As top prospect lists are beginning to come out around the web, the debate over who the Rays’ top prospects are will begin to pick up. I figured it would be interesting to put together a list of the Rays’ top prospects that played 2013 at age 20 or under. Many of these players have high upside, but they are all fairly unproven in the minors at this point. None of these players are guaranteed to live up to his billing. However, all of them are names to keep an eye on because there is a good chance at least one or two them turn into the Rays’ superstars of tomorrow. Let’s take a look.
1. RHSP Taylor Guerrieri (2.01 ERA, 1.6 BB/9, 6.9 K/9 in 67 innings with Low-A Bowling Green in 2013)
Guerrieri, the Rays’ first pick in the 2011 draft, would be the consensus top Rays prospect, and probably a top-30 prospect in all of baseball, had he not been forced to undergo Tommy John surgery mid-way through the 2013 season. Despite the injury that will force him to miss most of 2014, Guerrieri still has frontline-starter potential. In parts of two minor league seasons, he has been stellar, pitching to a 1.59 ERA with a 1.3 BB/9 and a 7.3 K/9. Guerrieri features a plus fastball that sits in the low-mid 90’s with some sinking action. His best secondary pitch is easily his hammer curveball, which probably grade out as plus as he continues to refine it. So far in the minors, Guerrieri has put most of his time into refining his changeup. Right now, it is merely average, but given the Rays’ success at developing changeups, it would not be surprising to see it become an above-average pitch down the line. Guerrieri features a nice pitcher’s body and a smooth delivery, which is why he can control his pitches so well. He does have some character issues that he will have to overcome. These issues include a 50 game suspension for a drug of abuse late last season, although he will be able to serve this off while he is still injured. Right now, Guerrieri needs to focus on getting healthy and having better self-control. If he can regain his health and hone in his character issues, Guerrieri has all it takes to be a frontline starter in the future.
Ciuffo was the Rays first pick in the 2013 draft at number 21 overall. While his numbers in his first go at rookie ball were hardly inspiring, don’t read too much into a small sample size. He did wear down as the season went on, but this is not too surprising for a high school draftee in his first pro season. Ciuffo is a lefty hitter, righty thrower that has the chance to be a very good all-around catcher. He has the potential to be a good hitter for both average and power, but as with most high school players he will have to work hard to refine his plate approach and pitch recognition. Ciuffo will need work on the technical aspects of caching, but with a strong frame and above-average arm, he could become an above-average defender in the future. He is also heralded as a natural leader, which is always a plus. Look for Ciuffo to start putting it all together in the Appalachian League next year, with the potential return of an above-average everyday catcher down the line.
3. LHSP Blake Snell (4.27 ERA, 6.6 BB/9, 9.6 K/9 in 99 innings with Low-A Bowling Green)
Snell, a supplemental 1st round pick in 2011, was fairly disappointing in his first go at full-season ball in large part due to his poor control. However, there is no doubt Snell has the stuff to be a successful pitcher. Snell’s repertoire is led by his plus fastball that consistently sits in the 90-92 MPH range with good sinking action, and at 6’4” and 180 pounds, he still has plenty of room to add velocity. His slider also offers plus potential, although he will need to throw it for strikes more consistently. Snell’s changeup is slightly behind his other two pitches at the moment, but given the Rays’ knack at teaching the changeup, it could become an above-average pitch in the future. Snell will have to work hard to refine his control, especially after he posted an ugly 6.6 BB/9 in 2013. If he can fix these issues, Snell has the stuff to be a number 2 or 3 starter when all is said and done. The Rays will be patient with Snell as he works to add strength and durability, so don’t be surprised to see him back in Bowling Green to start 2013, although a promotion to High-A Charlotte is not out of the question.
