects, but Bitsko has all the makings of a future front-line starter.

ETA: 2024

 

16. INF Xavier Edwards

 

Age: 21

Highest Level: AA

After a brief detour, we now return to our regularly scheduled small, speedy, switch-hitting, contact-oriented middle infielder with little power. Infamously dubbed a “slapd*ck prospect” by the now-traded Blake Snell, Edwards was acquired from the Padres in the deal sending Tommy Pham to San Diego last offseason (AKA “The Jake Cronenworth Trade”). Edwards doesn’t have the most complete skill set but what he does, he does very well. He is essentially the answer to “what if Billy Hamilton had an elite contact rate.” A true burner who puts the ball in play and plays great defense. Despite the high contact rate, his power is non-existent and it shows in his minor league exit velocity data. It doesn’t sound like scouts are too concerned with the low exit velocities, but it is certainly something to consider in his fantasy profile. I like Edwards more as a true baseball prospect than an emerging fantasy contributor. I think he is a high probability major league player, with his multi-positional ability likely leading to a utility role. Without any power, though I struggle to see much fantasy upside other than stolen bases, and that is hard to rely on (especially if he doesn’t have an everyday role) and has a sharp aging curve. If he can tap into some power, even just line-drive-into-the-gap power, it would improve his outlook tremendously, but I am more skeptical about that than most.

ETA: 2023

 

17. RHP Cole Wilcox

 

Age: 21

Highest Level: 2020 draft

Wilcox was widely regarded as a first-round talent both coming out of high school and in this past draft. After choosing the college route, he slipped to the 3rd round this year as a draft-eligible sophomore due to signing bonus demands. The Padres gave him a hefty $3.3 million over-slot bonus to forego his final season at Georgia before shipping him to Tampa in the Snell deal. This was the hardest of the Rays newest additions to rank, as he could conceivably be anywhere from #12-#16. Wilcox spent the majority of his freshman season pitching in relief, where his fastball played up into the high-90s and at times touching 100. He moved into the rotation in 2020 where the fastball was back in the 94-96 mph range but benefited from improved command, walking just 2 batters over 23 innings. His breaking pitch is an effective slurvy thing that sits 85-89 mph and appears to have more vertical movement than a typical hard slider, though college camera angles can be deceiving. Those two pitches alone likely make Wilcox a high leverage bullpen piece, with the good command giving him an outside shot to start. He teased a changeup at times in 2020 after ditching it completely from the bullpen. At present, it does not appear to be a relevant pitch, though the addition of a third pitch would greatly improve his chances of starting. I think he has more relief pitcher risk than those ahead on the list, but he is yet another pitcher that fits the Rays’ multi-inning blueprint. Wilcox and Bitsko will help replenish the top of a Rays’ pipeline when guys like McKay, McClanahan, and Honeywell graduate

ETA: 2022

 

18. INF Greg Jones

 

Age: 22

Highest Level: AA

If the trend has not become obvious, Jones is yet another small, speedy, switch-hitting, contact-oriented middle infielder. A late 1st rounder out of UNC Willmington in 2019, Jones improved his stock with better contact numbers after a strikeout prone freshman season. With the exception of 70-grade speed, Jones’s skill set isn’t nearly as loud as similar players ahead of him, having developed a more rounded contact/power combination that should translate to league-average or better production. His defense at SS falls in the “good enough” category, and given his age should be big-league ready soon, but with an abundance of similar options ahead of him he projects to fight for a multi-positional utility role in the future.

