Matt Bishop| February 2nd, 2019
The Tampa Bay Rays have developed an impressive Minor league system. They are currently ranked the #4 best farm team in baseball, with their Top 6 Prospects all solidified in MLB’s Top 100 Prospect List. While they have efficiently developed their homegrown talent, they have done equally as well among their international signings. The Rays are on the rise and they have established themselves as contenders for years to come.
WANDER FRANCO, SS 5’10” 189 lb Age 17
Hit: 70 | Power: 55 | Run: 60 | Arm: 55 | Field: 50 | Overall: 60
If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you already know who Wander Franco is. If you don’t, then you should get acquainted.
Wander Franco was the Top International Prospect in 2017 and signed with the Tampa Bay Rays as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. He would debut with the Princeton Rays in the Appalachian league in 2018, hitting:
.351/.418/.587 (1.004 OPS) 11 HR 46 R 57 RBI
.446 wOBA 159 wRC+
(273 Plate Appearances)
His stellar play would earn him Appalachian League MVP Honors and the attention of every major league scout on the planet. While his MVP caliber slash line hints at his enormous ceiling, his 9.9% BB rate and 7.0% K rate speak to his incredibly high floor. He is currently ranked as the #13 Prospect on MLB’s Top 100 Prospect List and is only 17 years old.
Franco is dripping with raw tools and incredible upside. His hit tool is well above average and projects as plus-plus, which should lead to multiple .300+ seasons. He has an amazing ability to barrel the ball anywhere in the strike zone, due in part to his elite bat speed and quick wrists, which create a direct path to the baseball.
He makes hard contact to all fields from both sides of the plate, but most of his power comes from the left side where he hit 10 of his 11 home runs. His power projects as plus and paired with his elite bat speed and ability to barrel the ball, he projects to have 30-35 homerun potential in his prime.
According to most scouts, Wander Franco is on a meteoric rise and could be the next teenager to debut in the bigs. He has the profile of a budding superstar and one who could win multiple MVP awards while carrying his club to the postseason. This is what the Rays need. This is what baseball needs.
MLB Comparison: Francisco Lindor
Read this scouting report by Eric Cross if you don’t believe me
BRENT HONEYWELL, RHP 6’2” 180 lb Age 24
Fastball: 60 | Screwball: 65 | Curve: 45 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 60 | Control: 60 | Overall: 55
Brent Honeywell was drafted 72nd overall in 2014 by the Tampa Bay Rays after attending Walters State Community College for only 1 year. He would debut for the Princeton Rays in the Appalachian League and would finish the season 1.07 ERA 0.74 WHIP 10.84 K/9 across 33.2 innings in 9 starts.
In his first full season in professional baseball in 2015, Honeywell would establish himself, going 9-6 with a 3.18 ERA 1.05 WHIP 8.92 K/9 1.86 BB/9. He moved quickly through the lower ranks of the Rays system and was called up to AAA in 2017, where he represented the United States in the All-Star Futures Game. He would earn MVP Honors, striking out 4 batters in 2 innings. He would dominate his competition in AAA, finishing 12-8 with a 3.64 ERA 1.30 WHIP 11.10 K/9 2.26 BB/9.
He came into 2018 as a Top 100 Prospect in baseball and a potential summer call up, but his season was derailed when he injured his elbow in February and elected to have Tommy John surgery. The Rays will proceed with caution with their top pitching prospect, possibly seeing the majors in late summer after easing him back from Tommy John.
Brent Honeywell has a deep arsenal of plus pitches. His fastball projects as a plus offering, sitting in the low-to-mid 90s with late break, while his screwball projects to be a potential plus-plus pitch. His changeup has been a useful put-away pitch against lefties and projects as plus, while his slider has a ton of swing and miss potential and also projects as a plus pitch. He throws his slider down and in the zone and commands it well enough to get batters to chase. Did I also mention that he throws strikes? His control projects as plus and has never had a BB/9 above 2.77. He can throw all of his secondary offerings for strikes and can mix in all 5 of his pitches while setting up hitters and pounding the zone. He should be a front of the rotation starter with potential to develop into an SP1.
If you watch anything today, please watch his changeup 45 seconds into this video.
JESUS SANCHEZ, OF 6’3” 210 lb. Age 21
Hit: 60 | Power: 55 | Run: 55 | Arm: 55 | Field: 55 | Overall: 55
Jesus Sanchez signed with the Rays for $400,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2014. He would debut in the Dominican Summer League and fire right out of the gate, slashing .335/.382/.498 (.880 OPS) with 4 HR 36 R 35 RBI, which was good for a .412 wOBA and a 143 wRC+ in 269 plate appearances.
