Evaluating the 2016 Prospects: Tampa Bay Rays

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The Rays system has considerable upside and depth throughout its minor-league levels. Reviewing the organization, I was particularly struck with how many pitchers I liked, including many whom I figured wouldn’t be able to stick as starting pitchers but would be very viable members of the bullpen. Indeed, most of their near-ready starting options are already in the majors or well on their way to becoming relievers. Blake Snell and Brent Honeywell give them a lot of upside while the club waits for some of their lower-level pitchers to develop.

Though I find that I’m less sold on many of the more popular bats, or at least those who are closer to the big leagues, there are a ton of options both as future regulars and as valuable role players who can succeed in situational exposure. Luckily, the Rays have been awesome at maximizing those types of assets, so even if more hitting prospects flame out, they have a strong pipeline to supplement the core at the major-league level.

On that note, I really like Kevin Padlo and Adrian Rondon as prospects who will take at least a few years to make it to the parent club. You’ll see I’m much less optimistic on Richie Shaffer and Casey Gillaspie despite their solid years in 2015. Shaffer’s power probably gets him a shot in the big leagues soon, but his lack of overall value makes him a fringe option in my opinion. Gillaspie could just be a case of hand-eye coordination and raw strength making up for unathletic moves, but I need to see him face better pitching before trusting his results more than what I see him doing with the bat, and he too has limited value elsewhere in his profile.

Here’s the primer for the series and my scouting thoughts in general. The grades I put on players heavily weight the functionality of each tool in game situations, rather than just pure tool grades. Here is a table to understand the position player grades:

Scouting Grades in Context: Hitters
Grade Tool Is Called Batting Average HR ISO Baserunning Runs Fielding Runs
80 80 0.320 40 0.300 12 30
75 0.310 35-40 0.275 10 25
70 Plus Plus 0.300 30-35 0.250 8 20
65 0.290 27-30 0.225 6 15
60 Plus 0.280 23-27 0.200 4 10
55 Above Average 0.270 19-22 0.175 2 5
50 Average 0.260 15-18 0.150 0 0
45 Below Average 0.250 12-15 0.125 -2 -5
40 0.240 8-12 0.100 -4 -10
35 0.230 5-8 0.075 -6 -15
30 0.220 3-5 0.050 -8 -20

As well as one to understand what the overall grades approximate:

Scouting Grades in Context: Overall
Grade Hitter Starting Pitcher Relief Pitcher WAR
80 Top 1-2 #1 Starter —- 7
75 Top 2-3 #1 —- 6
70 Top 5 #1/2 —- 5
65 All-Star #2/3 —- 4
60 Plus #3 High Closer 3
55 Above Avg #3/4 Mid Closer 2.5
50 Avg Regular #4 Low CL/High SU 2
45 Platoon/Util #5 Low Setup 1.5
40 Bench Swing/Spot SP Middle RP 1
35 Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up 0
30 *Organizational *Organizational *Organizational -1

One other difference in the way I communicate scouting grades to you is the presence of three numbers on each tool instead of just two. The first number is the current grade. The second number is the likely future grade; or, if you prefer percentiles, call this the 50th percentile projection. The third number is the ceiling grade, or 90th percentile projection, to help demonstrate the volatility and raw potential of a tool. I feel this gives readers a better sense of the possible outcomes a player could achieve, and more information to understand my thoughts on the likelihood of reaching those levels. If you prefer the traditional methodologies of other publications, I would suggest averaging the latter two grades together to get a semi-optimistic view of where a player projects.

In the biographical information, level refers to where they finished the year, unless they were sent down for injury rehab or other extraneous reasons. Ages are listed as of April 1, 2016. You can also find each player’s previous rank from Kiley’s list last year. Below, Dave Cameron shares his thoughts on the general state of the organization. Returning for his popular cameo, Carson Cistulli picks his favorite fringe prospect toward the end of the list.

Organizational Overview
The Rays aren’t the powerhouse of a few years ago, but neither have they entered a full-scale rebuild. With enough pieces in place to remain a second-tier contender, Tampa Bay is attempting to thread the needle of winning while reloading, a tall order on a shoestring budget. Whether the efforts will be successful hinge on their ability to win trades, as they’ve mostly sat out the free-agent market and the team hasn’t developed as much talent in recent years as their reputation might suggest. Overall, the team has enough talent in place to challenge for a playoff spot if things go well, but given the strategy of upgrading-through-constant-churn, the team could look wildly different in August if things don’t break their way.