ETA: 2022

 

19. RHP Joe Ryan

 

Age: 24

Highest Level: AA

Ryan broke out in 2019, pitching to a 1.96 ERA (2.08 FIP) across a substantial 123 innings between Low- and Hi-A. As the FIP indicates, Ryan wasn’t just good — he was dominant. A 38% K-rate immediately jumps off the spreadsheet, as does the 5% BB-rate. Though facing younger competition may have contributed, that dominance across that large a sample deserves credit. With that said, Ryan does not have the typical make of a dominant big-league pitcher. A 2018 7th rounder out of CSU Stanislaus, the NorCal native sits in the low 90s with a CB, CH, and occasional CU making up his modest secondaries. Ryan throws the FB over 70% of the time, unprecedented for someone lacking elite velocity and making the 38% K-rate that much more impressive. He pounds the zone with that fastball and gets in-zone whiffs more than one would think. Without spin data, I cannot say for certain, but Ryan’s windup is not overly deceptive nor does he appear to get remarkable extension, which makes his in-zone dominance both puzzling and very intriguing. It seems impossible that Ryan’s approach could be successful at the major league level, or even be sustained at the minor league level, but I am very curious to learn what the secret is. He is a major league ready back-end starter whose fantasy prominence depends on the sustainability of his K-rate.

ETA: 2021

 

20. RHP JJ Goss

 

Age: 19

Highest Level: R

The 2019 sandwich pick from Cypress Ranch HS in Texas briefly debuted at rookie ball in 2019, tossing 17 innings with a 16:2 K/BB ratio and 2.92 FIP (shedding light on a bloated 5.82 ERA, take rookie ball stats with a grain of salt). Goss throws from a low 3/4 arm slot, with a fluid cross-body delivery that gives his mid-90s FB substantial arm-side tail. His changeup also benefits, acting more like a splitter in some showings. His breaking pitch is still developing, having combined his low-80s SL and CB since being drafted. Like Joe Ryan ahead of him, Goss is not the flashiest of Rays pitching prospects, but I am getting serious Sonny Gray vibes from his profile and expect him to be a future mid-rotation fixture. Keep an eye on his development when the minors return in 2021.

ETA: 2024

 

21. C Ronaldo Hernandez*

 

Age: 23

Highest Level: Hi-A

When I started this list, Hernandez was the Rays’ default starter, as the only catcher on their entire 40-man roster. Since then, the Rays have resigned Mike Zunino, Kevan Smith, and acquired Francisco Mejia and Blake Hunt. Heck, Ronaldo isn’t even the best Rays prospect named Hernandez anymore! It’s a tough blow for the just-turned 23-year-old reached who Hi-A in 2019, struggling with more advanced pitching after slugging .284/.339/.494 with 21 homers in 2018. Hernandez has plus power with decent enough contact to avoid concern. Catching prospects are more reliant on defensive skills than prospects at other positions and behind the plate, Hernandez is still very much a work in progress, with terrific arm strength but questionable receiving skills. It’s very possible an automated strike zone would alleviate some of those concerns, but until that happens Hernandez does not have the receiving skills to be an everyday big league catcher. As mentioned, the new addition of Blake Hunt further clouds Hernandez’s long term value. Look for the Rays to continue with veteran stopgaps, for now, letting Hernandez and Hunt progress in the minors and/or easing them into major league roles by pairing them with a better option.

ETA: 2022

 

22. INF Tyler Frank

 

Age: 23

Highest Level: A+

While not a switch hitter, Frank is next in a line of high floor/low ceiling college infielders poised for a big league utility role. Drafted out of FAU in 2018, he spent the majority of his career at 2B/SS but has seen time at the corners and even had a 34 game stint at catcher as a freshman. He is best suited for 2B, but versatility has value, especially for players like Frank who lack a true carrying tool. He missed all but 16 games of 2019 with a shoulder injury and was not part of the Rays 2020 player pool. The advanced feel and age should push him through the system quickly though, and barring injury should still be big league ready at some point in 2021

ETA: 2021

 

23. OF Nick Schnell

 

Age: 23

Highest Level: A

The 2018 first-rounder is a tall athletic prospect with big power but limited experience against quality pitching. As is the case with most high school draftees from cold weather states (Schnell is from Indiana), scouts did not get an extended look at Schnell before the draft. At 6’3″ 185 Schnell plays a decent CF, with long strides providing speed to cover the gaps. He struggled to adjust to pro velocity in his debut, often late on high-80s fastballs but was strong enough to mask it as oppo power.  A loopy swing doesn’t do him any favors in that regard and could improve with a swing/load adjustment. He had missed a large chunk of time with injuries even prior to the lost 2020 season so this coming year will be key for his development. He can stay in CF for now, where he is teetering on the track of an average regular but I think it’s likely he grows into a corner role.

