The Tampa Bay Rays always seem to find themselves towards the top of the rankings when it comes to prospects. Nothing has changed heading into 2020. If anything, they are only getting stronger. The Rays are #1 according to mlb.com and find themselves looking down on the rest of the league. Not often is a team ready to win now and in the future but that’s exactly the position the Rays find themselves in.
For those unfamiliar with how scouting grades work, it is based on a 20-80 scale. Below Average is 20-40, 50 average, 60-80 above average. Below 40 and Above 60 are not easy to find so don’t take those scores lightly.
Here are the Tampa Bay Rays top 10 prospects heading into the 2020 season.
10. Catcher – Ronaldo Hernandez
Age: 22 Best Tool: Arm Strength (70) Signed: International deal
Finally a catching prospect the Rays can get excited about. Ronaldo Hernandez started out as an infielder but has quickly adjusted to handling things behind the plate. His receiving and game calling can use some improvement but his arm strength and power at the plate is what excites the Rays. Not many base stealers are successful on Hernandez as he throws out over 35% attempts. Manager Kevin Cash compared his size and presence to that of former Ray Wilson Ramos. Another reason to be excited for Ronaldo Hernandez.
9. CF – Josh Lowe
Age: 22 Best Tool: Speed/Arm/Field (60) Drafted: 2016 – 1st rd (13th)
Name sound familiar? That’s because he is the younger brother of Nate Lowe. In fact, they were both drafted in same year. Josh Lowe is much more athletic and faster than his older brother. Josh was drafted as a third baseman but quickly moved to the outfield to showcase his athleticism. That proved to be the right move as his game has taken off to a whole new level. His power speed combo is fun to watch and will continue to grow. Don’t be surprised to see him battle for a 2021 outfield spot.
8. RHP – Joe Ryan
Age: 23 Best Tool: Fastball (60) Drafted: 2018 – 7th rd (210)
Joe Ryan really came into his own last year and is a name to get familiar with quick. He moved all the way to Double-A Montgomery in his first full season with the Rays. His fastball sits around 92-95 but it’s what he does with it that makes him tough. He comes right after hitters with command and control of it all over the zone. In 2019, Ryan was named the Rays minor league pitcher of the year. He finished first in the minor leagues with a 38% strikeout rate as well over 13k’s per nine innings! If he can find a third pitch to go with the fastball and hard slider then look for his track to continue skyward.
7. LHP – Shane McClanahan
Age: 22 Best Tool: Fastball (65) Drafted: 2018 – 1st rd (31)
What’s not to like about a tall lefty who can throw 100 MPH? Not much according to all those who saw him showcased this spring. Shane McClanahan used his hard fastball as well as his wipeout slider to the tune of 14 k’s per nine in his final college season. Many believe that if he develops an average changeup, he can continue his path to being a middle rotation starter in the big leagues. If not, he could make for a nasty lefty reliever in the late innings. Either way, the Rays are excited for the future with this promising lefty.
6. RHP – Brent Honeywell
Age: 25 Best Tool: Screwball (60) Drafted: 2014 – 2nd rd (72)
If it wasn’t for Tommy John surgery and some setbacks, Brent Honeywell would be at least in his second year with the big league staff. It’s easy to forget that he started the minor league all-star game in 2017 and took home MVP honors with four punchouts in two innings. Unfortunately, the end of 2017 would be the last time he has thrown a competitive pitch.
When all is right in the world, the Rays will see Honeywell’s MLB debut in 2020. He may have the best “stuff” on the team and that’s not just the minors. His fastball sits in the low 90’s but has great sinking action. When he needs it, he can reach back for 96. His best pitch is probably his changeup that misses many bats but it’s his legit screwball that most people talk about. The screwball is a pitch that isn’t easy to throw and could be used less and less due to the injuries to his elbow. Nonetheless, Honeywell’s much-anticipated debut should come in 2020.
