A Minor Review of 2018: Tampa Bay Rays

Welcome back to my annual off-season series that has a quick-and-dirty review of all 30 minor league systems around baseball. This feature began way back in 2008.

The Tampa Bay Rays

If you were perusing the series in 2015 you would have read this:

The Graduate: Blake Snell (LHP): Control has been Snell’s nemesis throughout his career — save for 2015 — and it came back to haunt him during his MLB debut in 2016. His 3.54 ERA was impressive — and speaks to his raw potential — when you consider his walk rate of more than five batters per nine innings. He’ll also need to better leverage his 6-4 frame to generate more ground balls after being an extreme-fly-ball pitcher in the AL East. Still, Snell succeeds by missing a lot of bats and his struck out almost 10 batters per nine innings in his freshman season. With improved command of his low-to-mis-90s fastball and slider, the young hurler could eventually develop four average or better offerings (He also has a curveball and changeup).

Now on to the new stuff:

First Taste of The Show: Willy Adames, SS: The young shortstop made his highly-anticipated debut in 2018 and performed well — especially given he was just 22. With that said, there is room for improvement after he struck out at a 29% clip. Swing-and-miss has always been a part of his game but he has raw power to tap into and offsets the Ks, to a degree, with a healthy dose of walks, which inflates his on-base numbers. There is 20-homer potential here but he’ll need to get more consistent loft after hitting 52% of his balls on the ground during his debut. Defensively, Adames is expected to move off shortstop and his debut did nothing to quiet the concerns about his fielding.

The Draft Pick: Matthew Liberatore, LHP: The Rays can pretty much work wonders with any prospect and squeeze the best out of them. Liberatore was already one of the best amateur arms available in 2018 so it will be fun to see what they can do with this young southpaw — who just might be Blake Snell 2.0. Liberatore, 19, has a deep repertoire with the chance for all to be above-average, and three of the offerings receive future plus grades. He showed good stuff in his debut and struck out more than a batter per inning. He has a strong understanding of pitching for his age and could really take off once he polishes his command and control.

The Draft Pick: Shane McClanahan, LHP: McClanahan falling to the Rays with the 31st pick could end up being a huge steal once their player development team gets a hold of him. The 21-year-old southpaw can dial his heater up into the triple digits but he also struggles mightily with his command and control. He throws with a low 3/4 arm slot that has an extreme whip to it. But it also hides the ball well from the batter and makes him even harder to hit. He’s already had Tommy John surgery so there is some durability concern. He might make an excellent “opener” for the Rays if he doesn’t polish his skills well enough to develop into a front-line arm.

The Riser: Wander Franco, SS: Franco is the most likely prospect in the minors to get close to being the next Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — The Rays prospect is incredibly advanced for his age and a natural hitter with plus raw power. Just 17, he posted a BB-K rate of 27-19 in 61 advanced rookie ball games. Although he’ll be just 18 when spring training ends, he’s likely headed for full-season ball unless he comes to spring out of shape and/or completely falls on his face.

The Fallen: Adrian Rondon, SS: Signed for almost $3 million on the international free agent market in 2014, Rondon represents one of the rare “swing and misses” for the organization. From the moment he stepped into the batter’s box as a pro, he showed a below-average feel for hitting despite some glowing scouting reports. He has a career batting average of .206 and finished last year at .182. After two failed attempts to play at the full-season ball level, 2019 likely represents Rondon’s final chance even though he’s only 20 years old.

The 2019 Contributor: Colin Poche, LHP: This southpaw has absolutely dominated pro ball and has a 1.47 ERA in three years. Last year, he finished at 0.82 over 66 innings at three levels — including 50 innings in triple-A. Watching his throw from the sidelines, he doesn’t look like anything special. The fastball is low-90s, the breaking ball is OK but not plus. Poche works up and down in the strike zone well, has a high arm slot and hitters just don’t pick up the ball out of his hand. Jeff wrote a great in-depth piece on Poche in mid-2018.

The 2019 Sleeper: Vidal Brujan, 2B: This might be the year that Brujan becomes more of a known commodity. The speedy middle infielder stole 55 bases in 2018 and has the offensive approach to match. He makes a ton of contact and also has a keen eye and patient approach that allows him to get on base at a high clip. He also has a natural feel for hitting and puts a lot of balls in play, which is what you want to see from someone that can create havoc with his legs. He doesn’t have the strongest arm but he has the athleticism and speed to play at second base or in the outfield.

The 2019 Sleeper: Moises Gomez, OF: This powerful outfielder and his team Ronaldo Hernandez, who you read about in this series last year, were among the top four hitters in the Midwest League in homers last year in a league that doesn’t see much in the way of big-time power. And Gomez was second in the league in slugging percentage. The 20-year-old outfielder has a lot of swing-and-miss to his game, too, and needs to sharpen his approach at the plate. He posted a troubling BB-K of 34-137 and needs to understand he doesn’t need to sell out for power given his raw pop. There may always be strikeouts here, though, because he has a long swing. Gomez set up at the plate reminds me a bit of Edwin Encarnacion (minus the switch-hitting ability).

The 2019 Lottery Ticket: Resly Linares, LHP: I kind of feel like I’m watching a high school game when Linares is pitching. He has a very thin frame — but can still hit the low 90s. There is projection here — he’s extremely athletic — and with added muscle he should be able to keep in the low to mid 90s more consistently. He flashes an above-average curveball but he alters his arm slot/motion when he throws his breaking ball — and that’s something more advanced hitters will pick up. He’ll likely move up to high-A ball in 2019 and look to hit the 100-inning mark for the first time.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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