ETA: 2023

 

24. RHP Seth Johnson

 

Age: 22

Highest Level: Hi-A

Johnson is a recent pitching convert after playing the infield in JUCO. With very limited innings on his arm, Johnson came out firing a mid-90s FB and better than expected SL in short stints, shooting up draft boards as a result. His velocity dipped to the lower-90s over multiple innings and he is still getting stretched out with the hope of becoming a 4-5 inning swingman. He was back in the mid-90s with a high-spin SL after signing with the Rays and added a more vertical breaking ball as well (either a CB or a different SL). He should be able to thrive in the Rays system as a multi-inning weapon, but the fantasy relevance of that remains to be seen.

ETA: 2023

 

25. 1B/3B Kevin Padlo*

 

Age: 24

Highest Level: AAA

Padlo made fairly substantial swing changes upon being dealt to Tampa, moving his hands lower and ditching a high leg kick for a more controlled toe-tap. The slugging corner infielder has enough power to make a fantasy league impact, 20-30 HRs if given a regular opportunity, but defensive limitations (I am skeptical of his ability to play 3B) will force him into the slew of 1B/DH options on the Rays roster (though the Nate Lowe deal does help his case). He is a major league ready platoon option that I project to be a streaky fantasy option if given the chance to contribute regularly.

ETA: 2021

 

26. RHP Drew Strotman*

 

Age: 24

Highest Level: Hi-A

The 2017 4th rounder from St. Mary’s (California) emerged as a starting option in the first half of 2018 before undergoing TJS in the second half of that season and missing the majority of 2019. Working in the pen as he came back from TJS, Strotman was touching 97 in the AFL and comfortably sitting 93-95 over multiple innings. He had decent low minors numbers, with peripherals suggesting some tough luck as well. He is 24 and recently added to the 40-man roster for Rule 5 protection. Despite not pitching above Hi-A, he should be a member of the Rays never-ending bullpen carousel.

ETA: 2021

 

27. INF Abeizel Ramirez

 

Age: 20

Highest Level: R

Did you think we were done with small, speedy, switch-hitting, contact-oriented middle infielders? Of course not! Ramirez is next up and while not a top talent, would be a quality option in any system (probably around 10 spots higher on most teams). His progression has stalled a bit, having spent 4 seasons in Rookie ball before 2020 halted everything completely, but still just 20, Ramirez has the chance to rise through the system. He appears to have a solid hit tool, with quick hands and line-drive power from both sides. Good speed with advanced defense at SS should keep his career on the dirt. I am a bit curious as to whether he was simply outplaying weaker competition or truly looks that good because he looks better than a guy who has spent 4 years in short-season ball. He was left unprotected as Rule 5 eligible this year but could be a sleeper in 2021 if he can hit against better pitching.

ETA: 2022

 

28. SS Osleivis Basabe

 

Age: 20

Highest Level: Hi-A

The second piece of the Nate Lowe/Herbito Hernandez deal is Basabe, a raw SS prospect signed out of Venezuela in 2017. He has displayed impressive contact ability in the lower levels slashing .325/.355/.404 in 2019 and has walked nearly as much as he struck out (31BB/46K) over 353 minor league ABs. His power output leaves room for growth, with just 1 career homer so far, but at 6’1″ 165lbs with a ferocious right-handed swing could find more power as he grows. He is not a true burner, but with 19 career SBs has shown plus-speed and moves well enough to play CF if he cannot stick at SS. Like Ramirez ahead of him, Basabe is an intriguing prospect with room to grow and should move up the list as we see more out of him.

