A longer spring training this year, thanks to the World Baseball Classic, means teams get a longer look at some of their prospects. For some, that enhances their chances of contributing to the big club this summer. The Tampa Bay Rays are getting a good taste of what’s in their future. To wit:
Jaime Schultz, #8 on our Rays prospects list, has excelled in his outings thus far. He inherited a 4–3 lead in the eighth inning March 5 against the Toronto Blue Jays and struck out the side on 11 pitches, a few of them hitting 98 mph. Still being groomed as a starter, Schultz could be a factor in the Rays’ bullpen this summer.
Another flamethrower is Ryne Stanek, #9, who regularly hits 100 mph on the radar gun. Stanek, a starter when drafted out of Arkansas who converted to the bullpen last summer, is also destined for the Rays’ pen later this summer.
Two other top pitching prospects, #2 Brent Honeywell and #6 Jacob Faria, are getting good exposure this spring. Both are likely to spend their seasons in the minors or perhaps get a September call. A more likely contributor this summer for the Rays is Ryan Yarbrough, obtained in an off-season trade with the Seattle Mariners, who had a 5-strikeout, 2-inning outing March 3. The Lakeland, Fla., native was the Southern League Pitcher of the Year last season and would have slotted in behind Honeywell and Faria in our rankings, but is more advanced now though with less upside. Hunter Wood, #18, has looked major-league ready this spring. Perhaps the Rays’ top pitching prospect, Jose DeLeon, acquired after our rankings this winter from the Los Angeles Dodgers for 2B Logan Forsythe, had a rough first outing but is still expected to contribute at the major-league level this summer.
Prospect #3 Jake Bauers, a 1B/OF, wears one of those high numbers common for minor leaguers in spring training: 70. That, as it happens, was Joe Maddon’s number when he managed the Rays. It’s a stretch to project that Bauers will have more impact than Maddon on the club, but his spring performance is bracing, including a grand-slam homer. Obtained in the trade that sent Wil Myers to San Diego, Trea Turner to Washington and Steven Souza Jr. to the Rays, Bauers could go a long way to making that deal look better for Tampa.
Bauers, who played in AA Montgomery last year, has taken to the outfield so he and 1B Casey Gillaspie, #4, can play together on the field at AAA Durham and, perhaps eventually, in St. Pete. Gillaspie, whose run-scoring single was the difference March 5, also has performed well this spring and could be called up before summer’s end.
A host of others, from infielder Daniel Robertson, #14, who perhaps has the best chance to make the club out of spring training as a utility infielder, to relievers Andrew Kittredge, #48, acquired from Seattle this winter, and #45 Jose Alvarado, to young catchers Nick Ciuffo, #14, and unranked Jonah Heim, are catching the eye of manager Kevin Cash, coaches and front-office staff. And OF Joe McCarthy, #27, had a home run, double and walked twice in his spring-training debut.
But no one is more impressive, skills-wise, than top prospect Willy Adames, a shortstop who will play for the Rays sometime this summer despite his young age. He’ll start at Durham, but he’s bursting with too much talent to be kept down on the farm for long.
Michael Parnell is a retired newspaper editor who covers the Colorado Rockies for Prospects1500. He is a longtime fantasy baseball fan who now focuses on his dynasty teams in Diamond Duos and Dynasty Sports Empire leagues. He recently relocated from Fernandina Beach, Fla., to Albuquerque, N.M. Follow him on Twitter @parnellmichael.