Tampa Bay Rays: Top 10 prospects

Catcher Justin O'Conner, the Rays' top prospect, must develop as a hitter but is adept defensively. Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports

Organization Ranking: 23

I've ranked every farm system, as well as the top 100 MLB prospects for 2015. Below, I've ranked at least the top 10 prospects for the Rays, plus an overview of the system and any other names of note beyond the top 10. I also discuss any prospects who might help the big league club in 2015, one or two prospects whose stock has taken a big hit in the past year, and a sleeper prospect who I think can jump into the main top-100 list for 2016.

Top 10 prospects

1. Justin O'Conner, C

2. Daniel Robertson, SS

3. Willy Adames, SS

4. Taylor Guerrieri, RHP

5. Stephen Souza, OF

6. Nate Karns, RHP

7. Nick Ciuffo, C

8. Hak-Ju Lee, SS

9. Brent Honeywell, RHP

10. Casey Gillaspie, 1B


Adames and Souza are both interesting cases as the primary returns in two major trades, and in both cases the Rays have more optimistic forecasts for the players than the rest of the industry. If you like Adames, you're hoping he is comparable to Jhonny Peralta, an offensive shortstop with power who is good enough to handle shortstop, even though he won't necessarily win any awards for style. He handled low Class A very well as the Midwest League's second-youngest position player, with a high-leverage swing that looks like it'll produce more home runs as he gets older. He has the arm and hands for short, but the body is atypical for the position, and as a fringy runner, he'll need to improve his footwork to have even average range there. The bat should profile well at second or third, especially given how well he fared against much older competition in 2014, assuming that power comes. Souza was the main return for Wil Myers, a major league-ready outfielder who has the size (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) for a power hitter but the short, quick swing of a contact guy; I think he's a 40-double, 15-homer hitter when he peaks, unless he changes his swing to be more rotational and get more loft in his finish. He's an average runner with good instincts on the bases. He's also nearly two years older than Myers and just reached the majors for the first time in September. He might match Myers' production right now but doesn't have Myers' upside, and the probability that the next six years of Souza's time are worth more than the next five of Myers' is low.

Karns' first year in Triple-A didn't go quite as well as expected, although his stuff is intact and he continues to miss bats with the mid-90s fastball and plus curveball; he struggled to stay in his delivery when working from the stretch, costing him command and leading to a lot of one-bad-inning outings.

Guerrieri was a top-100 prospect before he blew out his elbow; his rehab went slowly this year and the Rays had to shut him down when he came up a bit sore, although they remain optimistic he'll return to 100 percent. Ciuffo was at the end of my top 100 last year but a serious stomach ailment wrecked his 2014 season, robbing him of much of his strength; he did throw out 48 percent of runners, and his receiving has always been plus, but he crossed up his feet too often and needs to clean that up. Lee broke his ankle early in 2013, right before a likely call-up to the majors, and didn't look like his old self at all in 2014. Speed was an integral part of his game on both sides of the ball, and if he's lost that to the fracture, then he's probably just an up-and-down guy. Honeywell was their fourth-round pick out of a Tennessee junior college, a screwballer who showed better stuff (beyond the screwball) in pro ball, 90-94 mph with an above-average changeup, with much better command and control than he'd shown in the spring, when most area scouts weren't on him in the round where Tampa Bay selected him. Gillaspie was their first-rounder, 20th overall, a reach for me given the profile of a first base-only college bat who has the strength for power but doesn't use his lower half at all -- similar to brother Conor but with better makeup.

The Rays added two prospects from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Jeremy Hellickson trade -- infielder Andrew Velazquez (12) and outfielder Justin Williams (15). Velazquez will probably end up at second base with a chance to be a regular because he has a great eye, short swing and plus speed. Williams' huge, raw power hasn't shown up in games yet, but he's been a much better hitter for average in pro ball than I would have guessed based on his all-out swing and approach in high school. Ryan Brett (14) also has a short, direct swing and good feel to hit, but it's an empty batting average and I don't think he has the speed or glove to be an everyday player. Adrian Rondon (13) signed for $2.95 million in July; the Dominican shortstop has a simple, line drive-oriented swing, and the Rays felt his approach and ability to pick up spin was very advanced for a 16-year-old. Former first-rounder Mikey Mahtook (16) hasn't regained the power he showed in his draft year but should have a nice career as a fourth outfielder.

2015 impact

Souza is penciled in as the everyday right fielder, taking over Myers' spot. Karns should be their No. 5 starter on Opening Day. Lefty Enny Romero (18) has been a starter throughout his minor league career, but his future is in the bullpen and he could help the Rays there as the primary lefty setup man. Burch Smith, acquired in the Myers trade, could also surface as a middle reliever or spot starter.

The fallen

Richie Shaffer (17) was their first-round pick in 2012, a fringy third baseman with tremendous bat speed that led to hard contact and power, but he's never reproduced that in pro ball, hitting .222/.318/.440 in Double-A last year. He did hit .295/.415/.632 from July 31st onward after some slight adjustments in his approach, if you're looking for reasons to stay optimistic.


Lefty Blake Snell (11) has been a slow developer, but as his body has filled out, he's gone from the upper 80s to 90-95 mph to sitting 95 by the end of 2014, with a plus changeup. His command still isn't close to average, but it has improved significantly over the past two years, and if he's done growing he should be able to throw more and better strikes once he's used to his new size.