50+ FV Prospects

Video courtesy of Baseball America
1. Blake Snell, LHP
Current Level/Age: Triple-A/23.3, 6’4/180, L/L
Acquired: Drafted 52nd overall (Supp 1st round) in 2011 out of Washington HS by TB for $684,000 bonus
Previous Rank: 5

Snell’s 2015 season represented a true breakout performance. A left-handed pitcher with great velocity and two excellent offspeed pitches turned raw athleticism into signs of real command. He’s always had a tendency to overthrow, getting too arm-heavy and leaving little room for feel of his pitches. Last year, he looked like he figured out that he wouldn’t need to overthrow every pitch to be effective, and ended up being even better for it. He was able to work ahead of hitters regularly, which gave him the opportunity to mix in his offspeed pitches in the best way possible. Going forward, he needs to show he can continue to trust his stuff, and that his command gains from last year will stick.

His high overhand slot might hint at a relatively straight fastball, but Snell has above-average lift on his heater. He may not produce elite pop-up or ground-ball rates, but the fastball’s velocity and movement feature plenty of potential for generating weak contact without even accounting for the influence of his solid offspeed pitches. Prior to last year, his changeup projected to be his best pitch, thrown with the same arm speed as his fastball and showing good fade. That hasn’t changed, though his breaking ball has tightened up into a potential plus or better slider with hard downward and glove-side bite, giving him three pitches with which he can get hitters out.

Snell already has the ability to pitch in a big-league rotation because of his stuff, but it’s his command gains that will determine how high his abilities will go. If he comes out this year consistently with the same easy arm action he had for his best outings in 2015, he may be immediately ready to jump in near the top of the Rays’ rotation. Not only from an effectiveness standpoint, but also for long-term health’s sake. With such a high slot, if he can keep from adding stress by using his rotator cuff more instead of locking his arm up with big, muscled movements, he’s more likely to endure a full starter’s workload year after year.

Fastball: 60/65/65+ Slider: 55/60/65 Changeup: 50/55/60 Command: 45/50/55
Overall: 55/60-65/70

Video courtesy of Baseball America
2. Willy Adames, SS
Current Level/Age: High-A/20.6, 6’1/180, R/R
Acquired: Signed in 2012 out of Dominican Replublic by DET for $420,000 bonus, traded to TB in July 2014
Previous Rank: 1

Adames was a big part of the return for David Price, when Tampa shipped the latter of those two to Detroit in 2014. Not only is he the best position prospect in the system, but he also has the potential to be one of the best position players currently in the minor leagues. He has been playing against older competition ever since signing, and has not only held his own, but shown that he can be a real offensive threat when he’s finished developing. He has the skills and instincts to stick at shortstop, though he may move to third base if he loses a step as he matures.

At the plate, Adames possesses an excellent swing that bears many similarities to those belonging to the best hitters in the game. He uses his lower half very well and creates a lot of easy torque with his midsection and upper-body sequencing. His swing path works on the same plane as the pitch coming in, and gives him the ability to lift balls to all fields. When you look for a young hitter who can develop power as he gains strength, he has exactly what you want to see. His gap power has a high likelihood of turning into all-fields home-run power once he adds muscle, since he already has all the other ingredients

His contact rate has been challenged by the age-advanced competition he has faced, though I blame a lot of that on being young rather than having a major issue with barreling up balls. Even if his batting average ends up a bit lower because of it, he has shown enough willingness to take a walk that his ability to get on base looks to be at least above-average in the end. Coupling an above-average hit tool with projected above-average power, and then throwing in that he’s a solid infield defender, puts him in very rare company.

Hit: 40/55/60 Power: 40/55/60 Run: 50/50/50 Field: 50/55/55 Throw: 60/60/60
Overall: 35/60+/65-70

Video courtesy of Baseball America
3. Brent Honeywell, RHP
Current Level/Age: High-A/21.0, 6’2/180, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 72nd overall (Supp 2nd round) in 2014 out of Walters State CC by TB for $797,500 bonus
Previous Rank: 12

Honeywell, of course, is the guy who throws a screwball. He is also a pretty tremendous starting-pitching prospect. Command of his four-pitch mix — three of which are at least above-average future offerings — an aggressive, confident approach to attacking hitters and an athletic delivery are what make him special. If you could put an ounce of water on the fire, it would be the extra recoil his arm has on many of his pitches, owing mostly to early and exaggerated pronation, particularly on his screwball. He owns the mound with an easygoing motion that subjectively doesn’t seem to put a lot of stress on his arm, so I’m comfortable looking past that.

