Baseball America has begun making their top-20 prospect lists for each minor league and subsequently doing chats with readers to discuss the players on the lists and quite a few who just missed the cut. Several Tampa Bay Rays prospects did come up, and that’s especially important in the low minors, where scouting reports about players aren’t as commonly available. Let’s go through what Baseball America had to say and see what knowledge we can glean about the Rays’ system.
Short Season-A New York-Penn League
The one Hudson Valley Renegades player on the NYPL top-20 list was unsurprisingly right-handed reliever Brandon Koch, who came in at #14. Baseball America received even more positive reports on Koch than I did when I saw him, saying that he touched 99 MPH with his fastball and has a slider that could wind up being a plus-plus pitch. Combine those two offerings with solid control and usually good command, and Koch may be a key part of the Rays’ bullpen before long. Hopefully by then, we will know that his last name is pronounced “coach.”
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Outfielder Joe McCarthy also came up in the chat about the league. The key issue regarding him is his power–he is a 6’3″, 215 outfielder with solid speed and a very good plate approach, but he lacks the defensive chops for center and he won’t profile as a starting player unless he hits some home runs. He managed just a .337 SLG to go along with his .277 average and .362 OBP for the Renegades, but Baseball America’s Michael Lananna quoted an opposing team’s manager who likes his chances of returning to at least average power as his back injury moves farther into the past. Lananna notes that the chances of him getting to above-average power seem slim, but average pop is all he needs to become a useful big league player of some kind.
Advanced Rookie Appalachian League
Representing the Princeton Rays on the Appy League top 20 was catcher David Rodriguez. In a Rays system that has a lot of catching prospects but plenty of questions for every player, Rodriguez seems like one of the safer bets even down at Rookie ball. Aside from the strong arm that basically everyone has, his ability to work with pitchers and feel for nuances of the game like receiving are far above his years. He also has talent offensively, not projecting as a big power guy but showing a strong plate approach with good on-base skills and the ability to hit line drives to the gaps.
Rodriguez certainly still has work to do–Baseball America points out that he footwork needs additional improvement–but he is also being described as having an extremely high floor as a player with a good chance of becoming at least a backup catcher. The Rays are hoping that his bat progresses enough that he can be more than that, but it is also exciting to see a 19 year old as advanced as Rodriguez and primed to establish himself as a legitimate prospect.
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Four different P-Rays pitchers were also discuss in the league chat, although not everything said was good. Blake Bivens and Brock Burke both posted good numbers, but BA reports that they are only throwing in the high-80’s. At least both of them have good changeups while showing potential with their breaking balls, and Burke especially has room to fill out his frame and add velocity. Alexis Tapia, acquired in the Kevin Jepsen trade is more interesting, reaching 95 MPH with his fastball to go along with a good changeup. Next he will need to refine his breaking ball. Finally, Ian Gibaut remains the power reliever that looked like a steal in the 11th round of this year’s draft.
Rookie Gulf Coast League
2015 first round pick Garrett Whitley was the #7 player on Baseball America’s top 20 list for the Gulf Coast League despite hitting to just a .188/.310/.365 line in his pro debut. He had some issues trying to do too much with his swings, but he still showed an advanced plate approach, didn’t swing and miss much, and delivered good power. Evaluators remain optimistic that he will bring his average up significantly as he adjusts to the grind of the pro game, so there is no reason for concern here.
The other big prospect for the GCL Rays was Adrian Rondon, and he was mentioned in the chat. He looked overwhelmed at the plate (.166/.256/.234 line), but common sense tells us to relax when we are dealing with a player who didn’t turn 17 until July and was one of the youngest players in the league. If you were skeptical beyond that, BA reminds us that his bat speed and defensive chops looked fine. He will surely be back at Rookie ball next year (and likely back in the GCL), but there is no reason for concern yet.
It is always exciting to hear about additional players to follow in the Tampa Bay Rays system, and guys like Whitley, Koch, and Tapia come with significant reason for excitement. Koch and Gibaut are the only prospects we mentioned with any chance at all of being in the big leagues in the next two years, but with enough patience, the Rays are set to have themselves quite a few more interesting players.