He was promoted in 2016 to Rookie Ball, seeing playing time in both the Appalachian League and the Gulf Coast League, where he would slash .329/.351/.549 (.900 OPS) with 7 HR 33 R 39 RBI in 226 plate appearances. He was promoted to A ball in 2017 and would continue his offensive barrage, hitting .305/.348/.478 (.826 OPS) with 15 HR 81 R 82 RBI in 512 plate appearances, which was good for a .369 wOBA and 130 wRC+.
He was promoted to Double-A in 2018 at 21 years old and was younger than most of his competition. This is also a huge vote of confidence from the Rays to promote him at only 21 because they have a track record of keeping their talent in the minors until they are ready. While he struggled in Double-A hitting only .214/.300/.327 (.627 OPS), he showed more patience at the plate by putting up a career-high 10% walk rate, even if it was in only 110 plate appearances.
Sanchez has the ability to hit for both average and power. He has a plus hit tool and should hit around .300 in the bigs. His power projects as plus and should add some as he grows into his athletic frame. He makes consistent hard contact and could hit 30-35 home runs in his prime. He doesn’t strike out much, which is evident with his sub 20% K rate, but he could elevate his game to new levels by learning to take walks and boost his walk percentage above 10%. He should spend most of 2019 in Double-A as the Rays outfield is pretty much set, but he could push their hand if he gets acclimated to Double-A pitching.
MATTHEW LIBERATORE, LHP 6’5” 200 lb. Age 19
Fastball: 55 | Curveball: 60 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 55 | Overall: 55
Matthew Liberatore shot up draft boards in 2017 ending his high school career on a high note, going 8-1 his senior season with a 0.93 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 60.1 IP (15.5 K/9) and was named Arizona’s Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year. He would also play in the Under Armor All-America Baseball Game and take home MVP Honors. He looked like he was going to be a top draft pick in 2018 after a strong summer and pitching for the US National Team against Korea. But concerns about being able to sign him away from a college commitment caused his draft stock to inflate and fell in the draft. He was selected 16th overall by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2018 MLB Draft.
Liberatore would debut in the Gulf Coast League, where he would finish 1-2 in 8 starts, with a 0.98 ERA 0.98 WHIP 10.41 K/9 3.6 BB/9 27.2 IP in 8 starts. He was quickly promoted to the Appalachian League, where he would only pitch in 1 game, allowing 3 Earned Runs in 5 innings, while striking out 5 (9.0 K/9).
His fastball projects to be a plus pitch in the future and sits in the low 90s and touches 95 mph at times. Liberatore’s curveball is a plus offering with elite whiff potential due to a good spin rate and a three quarter arm angle. He only began throwing a slider last spring, but it already projects as a plus pitch. Liberatore possesses 4 plus pitches, along with plus control and continues to throw all of his offerings for strikes. The Rays are excited about this kid and feel he could become a Top 5 pitching prospect in baseball.
BRENDAN MCKAY, LHP/1B 6’2” 212 lb Age 23
Fastball: 55 | Cutter: 55 | Curveball: 55 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 60 | Overall: 55
Hit: 55 | Power: 50 | Run: 30 | Arm: 60 | Field: 55 | Overall: 50
Brendan McKay was considered one of the best two-way players to ever come out of the collegiate ranks. He was named college baseball’s top player as a junior in 2017, going 11-3 with a 2.56 ERA and 146 strikeouts in 16 games. He would also hit .341 with 18 home runs and 57 RBIs. He was selected #4 overall by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2017 MLB Draft.
He would debut in the Florida State League in 2017, impressing his peers going 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA 0.75 WHIP 9.45 K/9 2.25 BB/9 across 20.0 innings in 6 starts. He was not as impressive with the bat, hitting .232/.349/.376 (.725 OPS) in 149 plate appearances. McKay would start 2018 off in rookie ball but would be promoted 2 other times to A and A+. He would finish the season 5-2 with a 2.41 ERA 0.88 WHIP 11.87 K/9 1.61 BB/9 across 78.1 innings in 19 games. He would continue to struggle with the bat, only hitting. 214/.368/.359 (.727 OPS) in 242 plate appearances. The Rays still intend to develop McKay as a two-way player, but if he doesn’t start to hit, he may have to focus on pitching full time.
McKay operates with 4 pitches, all of which he can throw for strikes and command the zone, indicated by his plus control. His fastball projects as a plus pitch and sits at 92-95 mph, while his curveball and cutter project as plus offerings as well. His changeup is average, but he is still developing the pitch and only introduced it late in his college career. “Everything he throws plays up because he has plus command and knows how to sequence his pitches.” But if his bat doesn’t wake up, the Rays may have to decide his future.
Check out the rest of our Top-5 Prospect Series | Toronto Blue Jays | Colorado Rockies | Minnesota Twins | Chicago Cubs | Texas Rangers | Atlanta Braves
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images