4. SS Jake Hager (.258/.318/.305 line 7.6 BB%, 16.3 K%, 81 wRC+ in 498 PA’s with High-A Port Charlotte)
Hager, another Rays’ first rounder from 2011, was disappointing in 2013 after playing well in 2012. However, he did hit better prior to a shoulder injury he suffered mid-way through the season (.697 OPS) than he did after (.551 OPS). Hager is a solid all-around player at shortstop. He does not have one particular skill that stands out, be if all plays out he will be an average hitter for contact and power as well as an average defender and runner. The jury is still out on if he can stick at shortstop, with some believing he might be forced to move to 3B in the future, where his bat does not play too well. Hager offers some power potential, but after slugging .412 in 2012, he only slugged .305 in 2013, although some of this can be attributed to the tough hitting environment of the Florida State League and his injury. He was also young for the league. Hager is a high character guy and a hard worker, which can always be considered a plus. When all is said and done, Hager has the potential to be an average all-around shortstop in the big leagues. He could very well repeat High-A in 2014, but I see him moving up to Double-A.
5. 3B Tyler Goeddel (.249/.313/.389 line, 8 BB%, 19.7 K%, 97 wRC+ in 497 PA’s with Low-A Bowling Green)
Goeddel, yet another Rays’ first rounder in 2011, has all the tools in the world, but these tools have yet to show up in games. The Rays had him repeat with Bowling Green in 2013, but his numbers did not significantly improve from his 2012 numbers (his wRC+ was 6 points lower). There are legitimate worries that his tools may never show up, but if they do he still has the potential to be an above-average third baseman. Goeddel’s good bat speed and projectable 6’4”, 180 pound frame are what give him above-average power projection. Thus far, his poor contact have not allowed the power to show up in games. He will have to spend plenty of time in the weight room in order to fill out and reach his power potential. His athleticism and arm strength also make him very projectable on defense as well. Goeddel has plenty of work to do with his defense (he made 33 errors last season), but he still has above-average defensive potential going forward. He also has plus speed, which gives him good range and has allowed him to steal 30 bases in each of the last two seasons. Goeddel’s tools will need to start showing up more consistently in games as he moves to High-A in 2014.
6. C Oscar Hernandez (.228/.282/.371 line, 6.1 BB%, 13.3 K%, 96 wRC+ in 181 PA’s with Short Season-A Hudson Valley)
Hernandez put himself on the prospect map after posting a 1.236 OPS in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2011. While he hasn’t quite replicated those numbers stateside, he was still above league average in 2012 and very close to league average in 2013 despite being young for his league both years. Hernandez’s strikeout numbers have been very good for a player of his age, and with plus bat speed he could become an above-average hitter with good power projection in the future. He also has a plus arm and good footwork behind the plate, but as with any young catcher he will have to work hard to master the more technical aspects of catching. Hernandez did make huge strides with his defense in 2013, but he still has some work to do. He is still raw, but he has the potential to be a very good everyday catcher when all is said and done. Keep an eye on him as he moves up to Low-A Bowling Green in 2014, where he will once again be young for his league.
7. RHSP Jose Mujica (3.09 ERA, 0.8 BB/9, 5.6 K/9 in 32 innings with Rookie GCL Rays)
Mujica was is one of a trio of players on this list that were signed as international free agents in 2012, signing for $1 million out of Venezuela. While his 2013 stats should be taken with a grain of salt because of small sample size, it is certainly encouraging to see a 17 year old walk just 3 batters in his professional debut. His fastball currently sits in the 89-91 MPH range, but given his projection he should end up throwing mid-90’s in the future. The Rays love Mujica’s already advanced changeup that offers good deception and sink to batters on both sides of the plate. He also currently throws a slurvey breaking ball, which will need quite a bit of work as he moves up the line. A repeatable delivery and easy arm action are what allows Mujica to have command that is ahead of his years. As with all pitchers, Mujica will need to stay healthy as he continues his development. But his already advanced stuff and command give hope that he can become a topflight pitcher years down the road. Mujica is just one strong season away from being in top 1oo prospect consideration. Look for him to pitch in the Appalachian League in 2014.