His fastball works comfortably in the low 90s, though as part of his general presence on the mound, he’s very good at adding or subtracting velocity when the situation calls for it. With some room to fill out further, he may be able to add a tick or two without sacrificing the arm-side run he gets at his sustained levels. The screwball and changeup have similar movement, with the former exhibiting a lot more of it. Both are at least above-average pitches, though his screwball is effective and novel enough to project as a plus to plus-plus offering. He also throws a curveball that shows promise, but it doesn’t come as naturally as its earlier pronated brethren.

Expect Honeywell to show signs of being ready for the big time as soon as the end of this season. Also expect the Rays to take their time promoting him so they can enjoy as much of his prime as possible. Even if his stuff stays the same, I expect his command to improve and his demeanor to remain the best thing going for him on the mound. I’m truly excited to see him pitch in 2016 and believe he has a future number-three starter role waiting for him with decent upside.

Fastball: 50/60/60 Curveball: 40/45/45 Screwball: 55/60+/65 Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 50/55/60
Overall: 45/55/65

Video courtesy of Major League Baseball
4. Taylor Guerrieri, RHP
Current Level/Age: Double-A/23.3, 6’3/195, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 24th overall (1st round) in 2011 out of South Carolina HS by TB for $1.6 million bonus
Previous Rank: 10

Guerrieri enjoyed the best season of his professional career in 2015, both in terms of results and, more importantly, total innings. His outings were on strict limits for the entire season, but he was able to show what he’s capable of if he can stay healthy: elite ground-ball rates, lots of strikes and legitimate strikeout potential to go with it. His fastball is his best offering, but both his curveball and changeup have real upside as well.

In an ideal world, Guerrieri has every tool at his disposal to be a number-two starter in the big leagues. The problem is, there isn’t much reason to put faith in his arm holding up over the long haul. His 78 innings in 2015 represented a career-best mark, and he slings his repaired arm around his body with stiff actions at a low three-quarters slot. It’s never a guarantee to use pitching mechanics for injury prediction, and maybe he and the Rays have figured out some subtle ways of keeping his elbow in good shape. However, if I wanted to draw up a delivery that would put the most stress on an elbow as possible, it would look an awful lot like Guerrieri’s.

As such, it’s hard for me to really buy into his stuff and command holding up in a starter’s role. To me, there are three outcomes that are more likely than him being a solid top-half-of-the rotation performer. Because of his potential, the first and most hopeful path is he remains a starter who produces excellent numbers, but has to take time off to keep his arm healthy. The next best option would be turning him into a super reliever who throws 100 innings in high-leverage situations, with a few important starts thrown in the mix. Even for the Rays, that might be too outside the box with the current culture in baseball. Hopefully, what he can avoid is getting hurt again, running the risk of losing velocity or feel for his excellent arsenal.

His overall grades reflect his very high risk going forward. Even Clayton Kershaw wouldn’t be worth much to the Dodgers if he couldn’t stay on the mound. The Rays will have to be very careful managing Guerrieri’s workload, assuming there isn’t a way to change some of his movements on the mound. He will most likely start in Double-A this season, with the possibility of making to Triple-A and even the majors if things work out.

Fastball: 55/60/65 Curveball: 50/55/60 Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 50/55/55+
Overall: 45/55/60

Video courtesy of Adam McInturff
5. Kevin Padlo, 3B
Current Level/Age: Single-A/19.7, 6’2/200, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 143rd overall (5th round) in 2014 out of California HS by COL for $650,000 bonus, traded to TB in January 2016
Previous Rank: NA (Traded between lists)

Padlo looked like he was still in showcase mode in Single-A last year, trying way too hard to hit the ball with authority. He was really forcing the barrel to the ball and rolling over it as a result, sapping his power and showing more swing-and-miss tendencies than expected. We can probably chalk it up to youth rather than a real issue, though it bears watching how much tension he carries in his shoulders on his swings. It has will take away from his natural hitting ability unless he stays within himself and trusts the juice he has.

Nevertheless, every one of his tools profiles as at least average. He has the projected strength for average power, and although he swung and missed a good bit last year, his knowledge of the strike zone and capacity for contact when he takes swings at normal effort levels — it all bodes well for his hit tool in the future. Combined with average speed that plays up on the bases and average infield defense with a strong arm, and you have at least a big-league regular.

