Top 5 Prospects for 2015: Tampa Bay Rays by Marc Hulet February 6, 2015 This 30-part series will look at the projected Top 5 freshmen contributors for each big league club for the year ahead. The rankings take into consideration a mixture of ceiling, readiness and potential playing time allocation, which is to say some players with lower ceilings may be ranked ahead of others with higher ceilings because they project to have a greater impact in the coming season. In a Nutshell: The Rays have some interesting names ready to challenge for permanent big league gigs, but their ceilings are fairly modest and there may not be a star player in the bunch. The Top 5 Freshmen for 2015 Steven Souza, OF: As the key return in the WIl Myers trade this past off-season, the Rays clearly value Souza as a potential impact player. However, the outfield prospect will turn 26 in April and has eight years of minor league experience under his belt as a late-bloomer. With that said, he’s shown the ability to hit for average, power and steal bases so it’s easy to understand the interest in his potential. He could have some 20-20 (HR-SB) seasons in his prime, but those years are just about upon him. Nate Karns, RHP: The Rays have one of the best young starting staffs in baseball but no staff is immune to the injury bug so Karns’ continued development could be key in helping the club stay out of the cellar in the AL East. Twenty-three at the time of his signing out of college in 2011, he’s no spring chicken for a prospect at 27 and he’s struggled with his control. However, he’s averaged almost 130 innings with about 150 strikeouts each of the past three seasons. Karns isn’t likely to challenge for the No. 1 or 2 slot in the rotation but he could comfortably settle in at the No. 4 or 5 slot and provide innings. Ryan Brett, 2B: The trade of Ben Zobrist opened up the keystone in Tampa Bay sooner than expected, although Nick Franklin should get first shot at the gig. If he falters the job could fall to Brett, a spark-plug-type player who might be well suited in the No. 2 hole in a starting lineup. He has an overly-aggressive approach at times that lends itself to low walk totals but he he hits for a solid average and has the wherewithal on the base paths to nab 20+ bags per season. Just don’t look for much pop from the 5-9, 160 pound infielder. Mikie Mahtook, OF: If Steven Souza stumbles, Mahtook could be the beneficiary of the Rays’ misfortune. There are questions over the latter prospect’s ultimate offensive ceiling but the former first round pick deserves a shot and is nearly MLB ready after spending all of 2014 in Triple-A. Mahtook produced an .820 OPS with 51 extra base hits but he also struck out 137 times with just 12 of those XBHs clearing the outfield fences. A right-handed hitter, he was significantly better against southpaws than right-handers last year. Matt Andriese, RHP: Who? This sturdy right-hander has moved swiftly through the minors after being selected in the third round of the 2011 draft by San Diego. He’s spent the last year and a half in Triple-A and is close to ready for The Show. He projects as an innings-eating No. 4 starter if left in his current role but he’s primarily a one-pitch pitcher with significant sink to his fastball. A move to the ‘pen, though, might help him find his true calling with the potential to eventually see late-inning work after apprenticing in the middle innings.