ETA: 2024

 

29. INF Ford Proctor

 

Age: 23

Highest Level: A

The Ford Proctor sounds like a solid, dependable mid-size SUV, and that is exactly the type of player Proctor is on the baseball field. While he doesn’t drive the ball particularly well (sorry, I promise I’ll stop), he makes contact and gets on base enough (12% BB-rate, .380 OBP) to be a competent big league option. Similar to Tyler Frank, Proctor is a polished college hitter and was teammates at Rice with Tristan Gray (below). He does not have a true carrying tool but he doesn’t have an obvious weakness either, beating up on low-level pitching in his 2019 debut. As a lefty-hitting middle infielder, he could find himself on the strong side of a platoon and should progress quickly into a big league utility option.

ETA: 2021

 

30. OF Jhon Diaz

 

Age: 18

Highest Level: Yet to debut

Diaz signed with the Rays for $1.5M as a 2019 J2 prospect out of the DR. He is more polished than the typical IFA, with a well-rounded skillset and lauded baseball IQ. From the videos I’ve seen his official listing at 5’11” might be a tad generous (though it’s very possible he has grown since signing), but either way, he looks close to being physically maxed. That has pros and cons, as it means he could stick in CF where his plus speed and line-drive approach would project him as a big league regular. I am torn on his outlook because he has the strong foundation of an emerging top prospect, I just don’t see the potential reaching that level unless the power can truly develop. Right now, barring a swing change, he probably won’t hit for enough power to be a regular corner OF, so his path is relatively dependent on his ability to stick in CF. He’s a 4/5th OF if moved to a corner, but should move through the system quicker than the usual 18yr old.

ETA: 2023

31. OF Jhonny Piron

 

Age: 16

Highest Level: N/A

Piron was the second prospect recently signed by the Rays due to the delayed 2020 J2 period. Though he isn’t a top tier signing, he has an attractive combination of power and speed that will be fantasy relevant if materialized. He is a wiry 6’1″ 165lbs, but already flashes plus raw power and should grow into more game power with added strength. He has above average speed at present but there will likely be a balancing act between adding strength and keeping speed, which is easier said than done. He has an above average arm in CF, with the ability to move to a corner if needed. There are a wide range of outcomes, but he’s certainly someone to keep an eye on for future consideration.

ETA: 2026

32. UT Tristan Gray

 

Age: 24

Highest Level: AA

Ford Proctor -> Cntrl C -> Cntrl V. That’s the scouting report on Tristan Gray, a fellow lefty-hitting utility infielder drafted out of Rice. Gray has a taller/lankier build than Proctor does and while both profile at 2B, Gray is more likely to see time at 1B than SS. Gray has started using that size to add loft to his swing after a predominantly contact-oriented college approach. The Houston native slugged 13 homers at Hi-A in 2017 and 17 at AA in 2019. That power output came at the cost of some contact but he still gets on base at a decent clip thanks to above-average plate discipline, with a career-high 12.3% BB-rate over 495 PAs in 2019. Left unprotected, I was surprised no team took a chance on him as a bench stash in the Rule 5 draft. He has a bit of a Max Muncy look, a lefty corner bat who can play a shift-aided 2B and provide enough pop to be a solid role player at the major league level. He should debut at some point in 2021

ETA: 2021

 

33. LHP John Doxakis

 

Age: 22

Highest Level: Hi-A

Doxakis is the first in a clump of lefties in the Ryan Yarbrough mold. The 2019 2nd rounder out of Texas A&M works 90-92 with a tailing FB and plus SL. He works especially well in the strike zone, generating swings with late slider movement and weak contact with the sinking FB. The changeup is sup-par but could still develop into a decent offering given his arm action. Right now he relies heavily on the SL, making him a high probability two-pitch middle reliever with the emergence of changeup feel making him a full-blown Yarbrough clone. Fantasy relevance will depend on his usage.