8. SS Brandon Martin (.206/.268/.347 line, 6.5 BB%, 22.3 K%, 72 wRC+ in 292 PA’s with Low-A Bowling Green)
Martin, yet another first rounder from 2011, tantalizes with his potential, but his hit tool holds him back as a prospect. He will always receive raves for his defense, where he grades out as above-average. With a strong arm and great hands, there is no doubt Martin will stick at shortstop in the future, but his bat is considerable less developed. Martin has showed above-average power projection in the minors so far, but his inability to make consistent contact has kept it from showing in games. He has a very crude plate approach, which has led to poor contact and too many strikeouts. Martin will need to significantly refine his plate approach to reach his full potential, but if he can do just that he could be an above-average defender at short that offers 20+ HR’s a year. Look for Martin to be back with Bowling Green in 2014.
9. 3B Patrick Leonard (.225/.303/.345 line, 8.5 BB%, 23.9 K%, 85 wRC+ in 493 PA’s with Low-A Bowling Green)
When the Rays acquired Leonard as the lesser-known piece in the James Shields deal, they acquired him for one reason: his power. Leonard showed great flashes in 2012, hitting 14 HR’s and slugging .496 in the Appalachian League. However, this power did not show up in 2013, largely because of Leonard’s inability to make consistent contact. Despite a subpar 2013, Leonard still offers above-average power potential if he can refine his approach. He was much better in the second half of the season, which leaves hope that his poor first half was somethign he can overcome. As a defender, Leonard played third base to start his minor league career. However, poor reaction times led him to shift over to first base last season. He does have a strong arm and good athleticism, which could lead to him playing right field in the future. But for now, the Rays seem content playing him at first. When all is said and done, Leonard could hit around .250 with 25 HR’s and provide adequate defense at either third or right field. It is a bit of a toss-up if he will return to Bowling Green or be promoted to High-A in 2014.
10. SS Riley Unroe (.246/.376/.341 line, 16.3 BB%, 21.3 K%, 123 wRC+ in 2o2 PA’s with Rookie GCL Rays in 2013)
The Rays were thrilled when Unroe fell to them in the second round of the 2013 draft. A switch-hitter, Unroe has very good bat speed and contact skills from both sides of the plate. He also has a very advanced plate approach, so he should be able to have a high OBP and low amount of strikeouts moving forward. Unroe does not offer much power projection given his 5’10” 180 pound frame, but his other skills make up for it. His plus speed will play well on the basepaths as he moves up the ladder and learns how to steal bases. With very good range and a solid arm, most people believe Unroe will be able to stick at shortstop down the line. Unroe offers a ceiling as an above-average defender who hits for a high average and high OBP, albeit not a significant amount of power. Look for him to move up to the Appalachian League in 2014.
11. RHSP Nolan Gannon (7.42 ERA, 2.5 BB/9, 7.6 K/9 in 40 innings with Rookie GCL Rays)
Gannon, a 4th rounder in 2013, was drafted as a high upside high school arm. His ERA was poor in 2013, but his peripherals were actually fairly good, although all of this is in a very small sample size. He offers tremendous projection at 6’5” and 195 pounds. His fastball currently sits in the low 90’s, but as he matures he should be able to throw his fastball in the mid 90’s. Right now, Gannon’s best secondary pitch is his curveball, which can feature very good 12-6 break at times. However, he struggles to consistently find his arm slots, and thus it ends up very slurvy sometimes. Gannon has just started to develop a changeup on top of his fastball and curveball. He also has a high-effort delivery, which leads to some injury concerns, but the Rays will certainly work hard with Gannon to fix this. He has a lot to work on with his secondary pitches and mechanics, but he could be a number 2 starter well down the line. Look for him to pitch in the Appalachian League in 2014.