Hit: 35/50/55 Power: 35/50/60 Run: 50/50/55 Field: 45/50/50 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 25/50/60-65

6. Daniel Robertson, SS
Current Level/Age: Double-A/22.0, 6’1/205, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 34th overall (Supp 1st round) in 2012 out of California HS by OAK for $1.5 million bonus, traded to TB in January 2015
Previous Rank: NA (Traded between lists)

Robertson moves very well in the field and on the bases for being a below-average runner. While his raw speed isn’t on the same level as the sort exhibited by most shortstop prospects, his effective range plays close to average for the position because of a quick first step and good footwork. Moving him off the position will be a decision based on preference and positional availability rather than an inability to stick there. He also shows great aptitude as a base-runner, capable of taking advantage of balls in the dirt and distracted pitchers rather than stealing a ton of bases outright.

With the bat, he has loose, quick hands and a very athletic look to his swing. His swing path precludes him from hitting for a ton of power, but he has the bat speed to drive the gaps and put up respectable extra-base hit numbers. Plate discipline is a strength of his, and combines with his solid contact ability and great hands to give him an above-average to plus hit tool. Wherever he plays, his overall contributions will add up to an average regular, though he has upside for more if he can replicate his minor league power numbers and play an above-average infield.

Hit: 50/55+/60 Power: 35/40/45 Run: 45/45/45+ Field: 50/50/55 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 40/50/60

7. Adrian Rondon, SS
Current Level/Age: Rookie/17.7, 6’1/190, R/R
Acquired: Signed in 2014 out of Dominican Republic by TB for $2.95 million bonus
Previous Rank: 6

Any criticism of Rondon’s 2015 season has to be taken with a huge block of salt. Though he is advanced skill-wise for his age, he still doesn’t turn 18 until July of this year, so to say he played against older competition is an understatement. Rondon flashed the tools that had him at or near the top of international class in 2014: excellent, handsy swing and a feel for hitting; a good approach at the plate; developing gap power; and the hands and footwork to profile as a shortstop. Nothing has changed. This year he will be back in the Gulf Coast League again, looking to show his hype was justified.

Hit: 25/55/60 Power: 20/45/50 Run: 45/45/45 Field: 50/50/50+ Throw: 60/60/60
Overall: 20/50/60

45+ FV Prospects
8. Garrett Whitley, OF, VIDEO, Low-A

Whitley is a tool shed, but he hasn’t found a key to the hit-tool cabinet yet. I like a lot about his swing, and his potential, as well. Potential on the bases and in center field. Potential for future power production. Consensus impact tools, all of them. However, he has real issues barreling up the ball, and his swing shows very little fluidity in adjusting to different pitch locations and speeds. He has the moves, but I worry it’s either a pitch-recognition or hand-eye-coordination issue, which is much less easy to improve than most areas of a player’s game.

His swing does give him more room for error than most, but he doesn’t show a lot of feel for manipulating the bat yet. Hopefully it comes with his body maturing. Even though he’s already a big, strong kid, he still shows his age in his body awareness at times, which is to be expected for a large-bodied high-school draftee. I won’t leave a future average hit tool off the table completely, but it’s not the highest likelihood outcome right now.

My hit-tool grade is lower than what anyone to whom I spoke would have liked, but I can’t deny Whitley still has plenty of time and athletic ability to satisfy the loftier expectations of others. So, the disparity between where I think he ends up and his potential ceiling remains very large until he gets some more experience under his belt.

Hit: 20/40/50 Power: 30/55/60 Run: 60/55/60 Field: 50/55/60 Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 20/45-50/65

9. Chris Betts, C, VIDEO, NA

Betts has big raw power. Like many right-handed throwing left-handed hitters, he can get a bit overactive with his stronger front side in his swing. His front hip takes off on him and gets out in front of his body on occasion, leaving him a bit uphill and rolling to the outside of his front foot as it pulls him toward the right side of the field, but he stays middle enough to see his power working to all fields.

His shoulders work similarly, with his right shoulder lugging the hands and barrel along more than a balanced swing would. He shows some looseness with his left arm at the start of the swing in batting practice, but in game action everything fires at the same time, leaving him susceptible to good breaking stuff in the professional ranks. Betts still manages to have a good path to the ball, generating lift easily and staying through the ball pretty well.

From a catching standpoint, Betts has fringy to average hands behind the plate and won’t kill you with his receiving. Before his elbow surgery, he showed serviceable pop times to second base with room to improve based on his plus arm strength. Overall, he has a fine chance of staying at the position long-term.

