Tampa Bay Rays: 2020 All-Prospect Opening Day Lineup

Jake Wiener's Tampa Bay Rays Opening Day prospects lineup. Graphic design by John Stewart, @jonance on Twitter.

The year is 2020 and the Tampa Bay Rays currently have the best farm system in all of baseball. The organization’s front office has done a truly remarkable job with the selection and development of draft-eligible players and international signings to form a prodigious prospect powerhouse. The system is headlined by the consensus top prospect in baseball and there are numerous other highly touted athletes with the ability to succeed at the sport’s highest level. For this exercise, I’ve compiled a prospects-only Futures team for the Rays organization, complete with a starting lineup and rotation. Enjoy. This was fun!

Starting Lineup/Batting Order

1. 2B Vidal Brujan (S)

Brujan is a prototypical leadoff hitter and an easy choice to set the table for Tampa in the future. He has premium on-base skills, combining his ability to make contact with impressive plate discipline. Brujan has slashed .294/.377/.417 over five minor league seasons to date, displaying a proven ability to make an impact at the plate. Once he’s on the base paths, Brujan becomes a nightmare for opposing teams. He’s swiped over 100 bags in the last two seasons and even led the Minors in runs scored in 2018. Brujan should have plenty of opportunities to score runs atop one of the league’s most potent prospect lineups.

2. DH Xavier Edwards (S)

Edwards was acquired by the Rays in the offseason and immediately slots towards the very top of this batting order. He possesses a tantalizing combination of elite bat-to-ball skills from both sides of the plate and electric game speed that he has consistently displayed since being drafted from high school, making him the perfect complement to set up the best prospect in baseball. Edwards has also proven to be an above average middle infielder, especially at the keystone, but due to the organization’s depth he finds himself as the designated hitter in this iteration. He could easily rotate to play second or short to give any one of those players a day off from the field.

3. SS Wander Franco (S)

Franco could probably bat third in the Rays lineup as soon as next season. He’s been blessed with otherworldly bat speed, paired with advanced plate discipline. In 175 minor league games to date, Franco has slashed .336/.405/.523, and he continues to improve in every facet of the game, as evidenced by a 14 SB increase last season from his 2018 professional debut. His hit tool is a generational skill to be appreciated, and he’s clearly demonstrated the ability to translate that into above average raw power from both sides of the plate. Franco may be moved to third base during the development process, but I’m attached to the idea of keeping a player of Franco’s caliber at his natural position, especially as the captain of the defense. Regardless of the potentially shortened upcoming campaign, the Rays will likely keep the league’s prized prospect in the Minors for another season. Expect Franco to be the star of the show in Tampa by early 2021.

4. 1B Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (L)

Tsutsugo makes for a perfect cleanup hitter in this Rays prospect lineup. The Japanese bopper was one of the league’s most feared hitters for the last decade before signing with the Rays this offseason. Over that time, Tsutsugo has been remarkably consistent, hitting .284/.382/.525 with 205 HR (including 139 HR over the last 4 seasons.) He has experience in both corner infield positions as well as the outfield, but he fits perfectly as the team’s primary first baseman. Although he is older than the other prospects represented in this lineup, he also represents a more seasoned, proven commodity that is ready to be a difference-maker in Tampa Bay this season.

5. LF Randy Arozarena (R)

Arozarena has demonstrated an intriguing power-speed combination over the past few Minor league seasons, but the hit tool exploded last year. He displayed improved plate discipline by cutting his strikeout rate, and mashed .344/.431/.571 with 15 HR and 17 SB in 343 at-bats across two levels in 2019. After a postseason trade sent Arozarena from the Cardinals organization to Tampa, he went on to impress his new team in Spring Training, going 8-20 with 3 SB. After dominating competition in AA and AAA last season, Arozarena looks close to becoming a regular contributor in the big leagues and if he can continue to develop on his current trajectory, he could realize his 5-tool potential.

