The Tampa Bay Rays are always an interesting organization to dissect. With a perennially minuscule budget, the Rays have no choice but to operate differently from most MLB organizations. Until something changes with ownership’s ability or willingness to invest more financial resources into the major league roster, the Rays will continue to have to field an almost exclusively home-grown team. This puts tremendous pressure on the ability of the organization to procure talent both domestically and abroad, and develop that talent as efficiently as possible. Let’s start with the major league roster, as we analyze how well the Rays have done with this tough task to date.
This past offseason, the Rays chose marginal financial savings, after being given orders by ownership to slash the already non-competitive major league payroll even further, over the positive contributions of Jake Odorizzi and Corey Dickerson. The Rays also dealt Steven Souza‘s potent bat to the D’backs, but at least got two quality prospects in return. The Rays got out from under Evan Longoria‘s contract, and netted Christian Arroyo in return. Unfortunately, by the time Opening Day rolled around, the Rays had lost two promising members of their 2018 starting rotation for the season, when Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon went down with torn UCL’s. This has left the 2018 Rays squad with a bare-bones looking roster.
Chris Archer is still a tremendous asset, but you have to wonder if the time has come for the Rays to deal the stud workhorse. Archer is durable, misses bats, and still has untapped upside potential given his vicious fastball/slider combo, but he is also turning 30 years old later this fall. The Rays have seemingly pushed their window of contention back a few years, through the aforementioned circumstances, and would likely best be served by cashing Archer in on the open market while his value is still high, largely due to his affordable contract which runs through 2021 when including team options. It may be shocking to realize that Archer, as he approaches his 30th birthday, has materialized only 11.6 career WAR, with only 1.3 WAR last season according to baseball-reference.
Meanwhile, closer Alex Colome is also almost 30, getting expensive, and should be on the trade-block soon enough. Post-hype prospect Blake Snell may have turned a corner down the stretch last season, but there is uncertainty surrounding his command. The rest of the pitching staff is mostly comprised of minor leaguers who earned promotions through performance. But when an entire staff has been ripped of it’s established performers, through trade and injury, it is an almost impossible task to ask for the majority of these kids to succeed. Baseball is very difficult, and a tremendous percentage of minor league assets never materialize at the highest level.
The lineup “is yuck”, as my young daughters would say. Kevin Kiermaier is the best of the everyday players, but if he doesn’t both stay healthy, and grow as a hitter, his value is limited to his all-world outfield defense. Denard Span and Carlos Gomez are marginal 30-somethings at this point in their careers, and Mallex Smith is another post-hype prospect who may or may not materialize. Keep that in mind as we sort through the incredible depth and upside in the minor league system. Many of even the brightest prospects will not pan out. The infield is filled with nice role bats, Matt Duffy, Brad Miller, CJ Cron, and Daniel Robertson to name a few. But when the entire infield is devoid of a player who is a clear-cut deserving regular, it is a problem.
Okay, on to the impressive array of talent in the minor leagues.
Minor League Talent
This system has a wide array of offensive talent, and some nice pitching depth as well. Actually, top 2017 draft pick (4th overall) Brendan McKay fits into both categories. He is projected to be either an athletic lefty swinging firstbaseman with a plus hit tool and average power for the position, and/or a high-floor #3/#4 lefty starter with plus command of a diverse repertoire. The Rays have not committed to a single development path yet, and it should be fascinating to see how they deploy McKay.
The shortstop of the future was netted from their summer deadline deal of David Price a few years ago, as Willy Adames has matured into a good defensive shortstop with above average pop for the position. Christian Arroyo and his plus hit tool will eventually be given MLB at-bats at second and thirdbase, Jake Bauers brings impressive on-base ability and emerging power to the firstbase position, Nick Solak will likely become a version of the man he was traded for, Brandon Drury, and further down the line promising infield prospects like 2016 1st round pick Joshua Lowe, 2014 IFA signee Vidal Brujan, and Bahamanian 20 year old Lucius Fox further grace the potential upside of infield depth.
The outfield depth is equally impressive. Jesus Sanchez, 20, signed out of the DR in 2015, broke out last year as a teenager in low-A ball, and showed scouts impressive bat speed, contact skills, and power. Garret Whitley, also 20, was a raw, high-upside bat out of Niskayuna in upstate NY when the Rays popped him in the 1st round of the 2015 draft. Last season, he started showing an ability to get to his 60 grade power, which along with his plus speed, makes him a terrific prospect. Justin Williams, 22, hit well in double-A last year and boasts good raw power from the left side.
Ronaldo Hernandez is a potential breakout bat to watch, as the catcher who was signed out of Colombia in 2014, hit impressively as a teenager in rookie ball, and also boasts a terrific arm from behind the dish.
There is plenty of pitching in this system as well. When Jose De Leon and Brent Honeywell return in late 2019, they will once again be big league assets if their pre-injury stuff returns fully. Anthony Banda, netted in the Souza deal, throws an impressive fastball / curveball / changeup combo from the left side but needs to refine his command in order to reach his significant upside. Yonny Chirinos, Austin Franklin, Ryan Yarbough, Michael Mercado and Genesis Cabrera are but a few arms with major league potential. Some of them will fade due to injury and other means of attrition, but some will hopefully shine for the next good Rays team (pun not intended).
Finally, the Rays invested significantly in the international market last summer, as they inked top international bat Wander Franco, rated by Baseball America as the best prospect available among last year’s J2 class. All this being said, the amount of depth in this system is actually vastly underrated compared to the attention given to the more ballyhooed Yankees, Padres and Braves systems. Still, that system has lifted what would have otherwise ranked as a much worse major league roster, to 22nd out of 30 in our rundown to the top organization in baseball.