Yesterday, at my daughter’s suggestion, we drew our butts, my daughter and me, by which I mean we outlined our forms in chalk as we sat–kind of like making a hand turkey during Thanksgiving week at preschool. 

It’s raining today as I write this, so our butts will soon be gone. Washed away forever. 

Good thing I took some photos.

That alone makes our day drawing butts more productive than a whole week of MLB’s winter meetings, where Lowe was the high point. Very 2020.  

Let’s do the prospect thing. 

 

Format: Position Player | Age on 4/1/2021 | Highest level played | ETA

1. SS Wander Franco | 20 | A+ | 2021

Production stalled on Marvel’s Wandervision: Winter League Edition when the man himself came up with an injured shoulder/elbow/nothing to worry about according to the Rays. In the series, Franco inherits the prospect mindstone from Vlad the Impaler and seeks to protect the future of Tampa Bay.

What can I tell you about Wander that you don’t already know?

You might already know he hits a lot of ground balls and might run into some of the same launch angle issues facing Vlad these days. You might also know his body type is rare. Weird, even. He’s wide. But so was Trout. But that’s kind of the bet here: that Wander keeps his speed due to being a freak athlete. Almost everyone his thickness loses the wheels with age. Not great running backs though, and that’s a better physical comp for Mike Trout than most baseball players I can think of, and the same might be true of Franco, who’s best attribute is that he very rarely strikes out (or even misses on a swing). This is helpful for baseball. 

 

2. OF Randy Arozarena | 26 | MLB | 2019

If you didn’t see the rose bloom this fall, I should tell you it was a beautiful thing, filled with home runs and base hits and general awesomeness as he carried Tampa’s offense to the World Series. I can’t really comment on what’s happened since then. I mean I’ve read more than I needed to about his encounter with the mother of his child and her father. 

He’s clear in the eyes of the law, but MLB still might take some games away. The cold equations for our purposes are that Arozarena is more likely to stay good than stop being good, on the field. And maybe much better than good. It’s no stretch to say he’s got the look–and statcast profile–of a five-category fantasy superstar. 

 

3. 2B Vidal Brujan | 23 | AA | 2021

Here’s what I wrote about Vidal last September in an article titled Season of the Brujan:

“Last speed thought of the day: Tampa Bay 2B Vidal Brujan will run wild against the league’s premium catching talent and should be owned in pretty much all keeper leagues where steals matter. With a strong Fall League performance, he’ll elbow his way into my top five overall prospects. It’s rare enough for a 40-steal player to enter our game. Even rarer to find one who hits enough to earn himself regular playing time. Rarer still to find one who speaks five languages.

I mention this last piece because language learning requires the same determination needed for the grind of baseball. You’re going to make mistakes. Might look like an idiot. Might often feel dumb. But you have to keep putting yourself out there. And as long as you stay positive and focus on the long term, you can improve a little bit every day. In 2014, Tampa signed Brujan out of the Dominican Republic for $15,000. He was illiterate at the time. Now: five languages.

Brujan is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this December, so he’ll be on the Rays’ 40-man roster when next season starts. Just a phone call away in Triple A. He’s within reach of the dream he shared with his father, who died in early 2018. As he explained to MLB.com’s Juan Toribio this Spring: ‘I promised my dad that I was going to get to the big leagues in either 2019 or 2020. It’s a moment I’ve been dreaming of. I won’t be content with anything until I get up to the big leagues.’”

Only thing different now is we’ve been living in Pandemic World for a long time, so Brujan didn’t play in AAA but did spend all season at the training site and has been making headlines for his winter ball play these past few weeks. 

 

4. C 1B OF Heriberto Hernandez

The newest member of the Rays top prospect list is a brilliant fit for his surroundings. Tampa has organizational vision on par with any group in the game. Hernandez faces a crossroads of sorts as a plus-sized plus athlete without enough present defensive acumen to keep up with the development of his bat, which has elite potential by any measure or metric known to baseball. I think a huge majority of scouts to see him would report the same. The bare necessities of Heriberto’s swing are just better than those of departing fantasy lust pot Nate Lowe, who’s been a shade too slow so far in a too-small sample. Whereas Lowe is a lanky lefty with a slow coil, Heriberto’s hips and hands are a centrifuge built to channel menacing, chaotic force through a baseball bat. 