6. RF Josh Lowe (L)

Lowe is another very interesting power-speed threat that seems to be reaching his immense potential. After being selected in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Lowe erupted last season as he truly began to harness his loud tools. A stat I noted in the 2020 Rays Preseason Top 50, Lowe was 1 of only 5 minor league players to reach both 18 HR & 30 SB last season (including Luis Robert, Kyle Tucker, Josh Rojas and Edward Olivares.) He was drafted as a third baseman out of high school but has played strictly in the outfield with the Rays organization over the past few years. He has a large, athletic build at 6’4”, and is fully capable to playing any of the three outfield positions at and advanced level.

7. CF Greg Jones (S)

Following a big season at UNC Wilmington, Greg Jones was drafted by the Rays in the first round of the 2019 MLB Draft, and the early returns have been exceptional. He was immediately assigned to the New York-Penn League, where he proceeded to rake .335/.413/.461 with 19 SB across 48 games in his professional debut. He also has a projectible frame and bat speed from both sides of the plate to develop increased power potential. Although Jones played exclusively at shortstop with the Rays, he has experience playing the outfield from the Cape Cod League, and that will be key as he ascends through the Rays system. He has elite speed with the ability to track down almost any ball hit on the grass, making him an ideal fit to patrol Center Field.

8. C Ronaldo Hernandez (R)

Hernandez is clearly the Rays catcher of the future. He won the Midwest League Home Run Derby in 2018 and went on to represent the organization in last season’s MLB All Stars Futures Game. Although he had a relatively down year by his lofty standards, Hernandez rebounded strong after the regular season to hit .359/.381/.513 for his second consecutive strong AZFL showing. Hernandez was converted from an infielder to catcher when he signed with the Rays, but he’s progressed into a good defender with a rocket arm behind the plate.

9. 3B Taylor Walls (S)

After a breakout year at the plate in 2018 (.304/.393/.428 with 6 HR and 31 SB in 120 games), Walls displayed respectable power with 10 HR, to pair with 28 SB in only 96 game last season. He has proven to be a plus runner (ranking 2nd and 4th, respectively in the system over the last two years in stolen bases) and if Walls continues to progress at the plate, he will likely be a regular in the daily lineup thanks to his best asset; his glove. Walls is perhaps the best fielding prospect in the Rays system, earning the organization’s Defensive Player of the Year honors in each of the last two seasons. He mainly plays in the middle of the infield, but after a midseason promotion to AA Montgomery, Walls saw game action at the hot corner. Walls has the defensive prowess to play anywhere on the diamond but playing at third could maximize his range, while allowing other natural middle infielders in the system to remain at their natural positions.

Rotation

1. LHP Brendan McKay

Since being drafted out of Louisville as a two-way player with the 4th overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, McKay has been one of the best pitchers in organized baseball. He’s pitched in every level from rookie ball to AAA over the past three years, dominating hitters to the tune of 1.78 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 11.8 K/9 across 172.0 IP. McKay tosses a diverse arsenal, including a fastball, curveball, changeup and cutter; all with pinpoint accuracy. McKay had his first taste of major league competition last year and while he didn’t have the same level of success in a limited sample size, he maintained a high K rate and flashed right away, giving up only one hit across six frames in his Major League debut. His mix of elite upside and high floor make him a safe selection to pitch at the top of the rotation for years to come. It’s worth noting that I still think Brendan McKay can provide significant value as an offensive option. He has continued to slowly develop as a hitter in the Rays organization, but the pedigree is present, and he even hit a home run at the Trop last season. With that being said, McKay could potentially slot into the lineup as a DH on some days. Pretty impressive for this staff’s Opening Day starter.

