It is always fun for fans to see prospect lists and hear more about their team’s potential impact players of the future. The latest one that has come out is from Minor League Ball’s John Sickels, which ranks the Top 20 Rays prospects. I highly recommend clicking on the link, but here are a few of his comments that I would like to discuss further. We’ll start with the player who Sickels considered to be the best in the system, Willy Adames.
"“[Adames] has tools to stick at shortstop in my opinion and could/should develop substantial power. Some question about what shape his skills ultimately take but a high ceiling and better skills than most players his age.”"
We’ve heard quite a bit about Willy Adames since the David Price trade, but this is the first we have heard about him having such impressive power potential. Baseball America alluded to it, but Sickels makes it quite clear how impressive Adames’ power could become. The Rays acquired Adames because they saw a potential middle-of-the-order hitter who could continue playing shortstop. He has plenty of work ahead of him, but his upside is tantalizing.
"“This is an aggressive and unconventional ranking, putting [Brent Honeywell] ahead of Guerrieri and Colome, but I don’t always play it safe. Athletic, live arm, smooth delivery, low-90s heat with more possible. Has a good change-up, okay curve, and a unique screwball. I like the unusual arsenal and I think his command will hold.”"
Sickels ranked Honeywell as the fourth-best prospect in the Rays system, behind only Adames, Steven Souza, and Daniel Robertson. He has just nine professional games under his belt, but it is already starting to look like the Rays found a steal at 72nd overall in the draft. Honeywell initially attracted attention because of his screwball, but the rest of his arsenal was clearly overlooked. At least according to Sickels, he is the best pitching prospect in the system.
"“This is the same grade [Taylor Guerrieri] got last year and I knew about the injury at the time so no need to change it.”"
Speaking of Guerrieri, Sickels ranked him 5th among his Top 20 Rays prospects. It is annoying that he missed nearly all of last season from Tommy John Surgery, but he remains an incredibly talented pitcher and we can’t forget that. The Rays are expecting big things from him in 2015. He will likely start the season on a strict pitch count at High-A Charlotte, but he could make his way to Double-A Montgomery before the year is through.
"“[Justin O’Conner is] skilled against runners, threw out 50 percent, but receiving still needs considerable work. Hitting is similar to his defense: promising but with flaws, power and bat speed are clear but ultra-aggressive approach could prove problematic without significant improvements.”"
O’Conner is the most promising upper-levels catching prospect the Rays system has seen in years, but he still carries a lot of risk. His defense should be fine moving forward–he just needs more reps–but his plate discipline remains the single biggest question in his game. 2015 is a big year for O’Conner as we see whether he can continue improving his plate approach and remain on track to be a big league starting catcher.
"“[Justin Williams was] supposed to be very raw when drafted in second round from a Louisiana high school in ’13 but has shown better-than-expected hitting skills to go with excellent raw power. Defense has improved a lot. Impatient approach could need adjustment as he moves up but high upside player.”"
Andrew Velazquez, who Sickels ranked 10th, has gotten more attention, but Williams is also a notable prospect and Sickels placed him 11th. Williams played in just 28 games at Low-A last season, but between his strong performance between there and Rookie Ball, the Rays could push him up to High-A Charlotte at just 19 years of age. That would be a challenge, but Williams may just have the talent to go there and succeed.
"“Many Midwest League observers were impressed with [Jake Bauers] and believe more power will come.”"
We’ve heard a lot of James Loney comparisons for Bauers, which is not a bad thing, but it is nice to hear that some people do believe in his power potential. Bauers will be stuck playing a lot of DH this season as he coexists with Casey Gillaspie in Charlotte, but he is an impressive first base prospect in his own right.
"“[Johnny Field is an] undersized gamer-type with multiple skills, Adam Eaton-style possibilities.”"
Field was extremely impressive in 2014 on his way to winning the Rays’ Minor League Player of the Year award, but we haven’t talked about him much as a prospect. Well, now Sickels has. Field entered pro ball as a corner outfielder and second baseman, but the Rays moved him to centerfield and he looked very good there last season. Add in an advanced plate approach, great speed, and solid pop, and he has a chance to start at the position. We’ll have to see how he does at Double-A this year.
"“Until sitting down to analyze the system, I don’t think I realized exactly how much depth the Rays currently have…Note how this talent will stack at different levels: Souza in the majors, Robertson in Double-A, Adames in High-A. Nicely done…All in all, this is a very impressive system.”"
The biggest flaw in the Tampa Bay Rays’ system is its lack of players with superstar upside. Players like Adames and Adrian Rondon may be exceptions to that, but they carry plenty of risk and there simply aren’t enough of them to compensate. These Top 20 Rays prospects are missing a few transcendent talents at the top.
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On the whole, this is a system that features more potential average regulars and bullpen arms than the next Evan Longoria or David Price. However, there is certainly a value to have so many players with the ability to make an impact in the major leagues, and that gives the Rays a major safety net. Even if a top prospect or two fail to work out, there will players behind them ready to take their places.
The dream is to combine that sort of depth with the upper-echelon talent. Can Adames and Rondon take the next step? Can Honeywell and Guerrieri prove themselves at higher levels? If you have so many solid prospects, the dream will always be that a few of them turn out much better than we currently expect. If that happens, then the Rays could find themselves having one of the top systems in baseball once again.