Hit: 25/45/50 Power: 30/55/60 Run: 30/30/30 Field: 45/45+/50 Throw: 50/55/55+
Overall: 25/45/55-60

10. Mikie Mahtook, OF, VIDEO, MLB

Mahtook was out of his mind, hitting .295 and slugging .619 in the 115 plate appearance of his major-league debut. He’s more likely to settle in as an average hit tool and below-average game-power hitter — though facing more left-handers or getting more pitches up in the zone will boost his numbers dramatically. He has a fairly level, direct swing, relying more on his raw strength than natural lift to drive the ball. He’s at least average defensively with above-average base-running potential, making him an excellent all-around player who could be valuable in a platoon role or even a low-end starter.

Hit: 45/50/50 Power: 45/45/50 Run: 55/55/55 Field: 50/50+/55 Throw: 50/50/55
Overall: 45/45-50/55

11. Taylor Motter, INF/OF, VIDEO, Triple-A

Motter is old for a prospect, but that didn’t stop him from killing the ball in Triple-A last year while playing every position but first base and catcher. And of course, in the Dominican Winter League this offseason, he rounded out the year by manning first base for nine games. His power outburst last season was impressive, though he can be too direct to the ball at times to consistently hit for the same power in the future. Even if his average and power dip a bit at the big-league level, he knows how to take a walk and can steal some bases for you while playing average defense everywhere on the field. He has great value to any team, but particularly to the low-budget Rays as a safety net for the entire lineup.

Hit: 45/50/50 Power: 45/45/50 Run: 55/55/55 Field: 50/50+/55 Throw: 60/60/60
Overall: 45/45-50/55

12. Jacob Faria, RHP, VIDEO, Double-A

Faria saw a huge increase in strikeouts after he was promoted to Double-A mid-season, though he doesn’t necessarily project to be a big strikeout threat in the majors. He has a very athletic arm, with a strong but less athletic lower half. With a fastball that looks faster than its sustained low-90s velocity and a plus changeup, he has a big-league future, and likely in the rotation. He will need to develop his command and curveball more to be a sure thing there.

Being mostly dependent on his strong arm, he shows his offspeed early with changes in arm speed. Luckily his changeup shows less and has strong enough movement to make up for it, but it’s tough to see the curveball being better than a below-average pitch. With two plus pitches and just alright command, he could be one hell of a reliever if the curveball doesn’t come around. I’m leaning toward him being a fourth starter with number-three upside, but it’s risky enough that I don’t want to put him in the 50+ group yet.

Fastball: 55/60/60 Curveball: 40/40/45 Changeup: 55/60/60 Command: 40/45/45
Overall: 40/45-50/55

13. Chih-Wei Hu, RHP, VIDEO, High-A

Hu has a solid four-plus-pitch mix, each of which offering projects to be around average or slightly above. He already has enough command to be viable against big-league hitters. How well he continues to locate his pitches will determine whether he’s pitching in the back end of a rotation or the middle. His arsenal consists of a low-90s fastball with decent movement, a slight but deceptive slider, a straight changeup and a palmball that acts more like a split-change. The Rays did well to pry him away from the Twins in the Kevin Jepsen deal, and this year will be his biggest test facing Double-A and Triple-A hitters. Nothing he throws s a true out pitch, which is why his command is so crucial to his advancement.

Fastball: 45/50/55 Slider: 50/55/55 Changeup: 45/45/50 Palmball: 50/50/55 Command: 50/50/55
Overall: 40/45/55

14. Andrew Velazquez, SS, VIDEO, High-A

Velazquez made a name for himself when he broke the minor-league consecutive-games-on-base record in 2014. He missed more than half of last season with injuries, so 2016 will be his chance to get back on track. Despite the impressive record, he strikes out a lot and doesn’t have much power, but he should make up for it enough with his plate discipline and speed to be a valuable offensive player. His infield defense is still developing, but he has the tools to eventually be at least an average fielder.

Hit: 35/50/55 Power: 30/30/35 Run: 60/60/60 Field: 45/50/55 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 30/45/55

15. Jake Bauers, 1B/OF, VIDEO, Double-A

Bauers lacks a stable base from which to work, which often changes his swing plane based on how far his hips have moved underneath him. He makes up for it with quick hands that work inside the ball early and stay through it well, peppering the entire field with line drives. He will be susceptible to good offspeed pitches that can get him off balance, but his hands and control of the strike zone are exceptional enough to give him a potentially plus hit tool.