2. RHP Brent Honeywell

Injury history might be the only thing holding Honeywell back from already being a premier Major League starter. He ranked as high as 12th overall on MLB Pipeline’s Preseason Top 100 Prospects in 2017 and has been long considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball since being drafted by the Rays. Just as a reminder of how great he can be when healthy: In over 4 minor league seasons during his career, Honeywell has dominated hitters with an average stat line of 2.88 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, 2.0 BB/9. He throws five lively pitches, with the most noteworthy being a 60-grade screwball that evades bats with ease. Honeywell underwent Tommy John Surgery to repair a torn UCL in February 2018 and missed last season as well after another elbow injury caused a setback in the recovery process. At this point, Honeywell last pitched in a competitive game in September 2017, so this placement is very dependent on him returning to his previous form. I think that he does, and he that makes Honeywell a formidable middle of the rotation arm with the upside to dream on for much more in the Rays future rotation.

3. RHP Shane Baz

Once acquired as the “Player to Be Named Later” in a deal with the Pirates, Baz has some of the nastiest stuff in the minors and likely the highest upside of any pitcher in the entire Rays farm system. He spent the entire 2019 season in the Midwest League, where he had a 2.99 ERA over 17 starts (81.1 IP.) Baz can reach back to hit triple digits with his fastball and throws a hard slider that regularly forces hitters off-balance. He consistently combines roaring velocity with high spin rates on both of these offerings, but command and control will be the key to unlocking his ace potential. Baz has started all 39 games he’s played in his professional career, but only started one of his 8 appearances during the Arizona Fall League. There is potential reliever concern with Baz, but his significant upside projects him as a high end starter.

4. LHP Shane McClanahan

“Sugar Shane” has been one of my favorite pitching prospects in baseball since he was drafted out of South Florida. The lefty slings a high velocity fastball with a sweeping slider and improving changeup that complete his nasty arsenal. He pitched across three levels last season, putting up an impressive line of 3.36 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 11.5 K/9, 3.4 BB/9. That strikeout rate is no fluke, as he has put away at least 10.0 K/9 each year, including his two seasons of collegiate ball. It was also very impressive that his control and walk rates improved throughout the season. For all of those concerned that McClanahan is destined for a bullpen role, the Rays and I certainly don’t think so. He’s started in 26 of the 28 games he’s played for the organization, and if he continues to succeed in the role he could be fast tracked to the majors as soon as this season. I maintain the belief McClanahan has top of the rotation potential, but he finds himself as the fourth starter in this loaded rotation. Not bad, Tampa, not bad.

5. RHP Joe Ryan

Joe Ryan exploded onto the scene last season with perhaps the best pitching performance in all of baseball. Consider this: out of all qualified minor league pitchers last year, Ryan ranked 1st in K% (38.0%), 1st in K/BB (32.4%) and 2nd in K/9 (13.32), while holding opposing hitters to a paltry .173 BAA across three levels. These are absurd numbers for any pitcher, especially considering the fact he was the sixth pitcher selected by the Rays in the 2018 MLB Draft. Monster value pick by the Rays. He mainly utilizes an “unhittable” fastball with a plus curveball and sharp movement. Granted his jaw-dropping numbers from last year are likely not sustainable (considering that would make him among the best pitchers in the sport), it certainly suggests he will be more than capable of pitching in a Major League rotation in the future.

Closer: RHP Sandy Gaston

This pick is based on a lot of projection. Gaston is only 18 but has already been throwing high-90s fastballs for the past couple years. He was signed by the Rays as one of the top international prospects from the 2018 class and was rated by MLB Pipeline with a 70-grade fastball before even throwing a professional pitch for the Rays. He has only pitched 27.0 IP to date and will need to develop secondary pitches while improving his borderline wild command to remain a viable Major League option, but at such a young age the raw arsenal is present for Gaston to evolve into a shutdown option to close out games for this Rays team.




About Jake Wiener 8 Articles
Jake Wiener is a lifelong sports fan who leads Tampa Bay Rays minor league farm system coverage for the Prospects1500 team. Growing up playing baseball, Jake developed a love and genuine excitement for the game that grows stronger every year. Jake, who was born and raised in New York with family in Ohio, is a New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians fan. Jake participates in daily, redraft, dynasty and prospect-only fantasy baseball formats during each season and knows that when it comes to baseball, there truly is no offseason. Stay connected and feel free to reach out on Twitter @GatorSosa

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