ETA: 2022

 

34. LHP Michael Plassmeyer

 

Age: 24

Highest Level: AAA

Plassmeyer is the second lefty of this clump. He may not have the same upside but is closest to the majors so he splits the pack. Acquired from the Mariners in one of the 7 annual trades the Rays and Jerry Dipoto are legally required to make, Plassmeyer’s calling card is his command, walking just 16 over 101.2 innings at Hi-A in 2019. His low-90s FB is fairly mediocre, but command and feel make both his CB and CH plus pitches. Additionally, his lower arm slot creates tough ABs for both righties and lefties. He won’t blow anyone away with stuff but is poised for a Yarbrough role (Yarbrole?) like the two he is sandwiched between.

ETA: 2022

 

35. LHP Ian Seymour

 

Age: 21

Highest Level: Yet to debut

Seymour concludes our tour of the Rays crafty lefty swingman department. The most recent draftee, 57th overall in 2020 out of Virginia Tech, Seymour also sits low-90s with a sinking FB and has a better changeup feel than Doxakis and Plassmeyer. The breaking pitch is a sweeping slider that can be a bit wild at times, having an especially difficult time locating it down and in to righties. These three pitchers (Doxakis, Plassmeyer, and Seymour) are all incredibly similar and project to have similar degrees of success depending on what role the Rays use them in.

ETA: 2023

 

36. OF Moises Gomez

 

Age: 22

Highest Level: Hi-A

An interesting career progression for Gomez, who debuted with a 153 wRC+ at rookie ball in 2015 with 6 homers and nearly as many walks as strikeouts. He remained at the rookie ball level the following two seasons, posting numbers that paled in comparison to his debut season (81 and 97 wRC+ in ’16 and ’17, respectively). He graduated to A-ball in 2018 and impressed once again, smashing 19HRs and slugging .503 over a full 122 game season. He regressed a bit at Hi-A in 2019, though he remained an above-average hitter and continued to show fantastic raw power. He reminds me a lot (and I mean A LOT) of Marcell Ozuna, with a pendulum-like load and strong back leg generating substantial power from an otherwise off-balance/high leg kick swing. The swing is very good but definitely has holes. His strikeout rates have consistently risen in every season since his debut, with the 33% mark in 2019 starting to raise concerns. I think his swing path is fundamentally sound, and he has shown the ability to reach pitches out of the zone (especially up), but the diminishing plate discipline could render that ability null. The RHH corner bat doesn’t lend itself to the upside but upon second thoughts I should probably move Gomez up a few spots, as I can see a clear path to fantasy relevance as a big power/big strikeout slugger. He is Rule 5 eligible and should be fairly close to a big league look so long as the whiffs don’t get much worse.

ETA: 2022

 

37. SS Tanner Murray

 

Age: 21

Highest Level: 2020 draft

The Rays selected Murray 125th overall in 2020, a bigger reach than most had projected. The 6’2″ SS from UC Davis slashed .310/.372/.535 in the shortened 2020 season, a small sample rebound from a poor showing in the Cape Cod League. Like similarly drafted Rays college infielders from years past, Murray is a solid all-around player but lacks a true carrying tool. While the bat is thought to be better, he is a solid defender with a good shot to stick at short. He has good plate discipline but has yet to show much power, something the Rays will surely try to unlock. He will likely float around the middle of these rankings for the next few years.

ETA: 2023

 

38. INF Pedro Martinez

 

Age: 21

Highest Level: Low-A

The small, switch-hitting, contact-oriented middle infielder train keeps chugging along, this time in the form of Pedro Martinez (not the pitcher). Martinez was acquired from the Cubs in 2020 as a PTBNL in the deadline trade that saw Jose Martinez head to the North Side. The 19-year-old was signed out of Venezuela in 2017 for 300k and possesses promising contact skills from both sides. His upside is lower than other contact hitting middle infielders on this list, lacking elite speed with scouts seeming less confident in his defensive ability as well. He has equally good contact ability from both sides but better power from the left side. There is a noticeable swing difference, with his right-handed swing is much quicker to the ball but also flatter. He slashed .352/.417/.519 at rookie ball in 2019 and earned a promotion to Low-A. He struggled at Low-A, especially power-wise (SLG down to .347 from .519 in 27 games at each level), and had a concerning 32% k-rate for someone who’s calling card is contact. He is currently playing for Bravos de Margarita in Liga Venezuela Beisbol Professional (LVBP), where he has just 1 hit in 1 in 14 PAs with 3 BBs and 4Ks while playing primarily 3B. He is a fringe utility prospect for now.