Seeing him for the first time in Arizona last fall, I had to check my notes multiple times to make sure he was a first baseman, he moved so well in the field and on the bases. He won’t wow you with stolen bases or impressive range in the outfield, but he has enough speed to see if he can stick in a corner-outfield spot where his bat will fit better. He has the arm for it as well, showing solid above-average strength on a couple plays he made in the outfield. I had him just under 4.25 going home to first, which is considered roughly 45 raw speed.

If he can make it work in the outfield, it really increases the chances that he can be stick with a big-league club, if only because of the pull to get more power out of the first-base position. If his plus hit-tool potential becomes reality, it won’t matter where he plays. He has enough borderline skill everywhere else to be worth a consistent spot in the lineup.

Hit: 45/55/60 Power: 40/45/45 Run: 45/45/45 Field: 45/45/45+ Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 35/45/50+

16. Jaime Schultz, RHP, VIDEO, Double-A

Schultz has succeeded as a starter longer than some expected. As his walk rates go up, he continues to keep runs off the board with his plus-plus fastball and above-average curveball. His control and command haven’t improved enough to see him staying in the rotation, and his changeup’s upside is lacking as well. I’m excited to see what he can do out of the bullpen, where his stuff can play up as he doesn’t have to pace himself as much. There is solid relief potential with late-innings upside.

Fastball: 65/70/75 Curveball: 50/55/55+ Changeup: 40/40/45 Command: 40/40/45
Overall: 40/45/50

17. Enny Romero, LHP, VIDEO, MLB

I’m excited to see what Romero can do this year in the bullpen. Though his numbers the last couple years have made his stock go down in the prospect world, the 2016 season will be the first one in which he can fully concentrate on getting into a rhythm as a reliever, and he has the stuff to take off in that role. Command will continue to be the determining factor in his success, but I like his chances of at least being an above-average reliever with even slight gains in location.

His 5.10 ERA last year was propped up by a crazy .400 BABIP, a number into which his level of stuff can easily cut. Look for him to be an important member of the Rays’ pen this year, though I hesitate to put a future closer label on him without really seeing signs of him keeping his high-90s fastball down in the zone more. Though it has plenty of velocity, its movement fits a bottom-of-the-zone approach that he hasn’t been able to master yet.

Fastball: 55/60/65+ Slider: 50/55/55 Cutter: 50/50/55 Changeup: 45/45/50 Command: 40/45/45
Overall: 40/45/45+

18. Brandon Koch, RHP, VIDEO, Low-A

While it’s tough to see Koch continuing to improve with his aggressive, high-effort delivery, that’s exactly what he has been doing for the last few years. His control was truly impressive in his pro debut in Low-A, though that’s likely to regress some as he faces better hitters. He has two plus pitches in his fastball and slider, and his fast motion on the mound makes hitters very uncomfortable. If he can come even close to the same rate of throwing strikes in 2016, he’ll be on the fast track to the upper minors where his command will truly be tested. There’s closer potential if he stays in the zone, but it’s far from a guarantee.

Fastball: 55/60/65 Slider: 60/60/65 Command: 40/40/45
Overall: 40/45/45+

40+ FV Prospects
19. Justin Williams, OF, VIDEO, High-A

Williams forgot how to let a ball go by him last year, drawing only 14 walks in 490 plate appearances. That approach won’t work against big-league pitching, but he has shown a little more selectivity in previous years, and he’s still only 20 years old. He’s very good at putting air under his batted balls, and his natural strength figures to make many of those balls go for extra bases or over the fence as he matures. He will need his bat to develop in order to profile as a viable major leaguer, since he’s below-average everywhere else.

Hit: 30/45/50 Power: 35/55/60 Run: 45/45/45 Field: 45/45/45 Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 25/40-45/50

20. Johnny Field, OF, VIDEO, Double-A

Everything about Field’s game is high-effort and quick-twitch. You can tell he’s going all out on every play, spring and swing, and it helps raise his game above his raw tools. His diminuitive size doesn’t keep him from putting a charge into the ball, especially on mistake pitches over the plate. He has a quick enough bat to yank balls over the fence, and the bat speed to drive balls in the gap all day. He fits well at any outfield spot, making up for his lack of raw speed with a quick first step and hard-nosed play. I’d love to see Field reach his ceiling and become an average big leaguer, but the Rays will gladly settle for a solid fourth-outfielder type who won’t give opposing teams an inch on effort.

