Each year, there are breakout prospects within a minor league organization. For whatever reason, these players have been able to tremendously boost their stocks in just one year. With that in mind, here’s a look at five Tampa Bay Rays prospects who have boosted their stock with solid 2014 performances.
Honeywell was just drafted this season in the Competitive Balance B Round (right after the second round). At the time that pick seemed to be a reach, but Honeywell has already surpassed expectations in his first pro season. He dominated for Advanced Rookie Princeton, posting a 1.07 ERA and a 40-6 K-BB ratio in 33.2 innings. The 19-year-old right-hander is drawing great reviews for his stuff, as he is flashing three potential above-average to plus pitches in his fastball, screwball, and changeup plus another average pitch in his curveball. Honeywell already sits in the low-90’s with his fastball as a 19 year old, and he has projection at 6’2”, 180 pounds. Best of all is that he already has advanced command and pitchability for someone his age. So far, Honeywell is looking like a steal in the draft.
OF Johnny Field
A 4th round pick in 2013, Field was impressive in his first full season in pro ball. He started out the year slashing .290/.367/.461 in 82 games at Low-A Bowling Green, all the while playing solid defense in center field. Still, there was reason for skepticism given the fact he was coming out of a major college conference and he was old for his league. Then, Field was promoted to High-A and he actually got even better, hitting .320/.396/.547 in 40 contests. Field still has to prove that he can hit advanced pitching, but all of a sudden he has turned himself from just another college utility man into a legitimate prospect in the system.
Marquez had gotten decent reviews for his stuff heading into the year, but he had never put up the results to back it up. That all changed this year, as Marquez dominated as a teenager in full-season ball at Low-A Bowling Green, posting a 3.21 ERA, an 8.7 K/9, and a 2.7 BB/9. Marquez can already touch 95 MPH with his fastball on occasion, and at 6’1′, 185 pounds he could add a tick of velocity in the future. His curveball is already well above-average and will be a plus pitch after he hones in its consistency. He also throws a changeup, though it needs significant development. Like Honeywell, he has a great knowledge of how to pitch and he has solid command of his entire arsenal. Marquez has the potential to be the Rays’ next top pitching prospect if he can continue to improve.
Leonard was the least-known piece of the James Shields deal with the Kansas City Royals, but he could turn out to be a great player nonetheless. After posting just a .648 OPS in 2013 at Low-A Bowling Green, the Rays still showed enough faith in him to promote him to High-A. He broke out there this season, slashing .284/.359/.446. Leonard has always possessed great raw power, but his biggest question was whether his hit tool and plate approach would ever be good enough for him to tap into it. This year he made significant strides in both of those areas, which resulted in the great season. Limited to first base defensively, he will have to hit well to maintain value, but Leonard has provided reason to be excited after his successful season.
O’Conner entered a make-or-break season this year, with some clamoring for him to be given a shot at pitching after he had disappointed so far as a pro. But the former first round pick rewarded the Rays’ faith in him by putting up an outstanding season. In 80 games at High-A Charlotte, O’Conner hit .282/.321/.486, and he wasn’t terrible in a 21-game Double-A cameo, slashing .263/.298/.388. O’Conner has always had solid raw power in his swing, but he’d never hit above .233 in a season, so he was never able to tap into it. Finally, O’Conner made progress with his hit tool and approach, which led to the breakout year. All of a sudden he has turned from a lost cause into someone who you can see becoming a starting catcher one day. Of course, he has to do more than hit for an 80-game streak to truly prove he has broken out.