ETA: 2023

 

39. RHP Sandy Gaston

 

Age: 19

Highest Level: R

Gaston was a much-hyped Cuban prospect who touched 100mph as a 16-year-old. The Rays signed him for 2.6k in the 2018 J2 period. The issue with Gaston is his command, as it is hard for him to throw with velocity while also knowing where it’s going. He walked a batter per inning at rookie ball in 2019 in a decent sample of 27 innings (11 games, 6 starts), which sounded alarm bells in the heads of many. He struck out 31 using raw stuff alone, but the walks, 18ERs, and a 4.91 FIP paint a messy picture.  The windup is fairly clean but very deliberate, with a sight pause helping to mess with the hitter’s timing. The arm action has changed a bit since his initial showcase, having grown into a more 3/4 slot which did not appear to aid his command woes and also cost him a few ticks on the FB (sitting anywhere from 93-97). I could not completely tell from video, but I would also speculate that a lowered arm slot would affect the movement of the power CB he flashed in showcases. He is very much a project, with the raw upside to be at least a quality relief arm, but it will take drastic command improvements to even get him to that point.

ETA: 2023

 

40. LHP Graeme Stinson

 

Age: 23

Highest Level: R

Stinson’s trajectory is similar to Gaston’s, having fallen from grace as a once promising prospect. The 2019 4th rounder out of Duke posted impressive numbers from the pen as a sophomore with a mid-90s FB and plus-plus SL. He entered 2019 as a projected top-5 pitcher in the draft class. Unfortunately, that is his peak to date. Stinson was given a rotation chance as a junior but a concerning velocity dip (FB down to mid-80s) shut him down for the remainder of his draft-eligible season. The reason for his velocity drop was never actually disclosed, though an arm injury seems the likely culprit. He debuted with an 8 pitch, .2 inning start at rookie ball in 2019 — quite puzzling after being shut down by Duke. The injury still remains clouded in mystery but hopefully, 2020 gave him ample time to recover and/or regain velocity. Barring setbacks, he could move quickly as a high-leverage 2-pitch reliever. If not, he is a left-handed version of Gaston.

ETA: 2022

 

41. UT Curtis Mead

 

Age: 20

Highest Level: R

Mead is an intriguing Australian infielder whom the Rays acquired from the Phillies last offseason. He signed late in the 2017 J2 period and only got into a few games in 2018. While there are notable Aussies to make a big league impact, I don’t think anyone would consider it a baseball hotbed. Given the unknown levels of competition, Mead was a pleasant surprise in his first full season of rookie ball in 2019, hitting .285/.351/.462  with a 13% k-rate. At 6’2″ 170 Mead likely grows into some power, good for 10-15 in a utility role. He played shortstop before coming stateside and was moved around the infield in 2019. He doesn’t have a true position at the moment but is athletic enough to move around for now even if he ends up in a corner. Keep an eye on him as a versatile depth piece.

ETA: 2023

 

42. SS Alika Williams

 

Age: 21

Highest Level: Yet to debut

Williams is a glove-first SS who the Rays drafted 37th overall in 2020. He was the defensive catalyst for Arizona State, overshadowed on teams with sluggers like Hunter Bishop, Spencer Torkelson, and Gage Workman. Williams has a really interesting swing that is hard to describe without showing it. It is a weird mix of contact approach with a seemingly off-balance swing. He got results nonetheless and should make just enough contact to let his glove carry him to a major league role. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to the fantasy world, and I highly doubt he will produce enough with the bat to be dynasty relevant. Unless you play in a UZR or DRS league, Williams will be a quality player that lacks fantasy value.