Hit: 40/45/50 Power: 45/45/50 Run: 50/50/50 Field: 50/50/50+ Throw: 45/45/50
Overall: 35/40/50+

21. Joe McCarthy, OF, VIDEO, Low-A

McCarthy’s back injury surely affected his poor spring numbers and carried over into his pro debut. He’s never been very good at using his whole body at the plate, with his smooth, quick hands doing all the work in his swing. I don’t see a ton of power in his future, but it should be enough to let his bat play, given his plus speed and functional corner-outfield defense. Hopefully he comes into 2016 fully healthy, and we can better gauge where he’s at on the development track.

Hit: 40/50/55 Power: 25/35/40 Run: 60/60/60 Field: 45/45+/50 Throw: 45/45/50
Overall: 30/40/50+

22. Justin O’Conner, C, VIDEO, Double-A

O’Conner draws rave reviews for his defense behind the plate, with at least one contact wanting me to go much higher than the plus ceiling I gave him. Even though he’s going to be a stretch with the bat to produce anything close to average overall offense, his defense makes him a solid backup. If he can reach his offensive ceiling, he’s easily a starting option. I don’t think he quite makes it there, and his presence on this list is entirely due to his defense.

Hit: 30/35/40 Power: 40/45/50 Run: 40/40/40 Field: 55/55+/60 Throw: 80/80/80
Overall: 35/40/50

23. Ryan Brett, 2B, VIDEO, MLB

I really like Brett’s swing and defense, seeing him as a valuable part-time player with occasional stretches of starting. His physical tools are all fringe-average besides his speed, though I’d be willing to go another grade higher on his hit tool if he showed some more patience at the plate. Brett won’t kill you in any aspect of his game, but the sum of his parts will most likely conspire to produce something just short of an average position player.

Hit: 45/45-50/50 Power: 40/40/45 Run: 55/55/60 Field: 45/45+/50 Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 35/40/50

24. Cameron Varga, RHP, VIDEO, Low-A

Varga has some upside as a strike-thrower with two above-average to plus pitches in the form of a fastball and curveball. His questionable command and changeup, combined with some late effort with a truncated arm action cloud his future as a starting option. Given his unique background, he has surprising upside and pitchability that should get him to the big leagues in a middle-relief role. If the command follows the control and improves a few ticks, he may have a future in the back of a rotation, but I’m not counting on it despite his solid numbers so far.

Fastball: 50/55/60 Curveball: 50/55/55 Changeup: 40/40/45 Command: 40/45/50
Overall: 35/40/50

25. Brandon Lowe, 2B, VIDEO, NA

Lowe was nabbed in the third round last June out of Maryland, showing a high-contact approach with solid walk numbers and some power in college. I question how much the power translates, but he has some upside with the bat and his glove should play well at second base. I’ll be interested to see him in professional games this year for a better take.

Hit: 35/50/55 Power: 35/40/40+ Run: 55/55/55 Field: 45/45/45+ Throw: 45/45/45
Overall: 30/40/50

26. Riley Unroe, 2B/SS, VIDEO, Single-A

Unroe doesn’t look like he’s going to do much in the power department, opting instead for a ground-ball and contact approach that works well with his advanced plate discipline. He strikes out a decent amount for someone with that profile, so he needs to really do the most he can with the average contact rate toward which he’s moving, especially since the walks are going to dry up a bit at higher competition levels. His above-average defense is a nice safety net to profile as a bench player, at least.

Hit: 25/45-50/55 Power: 20/30/35 Run: 55/55/55 Field: 55/55/55 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 20/40/50

27. Casey Gillaspie, 1B, VIDEO, High-A

I keep trying to see Gillaspie as an above-average big-league hitter, but it’s just not clicking. He is more strong than athletic, and he survives with pretty good hand-eye coordination and a quick bat. His swing is not very conducive for consistent drives into the outfield, coming in steep to the ball, flattening out, and rolling out of the zone very quickly. For him to hit enough as a first baseman will require him to have some combination of elite ability to square the ball up and/or elite strength. He comes up short in both categories in my opinion.

He projects to have some contact issues, particularly against decent offspeed pitches. Though he hit for excellent power in Single-A last year, I don’t think he has enough raw strength to make up for his mostly downward swing path. His walk rates have been solid, though like his power, I’m expecting those numbers to regress as he faces pitchers who have a better idea where the ball is going. He takes some really bad swings at times, and I can only see so many before I have to trust my eyes over a half year of crazy good numbers. Maybe I’m way off here; Double-A at-bats will help a lot towards refining the assessment.