12. C David Rodriguez (.329/.409/.540, 8.9 BB%, 23 K%, 164 wRC+ in 269 PA’s with the Venezuelan Summer League Rays)
Rodriguez was the third of the Rays heralded 2012 international signings; garnering a $600,000 signing bonus. Unlike Mujica and Castillo, he did not come stateside in 2013, but rather put up very good numbers in the hitter-friendly Venezuelan Summer League. Despite playing 2013 at just 17 years old, Rodriguez is touted for having an advanced feel for the game. He has a good approach and is a great contact hitter. He does not have tremendous power projection despite his insane slugging percentage in 2013, but he should be an annual 10-15 HR hitter. Rodriguez is an agile catcher who is already showing ability at the more technical aspects of catching. He currently does not have a great arm, but as he matures he will add arm strength. The way Rodriguez handles a pitching staff is advanced well beyond his years. In the end, Rodriguez could be an everyday catcher, and should provide average defense, a high-contact bat, and the ability to handle a pitching staff. Look for Rodriguez to come stateside in 2014, with either the GCL Rays or Princeton Rays.
13. LHSP Jose Castillo (5.87 ERA, 2.3 BB/9, 7.3 K/9 in 30.2 innings with Rookie GCL Rays)
Castillo was another one of the Rays’ highly touted signings in 2012, and he actually got paid more money than Mujica was paid ($1.55 million). Castillo’s numbers weren’t exactly inspiring in 2013, but once again this is in an extremely small sample size. Castillo already has a fastball that sits in the low 90’s. His 6’4, 200 pound frame gives him room to add some velocity, so he should end up throwing in the 94-96 MPH range in the future. This is very attractive given the fact he is a lefty. Unlike Mujica, Castillo’s secondary pitches, his curveball and changeup, are well behind his fastball. That being said, Castillo has plenty of time to refine his secondary stuff. Castillo’s command can suffer at times due to inconsistent mechanics, but once again he has plenty of time to work through that. Castillo has a bit more work to do than Mujica, but he has the same topflight starter potential as a lefty that could end up throwing in the mid-90’s. Castillo will join Mujica in the Appalachian League in 2014.
14. RHSP Damion Carroll (3.86 ERA, 7.7 BB/9, 11.6 K/9 in 2.1 innings with Rookie GCL Rays)
Carroll did not pitch but 2.1 innings in 2013, likely due to injury. This does not change his projection at all. Caroll was a 6th rounder in 2012, and was drafted as a high upside power arm similar to Gannon. His fastball can already hit 94 MPH, and with some projection at 6’3”, 200 pounds, he should be able to throw in the 95-96 MPH range in the future. However, similar to Castillo and Gannon, however, his secondary stuff is well behind his other pitches. Carroll throws both a curveball and a slider, with the curveball being the better of the two. He has also begun to develop a changeup, but at this point it is a below average pitch. With Carroll there is a lot of work to be done. He will have to refine his control and develop his secondary pitches to remain relevant in the coming years. A move to the bullpen might happen down the road, but he will be given every chance to start over the next couple of years. That being said, he offers plenty of upside. It his hard to project a player like Carroll, but in the end, he probably has the upside of a number 2-3 starter or a good late innings reliever, but he has a lot of work to do to get there. Look for him to be with either the GCL Rays or Princeton Rays in 2014.
15. RHSP Jacob Faria (2.02 ERA, 1.3 BB/9, 10.9 K/9 in 6-.1 innings with the Advanced Rookie Princeton Rays)
Faria, a 10th rounder in 2011, is one of the most improved prospects in the Rays’ system. He showed good control and the ability to strikeout hitters in 2013, although the same small sample size tag applies. Despite the great strikeout numbers, scouting reports say Faria is more of a groundball type of pitcher. His fastball features good sink in the low 90’s, which helps induce a healthy number of grounders. As with most younger pitchers, he does offer some projection. For his secondary pitches, Faria features a slider and changeup, both of which he does a good job of throwing down in the zone. Faria doesn’t have the frontline projection that others on this list have, but he could be a good number 3-4 starter when all is said and done.
Overall, this list is impressive with potential. That being said, due to the young age of these prospects, there is a high probability that most of the players on this list will never reach the big leagues. Even so, if one or two of these players can reach their ceilings, and if three or five of the players can reach the big leagues in some capacity, the Rays will be very happy. Keep an eye on these names as they move up the ladder and attempt to prove themselves in the upper minors.