ETA: 2023

 

43. RHP/OF Tanner Dodson

 

Age: 23

Highest Level: Hi-A

Dodson was a successful 2-way player at Cal who the Rays drafted in 2018. The Rays let him continue both in the minors, with a good debut at Low-A in 2018 that saw him hit .273/.344/.369 in 49 games while pitching to a 1.44ERA in 25 innings from the bullpen. Both regressed at Hi-A in 2019, but I liked what I saw with the bat, a switch hitter with contact skills, and (obviously) a good outfield arm. On the mound, he is a 2-pitch reliever who doesn’t blow anyone away but does a good job around the corners and limits big damage. I’m not sure either aspect of his game hold standalone value, certainly not from a fantasy outlook, but when put together, he could join Michael Lorenzen as the second member of the niche bullpen/emergency OF club.

ETA: 2021

 

44. OF Niko Hulsizer

 

Age: 23

Highest Level: Hi-A

The 18th round pick by the Dodgers was traded to Tampa in 2019. Since his college days, he has done nothing but mash, known both in college and the minors for prolific BP shows. The RHH corner profile plus his age limit upside, but he is a typical 3 true outcomes hitter (14% BB-rate, 30% K-rate) who could be fantasy relevant if given the chance at a regular platoon role. I don’t think he has a fit on this current Rays team, but could bounce around the 40-man fringes and find himself in a platoon role for a rebuilder. Check back when he hits 15 homers en-route to player of the month honors on a cellar-dweller in 2022.

ETA: 2022

 

45. RHP Jayden Murray

 

Age: 23

Highest Level: Low-A

One of my deep deep sleeper picks for 2021 is Jayden Murray. A late senior sign from Dixie State, which just recently became a D1 program, Murray burst on the scene in 2019 with 40 innings of sub-3 ERA between Low-A and Rookie ball. The FB is a fairly average mid-90s 4-seam, with good-not-great command. The CB on the other hand looked like a legit major league out pitch in the brief video I’ve seen. With a CB-dominant pitch mix, he could be poised for a multi-inning relief role.

ETA: 2022

 

46. RHP Audry Lugo

 

Age: 22

Highest Level: Low-A

Lugo leads the pack of generic 2-pitch relief profiles, with an athletic delivery and FB that sits 94-96. He has a decent CB that pairs well with the FB from a higher arm slot. After two quality seasons at rookie ball, he reportedly has been developing a changeup to go along with those, but we won’t know until he pitches again in 2021. Not much separates him from a group of arms below but I think he is most likely to have an impact.

ETA: 2022

 

47. RHP Joel Peguaro

 

Age: 23

Highest Level: A

Peguaro is a major league ready relief prospect with a power FB reaching 98 and emerging SL. The 2015 J2 prospect was the Hot Rod’s primary closer in 2019, with 16 saves and a 2.85ERA in 30 games. He is capable of multi-inning use but doesn’t strike out a ton of guys despite the velocity. 97 isn’t what it used to be. He should be up in a middle relief role at some point in 2021.

ETA: 2021

 

48. RHP Hunter Barnhart

 

Age: 18

Highest Level: Yet to debut

The Rays took Barnhart 96th overall in 2020 from Paso Robles, CA. The big righty was a star QB and pitcher in high school and takes a 500k signing bonus to shift his focus to the diamond. In limited video, Barnhart’s delivery looks a bit wild but he showed good FB velocity and a better than expected curveball. He is a 2-pitch relief prospect for now.

ETA: 2025

 

49. RHP Colby White

 

Age: 22

Highest Level: Low-A

This JUCO Bandit transferred to Mississippi State in 2018 before being taken 188th overall by the Rays in 2019. He is a power reliever with a good FB/CB combination and violent delivery. He struck out 29 over 19.1 relief innings and a 2.79 ERA at Low-A in 2019 and should move quickly through the system.