5. RHP – Shane Baz
Age: 20 Best Tool: Fastball (70) Acquired from Pirates via Trade
Could the “player to be named later” in the Chris Archer deal really be the best piece of the trio? Many believe so when Shane Baz was named that player. Baz is a young prospect who is still a couple of years away from his MLB debut. As mentioned, he came from Pittsburgh along with Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows in what could be one of the Rays best trades ever made. That’s saying something for a team that has made plenty of good ones.
He attacks hitters with his electrifying fastball and a slider that was graded at 65 as well. He needs to develop a better feel for a changeup as well as continue to improve his command. If those two things are done, no reason to believe we don’t see this young fireballer in 2022 and beyond.
4. SS/2B – Xavier Edwards
Age: 20 Best Tool: Speed (70) Acquired from Padres via Trade
In the offseason, the Rays traded away Tommy Pham to the San Diego Padres for Hunter Renfroe and a minor leaguer. That minor leaguer was Xavier Edwards. Edwards was a Vanderbilt commit but decided to sign with Padres when they gave him an offer above the usual draft value.
He is a switch hitter who has leadoff batter written all over him. His first season in the minors saw him successful on 22/23 stolen base attempts. His “whiff” rate on pitches in the strike zone was less than 5%. This allows him to get on base often and wreck havoc on the paths. Double-digit homers are not something to expect but what he lacks there, he makes up everywhere else. The Rays have a log jam at SS so expect him to continue to develop at second base in his first season with the club.
3. 2B/SS – Vidal Brujan
Age: 22 Best Tool: Speed (70) Signed: International deal
It’s really hard to find much difference between the before mentioned Edwards and Vidal Brujan. They both are switch hitters and are terrors on the base paths. Brujan, however, could make his debut this season. In his first two seasons, he has stolen 103 bags. A welcome sight to a team who hasn’t seen someone blaze the base paths in quite a few seasons. Brujan makes hard contact from both sides of the plate but has his power and the better side is in the left-handed batter’s box. He too figures to be more of a second baseman going forward and is an above-average fielder there already.
2. LHP/1B – Brendan McKay
Age: 24 Best Tool: Fastball (60) Drafted 2017- 1st rd (4th overall)
Brendan McKay isn’t really a prospect anymore as he is the only player on this list to have played games with the big club. The most fun part about McKay is the fact that he is a two-way player. When he was drafted out of the University of Louisville, many thought it was his bat that would be his calling card. Wow how things have changed, and it has nothing to do with his bat being a problem. Brendan McKay has excelled beyond what they thought he would do on the mound and in doing so, found himself on the bump even earlier than many hoped.
Whether Mckay makes the opening day roster isn’t really due to his production but more likely connected to keeping him healthy and developing. His fastball command is there but he needs to work on his curveball which gave him his most problems. He would also love to get more at-bats so starting in Durham seems like the smart move. There they can monitor his innings as well as let him DH. Worry not Rays fans, McKay will be up again soon and here to stay.
#1. SS – Wander Franco
Age: 19 Best Tool: Hit (80) Signed: International Deal
This brings us not only to the Rays top prospect, but tops in MLB. Wander Franco is “what they look like” if you were to build a ballplayer. He’s a switch hitter who doesn’t swing and miss. He has above-average speed and can hold his own at arguably the toughest position in baseball. All this while still being a teenager. Every tool he has is above average but the one everyone talks about is his hitting. It’s an 80! NO ONE gets that grade in any category. His first two seasons saw him hit .351 and .327 respectively.
Where he will hit in the lineup will depend on where his power takes him. He hits for more power from the left side but many believe he hasn’t come close to his power potential. His keen eye and plate discipline are off the charts for a 19-year-old. Last year he made it up to High Single-A Port Charlotte where he was facing pitchers much older than him. Not sure what level he starts at or finishes this year but it’s hard to believe he will not make his MLB debut in 2021.
The Rays always have a solid farm system and it continues getting stronger. That comes with a smart front office and knowing their payroll. Many of these names are at least a shortened 2020 season away with the exception of Brendan McKay and Brent Honeywell (pending rehab). Excited to see what 2020 brings for the future of the Rays.