The Tampa Bay Rays’ Top 50 includes four prospects who made their major league debut this season. Others are on the brink of a call-up to the big leagues. While still others are climbing the ladder, moving onward and upward to achieve their dream. Who are these prospects, and where are they now after the first full month of the major and minor league seasons?
The four who saw their first big-league action this year are infielder Daniel Robertson (#14 on our Top 50) and pitchers Austin Pruitt (#24), Chih Wei Hu (#7) and Jose Alvarado (#45).
Robertson has established that he is a quality utility infielder, playing near-flawless defense at second base, shortstop and third base. If his hitting (.191/.345/.728 through May 7) improves, he may yet prove to be a first-division regular.
Pruitt, a starter throughout his minor-league career, got off to a rough start in the Tampa bullpen, allowing 10 earned runs in his first six appearances. But he bounced back with only 1 ER in his next four appearances, then gave up 5 ER on May 3. That left him with a 7.85 ERA and 1.96 WHIP on May 7 and he was returned to Durham.
The Taiwanese-born Hu also has been a starter throughout his professional career, but now will be used exclusively in the bullpen at AAA Durham and Tampa this year. He pitched 1.2 innings in two outings for the Rays before being returned to Durham. He is in the plans for more big-league bullpen work this season.
Alvarado, the first graduate of the Rays’ Venezuelan academy to reach the bigs, provides a much-needed lefty specialist in the pen with a lively fastball. He gave up three earned runs the first time out, but had clean innings in his next three stints. His 98 mph fastball plays and the Rays are lacking in left-handers in the pen.
There’s more coming at AAA Durham. The lineup May 8 included #1 prospect Willy Adames at shortstop, #3 Jake Bauers in left field, #4 Casey Gillaspie at first base, #33 Johnny Field in right, #39 Jake Hager at second and #41 Patrick Leonard at third base. All could see time in Tampa/St. Pete this summer. Leonard may be the lowest ranked of the lot, but he was the International League Player of the Month for April after batting .412 with 35 hits, 17 RBI, 17 runs scored and a .474 on-base percentage.
And the Durham pitching staff includes #2 prospect Brent Honeywell, #6 Jacob Faria, #8 Jaime Schultz, #9 Ryne Stanek, #12 Taylor Guerrieri and #48 Andrew Kittredge. Not to mention Ryan Yarbrough, picked up in a trade with Seattle before the season (he will be in the top 20 when the list is revised this summer) and Jose DeLeon, obtained from the Dodgers in a preseason trade. DeLeon is at extended spring training nursing an arm injury but he will be a top 3 prospect in the revised list and almost certainly will see time with the Rays later this summer. Don’t be surprised to see Honeywell, Faria, Schultz, Stanek or Yarbrough either if the Rays need pitching depth or make a trade closer to the deadline.
Durham also has infielders Kean Wong (#29) and Ryan Brett (#36) and speedy outfielder Mallex Smith, who exhausted his rookie status with Atlanta last year before coming over in a trade and will be back on the big club soon enough.
AA Montgomery is not quite as loaded but still has blossoming talent. Outfielder Justin Williams (#5), catchers Nick Ciuffo (#19) and Justin O’Connor (#50), outfielder Nathan Lukes, (#26) infielders Joe McCarthy (#27) and Andrew Velasquez (#47) and pitcher Hunter Wood (#18) stand out.
High A Charlotte has #13 prospect outfielder Kevin Padlo, #20 prospect catcher Brett Sullivan, outfielder Ryan Boldt (#25), shortstop Jake Cronenworth (#28), outfielder Jake Fraley (#31), first basemen Dalton Kelly (#37) and lefty pitcher Genesis Cabrera (#34). Cronenworth may be the hottest Rays hitter with a slash line of .351/.450/.937.
A half dozen position players, mostly teenagers, stand out at Low A Bowling Green, including Josh Lowe (#10), who has converted to the outfield, Jesus Sanchez (#11), Garrett Whitley (#15 ), Lucius Fox (#16), Adrian Rondon (#17) and Eleardo Cabrera (#49). Rondon has moved to third base while Fox remains at shortstop. An outfield of Lowe, Sanchez, Whitley and Cabrera is an offensive machine, but the strong arm of outfielder Cabrera is drawing attention and he will move up the Top 50 list rapidly. Pitcher Travis Ott (#23) is a lefty with dominant stuff and upside. Sanchez is off to a hot start with a .352/.535/.887 slash line.
Next month we’ll take a look at the short-season league rosters and some of the young stars that could be taking off there, such as pitchers Austin Franklin (#21) and Kevin Gadea (#22) and catcher Chris Betts (#44).
Mike Franco of the Montgomery Biscuits was the Rays’ Minor League Pitcher of the Month for April. He’s now 2-0 with a 1.53 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 29.1 innings in five starts. The 25-year-old Franco was a seventh-round draft pick out of Florida International in 2014. He still walks too many batters, but his good start bodes well for adding another name to the long list of Rays’ pitching prospects.
Featured Image: Courtesy of BaseballCensus.com
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.