Hit: 40/50/55 Power: 45/50/55 Run: 30/30/30 Field: 45/45/45 Throw: 40/40/40
Overall: 30/40/45+

28. Ryne Stanek, RHP, VIDEO, Double-A

Stanek threw well as a starter in High-A before seeing his numbers step back in Double-A. He has a high-stress arm action with a low-intensity delivery that doesn’t support it well, leading to questions about long-term health and command gains. He threw well out of the bullpen after missing three weeks in July, and that’s where he likely ends up if he’s going to throw in the big leagues.

Fastball: 50/55/60 Slider: 50/55/55 Curveball: 45/45/50 Changeup: 40/40/45 Command: 40/40/45
Overall: 35/40/45

Cistulli’s Guy
Jace Conrad, 2B/3B, High-A
A 13th-round selection in 2014 out of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, Conrad’s profile has translated almost precisely from collegiate to professional competition. At Lafayette, Conrad was a second baseman who exhibited above-average contact and base-running skills, while also recording roughly average power numbers. His minor-league numbers reveal largely the same sort of tools.

Which isn’t to suggest his record is absent of blemishes. After hitting .292/.332/.482 (.301 BABIP) last year in 241 plate appearances as a 22-year-old in the Class-A Midwest League, Conrad proceeded to slash just .211/.264/.254 (.241 BABIP) in 203 PAs following a mid-season promotion to High-A Charlotte. While those latter numbers might seem bleak, one notes that Conrad’s plate-discipline marks (4.1% BB and 12.9% K at Class-A) were nearly identical (4.9% BB, 13.8% K at High-A) at both levels. And while the lack of walks isn’t ideal, a number of major leaguers (Daniel Murphy, Martin Prado, Kolten Wong) have parlayed the same sort of approach into two-win seasons in recent years. It just requires some combination of above-average defense and/or base-running. Conrad has the potential to offer both.

In conclusion, here he is hitting one home run ever:

Quick Hits
Upper-level hitters: 3B Richie Shaffer (VIDEO) has a swing built for putting the ball in the air to left field, and I buy his potential as a plus power bat. Unfortunately, every other tool is below average. A poor contact rate will manifest in ~30% strikeout rates, and even with his above-average walk rates translating to the big leagues, he still will have trouble producing anything better than a .280-.290 OBP. He’s a below-average fielder, though he does look like he’ll be able to take his defensive abilities into any infield or outfield corner spot without being a drain, which will help give him ample opportunities to play. Like Chris Carter, he profiles as more valuable for fantasy baseball, because in real baseball, that’s a replacement-level skill set.

3B/1B/OF Patrick Leonard (VIDEO) has a possible future as a corner infield/outfield sub who puts together good at-bats and could grow into more home-run power. If he can keep his strikeouts under control, he still has fringe-starter upside. 2B Kean Wong (VIDEO) may have enough hit tool to make up for the lack of power and fringe-average defense, but a lack of physicality and a low line-drive/ground-ball swing path leave his margins razor thin. SS Jake Hager (VIDEO) has tools ranging from below-average to serviceable across the board, so he could sneak into the shortstop picture if other options lack upside, but he has to prove he’s healthy after missing 2015 with knee surgery.

Lower-level hitters: OF Jesus Sanchez is an athletic outfielder with at least 45 tools across the board, but his performance in the Dominican Summer League portends some upside with the bat. Reports on his tools were vague and wide-ranging, so I’m waiting to see him this summer before throwing him on the list. C Nick Ciuffo (VIDEO) has a decent arm and fringe-average receiving skills, so his poor offensive development keeps him from having more than a backup catcher ceiling. His downward swing path and poor use of his lower half do not bode well for further gains on offense.

Upper-level pitchers: RHP Hunter Wood has decent velocity and a hard-breaking curveball. He doesn’t have much feel for his changeup, and could be a useful reliever if he can harness his breaking ball. RHP Andrew Bellatti (VIDEO) has a below-average fastball and changeup, but a respectable slider keeps him viable as a possible bullpen member.

Lower-level pitchers: Not having seen RHP Jose Mujica throw myself, I have received mixed reports on his potential. A jump in velocity and early signs of solid control are the positives, while the ultimate effectiveness of his offspeed stuff is up for debate. He could be a low-minors darling simply for throwing strikes, or he could easily jump up this list by next offseason. I’ll be interested in getting my own looks at him this year.

Dan is Fangraphs Lead Prospect Analyst, living in New York City. He played baseball for four years at Franklin & Marshall College before attending medical school. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @DWFarnsworth.

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6 years ago

You noted Varga as a 19th rounder, but he was the 19th pick in the 2nd round.