ETA: 2022

 

50. OF Cal Stevenson

 

Age: 24

Highest Level: Hi-A

Originally a 10th round selection of the Blue Jays in 2018, Stevenson is in his 3rd system already having made a brief stop in Houston before landing with the Rays. He is a polished on-base machine, having more walks than strikeouts at every level so far. With decent speed, Stevenson still lacks power and a defensive profile. His speed may help make up for some outfield mistakes, but defense is an important safety net for contact-oriented hitters. Stevenson is a major league ready bench player without a clear role in the Rays crowded OF.

ETA: 2021

*Note: Because of the Rays recent trade activity (and delayed IFA signings), you get 6 bonus prospects! This system is so ridiculously deep that many of these mid-low top-50 guys would rank much higher (probably 10-15 spots higher) on other teams.

51. INF Esteban Quiroz

 

Age: 28

Highest Level: AAA

Quiroz was a Mexican League stalwart from 2011-2017 before signing with the Red Sox in 2018. He went to the Padres in 2018 in a minor deal involving Colten Brewer and was shipped to the Rays as the PTBNL in the Tommy Pham/Jake Cronenworth/Xavier Edwards trade. He has spent the majority of his career at 2B, but can moonlight at 3B and probably SS in a pinch. He has great on-base skills and even broke out for 19 homers in the hitter’s paradise that was the 2019 PCL. Even at 28, don’t brush him aside as a non-prospect. He may not have the long term value that a typical prospect would, but this is the type of player the Rays do well with, and he’s closer than ever to a major league spot after being added to the Rays 60-man roster pool in 2020. He could be an average regular if given the chance.

ETA: 2021

 

52. LHP Resley Linares

 

Age: 23

Highest Level: Hi-A

Linares is a lanky lefty currently on the mend from TJS in 2019. I could not find a ton of video on him, but reports suggest a low-3/4 lefty specialist profile with a 2 seam and slider. Look for him to return healthy in 2021.

ETA: 2022

 

53. RHP Neraldo Catalina

 

Age: 20

Highest Level: R

Catalina is a 6’6″ flamethrower the Rays acquired as a PTBNL in exchange for Wilmer Font. His FB sat 97 in rookie ball with a mediocre SL and less than stellar command. He is a 2-pitch relief prospect if he can harness some command.

ETA: 2023

 

54. RHP Daiveyon Whittle

 

Age: 21

Highest Level: Low-A

Whittle is another deep deep sleeper I like for a handful of reasons. The 2018 23rd rounder works with a unique pitch mix that includes a heavy 89-91mph sinker, decent slider, and plus splitter. He stands out among the bottom list reliever group in that he doesn’t have elite velocity to carry him. Still, he had a 60% GB rate at Low A in 2019 and I can see a clear path to a middle relief role over the next few years.

ETA: 2023

 

55. C Logan Driscol

 

Age: 23

Highest Level: Low-A

Driscol is an athletic catcher who has seen time on the grass since being drafted. The 2019 Padres draft pick is still pretty raw, especially for a college player, but has the tools to stick behind the plate and find himself in a 3rd catcher/depth role at some point.

ETA: 2023

 

56. SS Jelfry Marte

 

Age: 19

Highest Level: R

Marte initially signed with the Twins for $3M out of the DR in 2017, but Minnesota voided the deal over concerns about Marte’s vision. He signed with Tampa for 800k less than a month later. Early returns were promising, with Marte showing the physical tools that made him a top IFA target. Unfortunately, those vision concerns appear to be warranted as Marte’s production took a nose dive towards the end of 2018 and has only gotten worse since. A rookie ball wRC+ of 50 is tough to stomach, but the potential remains if he can ever get the vision problems sorted out.

ETA: 2024

Photos by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter & IG)

Natan Cristol-Deman

Natan is a California native and current junior at UMass Amherst. His interests include player development, strategy, analytics, and Mike Soroka. You can find him on twitter @natan_cd

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