Tampa Bay Rays 2019 Preseason Top 10

Lucius Fox
Lucius Fox in AFL, Courtesy: Aaron Whelan

The Rays have made successful trades in recent years, dealing their “veteran” pitchers for quality young pieces like Shane Baz in the Chris Archer deal, and Lucius Fox in the Matt Moore deal. They have three players that are true elite talent, and arguably a fourth. If they have too many of one position, it is second base, but they are already trying some of those players at different positions. There is some depth in the system and top tier talent.

1)

Player: Wander Franco
Position(s): SS Opening Day Age: 18 2018 Highest Level: Rookie
Bats: Switch Throws: Right Height:  5’10” Weight: 189 lbs.
Quick Report: Few players impressed as much in their pro debut as Wander Franco. He played 61 games at the Rookie level, hitting .351/.418/.587 with 11 home runs. He has bat speed and control that allow him to hit for good average and power despite his smaller frame, and he is an easy shortstop at the current time. There is a chance he grows out of the position to second or third, but he will spend the entire season at just 18 years old and could play himself as up to High A by the end of the season.

2)

Player: Brendan McKay
Position(s): LHP/1B Opening Day Age: 23 2018 Highest Level: High A
Bats: Left Throws: Left Height:  6’2” Weight: 212 lbs.
Quick Report: Still a two-way prospect, McKay struggled some at the plate last season, hitting a combined .214 and just 6 home runs in 192 at-bats. That said, many still feel he has the potential to turn into a .300 hitter with 20-25 home run power. Meanwhile he was quite impressive on the mound, putting up an ERA of 2.41 and nearly 12 K/9 while only walking 1.6 per nine. His fastball gets into the mid-90s and is matched with a plus curve, above average cutter, and solid change. At this pace, McKay needs a good year at the plate to stay a two-way prospect, but he still has all the tools to do so.

3)

Player: Brent Honeywell
Position(s): RHP Opening Day Age: 23 2018 Highest Level: DNP
Bats: Right Throws: Right Height:  6’2” Weight: 180 lbs.
Quick Report: Honeywell missed all of 2018 due to Tommy John surgery, but he still features one of the most unique pitches in baseball. His screwball is one of legend and may have been the best secondary offering anyone saw in the 2017 Minor League season. He adds to that a fastball that reaches the mid-90s, both a curve and slider, and even has a plus change. As if all that wasn’t enough, he has better command than most pitchers. Had it not been for the injury, it may have been Honeywell tabbed to be the ace of the staff rather than eventual Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell.

4)

Player:  Matthew Liberatore
Position(s): LHP Opening Day Age: 19 2018 Highest Level: Rookie
Bats: Left Throws: Left Height:  6’5” Weight: 200 lbs.
Quick Report: Still a sophomore in high school when I first saw him throw in person, it was immediately clear Liberatore had something special. He was as polished a high school pitcher as you are gonna find when he came out of Mountain Ridge HS in Arizona last year, and he could develop four plus pitches. His fastball won’t light up radar guns, but he has good extension and it has good run, allowing it to play up. His change may be his best off-speed pitch even though his curve induces a ton of swing-and-miss. The slider is the newest and rawest of pitches, but it has flashed well, and he can spot all four pitches. Liberatore has the upside of becoming a solid number two starter.

5)

Player: Vidal Brujan
Position(s): 2B Opening Day Age: 20 2018 Highest Level: Low A
Bats: Switch Throws: Right Height: 5’9” Weight: 155 lbs.
Quick Report: Second base is a position the Rays are incredibly deep with talent, but Brujan might be the most prototypical thanks to his small size. Due to the depth at the position, he will likely see some time at short and center to see if his elite speed can play at a more premium defensive position. He will never hit for much power, but he can certainly develop into a quality leadoff hitter. His bat is quick to the ball and he does a good job staying on top, giving him the upside of a .300 hitter. Overall, this may be the best $15,000 (his signing bonus in 2014) the Rays ever spent.

6)

Player: Jesus Sanchez 
Position(s): OF Opening Day Age: 21 2018 Highest Level: AA
Bats: Left Throws: Right Height: 6’3” Weight: 210 lbs.
Quick Report: Primarily a left fielder, Sanchez has the natural ability to get the job done in center or right if needed. He is still rather skinny, so he may lose some of the athleticism and become a true left field only guy, but the bat will play anywhere. He has a smooth stroke from the left side that provides natural loft and will hit plenty of line drive home runs and will turn into a doubles machine.

7)

Player: Brandon Lowe
Position(s): 2B/OF Opening Day Age: 24 2018 Highest Level: MLB
Bats: Left Throws: Right Height: 6’ Weight: 185 lbs.
Quick Report: Lowe doesn’t have any true carrying tool, although power is as close to one as he has. The bat can be a bit long, but it has a good plane that allows him to drive the ball to all fields. Despite the length, it does get into the zone quickly, which will allow him to hit for a solid average. The position he plays is a big question, as he is a natural second baseman, but that is a position the Rays are loaded in. He doesn’t have the biggest arm, but it may be just enough to play in right, and he has shown well in left, so there is definitely some defensive flexibility that will help his value.

8)

Player: Ronaldo Hernandez
Position(s): C Opening Day Age: 21 2018 Highest Level: Low A
Bats: Right Throws: Right Height: 6’1” Weight: 185 lbs.
Quick Report: A legitimate threat with the bat, it will be the defense that determines the true ceiling of Hernandez. At the plate he has an inconsistent swing, typically dependent on game situation and what he is looking to do at the plate. When the situation calls for it, he keeps the swing quiet and quick to the ball, at other times it gets long in an attempt to produce power. Power he has, likely a 20+ home run future, and a power arm, a true plus tool. His receiving and footwork are works in progress and I doubt he ever becomes an above average defender, but average would be more than enough to make him an impact player.

9)

Player: Lucius Fox
Position(s): SS Opening Day Age: 21 2018 Highest Level: AA
Bats: Switch Throws: Right Height: 6’1” Weight: 180 lbs.
Quick Report: The key prospect in the trade that sent Matt Moore to the Bay, Fox impressed with his incredible athleticism and defensive ability that will surely keep him up the middle. Chances are he sticks at short, but there is still a chance he ends up having to move to center. His bat is going to be the deciding factor on his future impact, which has been unimpressive until this season’s AFL. He really broke out with the bat against pitching that had a good bit more elite arms than recent years. There will never be much power, but if he can make better contact, he could become a quality leadoff man.

10)

Player: Shane Baz
Position(s): RHP Opening Day Age: 19 2018 Highest Level: Rookie
Bats: Right Throws: Right Height: 6’3” Weight: 190 lbs.
Quick Report: Selected 12th overall in 2019 by the Pirates, many were surprised to hear Baz announced as the PTBNL in the Chris Archer trade. He is still incredibly raw and will have to show well this Spring to ensure a full season debut out of camp, but he has all the upside one could want. His fastball bets up into the upper 90s out of the 3/4 cross-body slot. There is some effort to his delivery, but he also creates some deception by varying his leg kick both in the windup and stretch. He has a cutting slider that flirts with the 90 MPH mark, and a curve that has flashed plus. His change is by far his fourth best pitch, but it has shown potential of being at least average. His command is a real concern, and it may limit his ceiling. He has the upside of a number two or three starter, but the fear with the effort and command is he may end up being a bullpen arm, but a late inning bullpen arm.

Others of Note:

Nathaniel Lowe – 1B – 23 – AAA
Moises Gomez – OF – 20 – Low A
Nick Solak – 2B/OF – 23 – AA
Shane McClanahan – LHP – 21 – Rookie

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