The top 50 midseason prospects of both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus came out in the last couple of days, and three Tampa Bay Rays prospects were named to each list. In an interesting twist, only two prospects overlapped–there are four Rays prospects receiving consideration among the best minor leaguers in baseball. In any event, the Rays had just one top-50 prospect, Steven Souza Jr., between the lists of Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus last offseason, and it is exciting to see more prospects moving up through the ranks.
Ranking #44 according to BA and #36 according to BP is shortstop Willy Adames, who was acquired by the Rays in the David Price trade. Adames began the season as BA’s #84 prospect and BP’s #94 before shooting up the ranks with an excellent 2015 at High-A Charlotte. Adames has hit to a .275/.356/.411 line in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League with 16 doubles, 4 triples, 4 homers, 34 RBI in 303 plate appearances. He has also posted a 79-35 strikeout to walk ratio and stolen 7 bases in 8 attempts.
Baseball America praised Adames for his all-around game, describing every tool but his foot speed at average or better. Baseball Prospectus especially liked his improvement in his plate approach and believes in him as a future offensive-minded shortstop. Adames doesn’t turn 20 until September, making him nearly four years younger than the FSL’s average age, and his ability to continue performing against more advanced competition is turning him into one of the best shortstop prospects in baseball.
Adames still has plenty more development ahead, with cutting down on his strikeouts and tapping into his raw power more often being two major priorities. However, he is on pace to make the major leagues in September of 2017, right around his 22nd birthday, if his timetable isn’t expedited further, and even that would be quite impressive. Adames is the Rays’ shortstop of the future and a potential All-Star, and though he was the third piece in the Price trade, the probability is only increasing that he will be the most valuable of all for the Rays.
Blake Snell wasn’t a top-100 prospect according to any well-known source entering the season, but his spectacular results in 2015 vaulted him to #41 according to BA and #44 in BP’s estimation. Snell tossed 46 straight consecutive scoreless innings to begin the year, and between 21 innings at High-A and 63.2 at Double-A, he is still 9-2 with a 1.28 ERA, a 10.5 K/9, a 4.1 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9. He also has a groundball rate approaching 50%. Snell cooled off after his roaring start, but as we discussed earlier today, he has started dominating again in recent starts.
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Baseball Prospectus loves his fastball-curveball-changeup arsenal, saying that all three pitches flash plus. The groundballs come from the sink he gets on his fastball, and he can dominate batters of both sides with the dynamic movement on the secondary offerings. Snell’s biggest concern continues to be throwing strikes and it is a little concerning that he is missing the plate both because of an inconsistent release point and an overabundance of movement on his pitches. Even so, Snell has the stuff to be a strong No. 3 starter with just passable control and a potential frontline pitcher if it gets better than that. He has shown flashes of getting there at times this season.
Brent Honeywell didn’t make the BP list, but he was actually the highest-ranked Tampa Bay Rays prospect according to Baseball America, coming in at #40. Their comment about him is a little puzzling at first.
"Honeywell has three average or better pitches he throws consistently and a screwball he mixes in occasionally"
Isn’t the screwball Honeywell’s best pitch? Why would they say that he only throws it occasionally? There are a few possible explanations, but the one that makes a lot of sense is that the Rays are having Honeywell throw his screwball less so he can work on his other pitches. That actually could explain a lot about his season as he dominated to start the year at Low-A Bowling Green before fading a little bit as the year progressed. Is it possible that the Rays started limiting the number of screwballs he could throw in each start after his fourth or fifth outing?
Even if Honeywell didn’t have the screwball, he would still be a top prospect between his fastball touching 96 MPH, sharp-breaking curveball, and changeup that continues to improve. If the Rays do let him start using the screwball more often–which they presumably will unless it throws off his other pitches or puts him at increased risk for injury–then it simply wouldn’t be fair for hitters to see the curveball one pitch and then the screwball, which breaks the opposite way, on the next. No matter, though, Honeywell is right there with Snell for the title of best pitching prospect in the system.
Finally, we have Daniel Robertson, who was considered Baseball Prospectus’ 38th best prospect despite the broken hamate bone that sidelined him after Double-A Montgomery’s game on June 2nd. Before the injury, Robertson was hitting to a .272/.347/.436 line, and he actually had a .307/.384/.493 line on May 20th before slumping just prior to his injury. Robertson was moving towards a Triple-A promotion before he got hurt, and hopefully he can return in time to play well at Double-A for a few more weeks and finish the year with a cup of coffee with the Durham Bulls.
BP was particularly impressed by Robertson’s in-game awareness. His instincts at the shortstop position are excellent, helping him make up for less-than-ideal speed. Given that it is no surprise on the offensive side that he has excellent patience and pitch recognition at the plate. Add in present bat speed and power potential that he will hope to tap into more, and Robertson has an extremely high floor and the ability to profile well as a starter at either middle infield position. Once he gets healthy, he will get back on the fast-track to the major leagues.
The Tampa Bay Rays don’t yet have a top-10 prospect in baseball who would cement their organization’s status as one of the best in the sport, but having a quartet of players as talented as these four is a huge step in the right direction. The Rays’ major league team has exceeded expectations for this year, and no matter how the season concludes, their future will remain bright.