 

5. LHP Brendan McKay | 25 | MLB | 2019

A two-way player throughout his baseball life, McKay entered 2020 intent on pitching, and I was optimistic about the potential rewards of such a focus. 10,000 hours and whatnot. His body disagreed. Or malfunctioned. Yeah, malfunctioned. It’s not sentient, right? I could stop my fingers any moment. I’m not just along for the ride here, victim to my habits and routines and malfunctions. 

Anyway, pitching is hard. As is health keeping. McKay hadn’t failed much in his baseball life, having absolutely cruised through the minors after dominating in college. He’s got plus command of a four-pitch arsenal when he’s on, but August shoulder surgery invites real questions about when that might happen again.

My thought is he didn’t throw the change enough (3.8 %) and threw the fastball way too much (57.2 %), which is how you pitch when you’re the cock of the walk and always have been. The cutter could come up from 12.9 percent, as could the curve from 26.2 percent. I think the cutter is his best pitch right now in games, but he’s not as great at commanding it as he’d like because it’s got such life. 

 

6. SS Xavier Edwards | 21 | A+ | 2022

I’m not sure Edwards is fast enough to outrun the shadow of slapdick, but he is an 80 runner who’d be extremely fun to watch, particularly in person. I suspect he could play literally anywhere on the field, assuming he adds a tick or arm strength or can make up for it with foot speed and footwork like Chone Figgins or David Eckstein. If the minor league reshuffle landed a Rays affiliate anywhere near you, watching this guy fly in person would be a fine way to celebrate a vaccine or whatever. He doesn’t turn on the ball often enough and doesn’t lift or drive the ball enough, but Tampa is good at teaching that, so I’m eager to see how he looks when baseball comes back. 

 

7. SS Greg Jones | 23 | A- | 2023

Wasn’t Greg Jones one of the original (Devil) Rays

Wait, no. That was Greg Vaughn. Fun stuff, that memory. Dug those uniforms. But as the old saying goes, the better the uniforms, the worse the team.

That’s not a saying. I made that up.

Jones was the 22nd overall pick in 2019 due in no small part to his 80-grade speed and the club’s desire to employ a traveling track team during winter to supplement the franchise’s income. He splashed a little in the 2018 Cape Cod League as a freshman, carrying a nice .374 OBP using a wooden bat against solid pitching. He also stole 20 bases in 37 games there and got caught just thrice. 

In his sophomore (and final) season at UNC Wilmington in 2019, Jones stole 42 bases in 63 games and slashed .341/.491/.543. He brought that success to the New York Penn League with him, slashing .335/.413/.461 in 48 games after the Rays drafted him and swiping 19 bases in 27 attempts in his first crack at professional batteries. 

He makes an outstanding target in dynasty leagues right now because he’s down on this list and blocked a million ways from Sunday, but he’s also working with an excellent development team and brings a drool-inducing skill set for fantasy. 

 

8. RHP Joe Ryan | 24 | AA | 2021

I have high hopes for Joe Ryan, another dynasty trade target if you can get a decent price. His 30+ K-BB percentage across three levels in 2019 was pretty loud, but some of the clamor might’ve died down since Ryan was kept under training site wraps for all of 2020. His best trait is a true-spin four-seamer he can command across the zone, and that’s a great base from which to build an arsenal in today’s game. Tampa coaches have praised Ryan for his aptitude for new pitches and approaches, particularly his feel for spin. I get giddy just thinking about it. 

 

9. OF Josh Lowe | 23 | AA | 2022

On just about any other team, we’d be wondering if Josh Lowe could crack fantasy outfields even in redraft leagues. He’ll be 23 this year and posted a 128 wRC+ in AA last we saw him, stealing 30 bases and hitting 18 home runs 121 games. He’s a 6’4” 205 lb plus athlete who Tampa took 13th overall out of high school in the 2016 draft. Another solid buy in most dynasty keeper leagues given that his value is that of a throw in, while the upside is much higher than that if he can somehow create an opportunity for himself. And hey, there’s some unused Lowe jerseys lying around somewhere. Might be good for the budget-brainers to low-key change your number to 35 (Nate Lowe’s jersey number until this week, and Brandon Lowe’s before that I shizz you not).

 

10. SS Alejandro Pie | 19 | R | 

This spot could go to some 18,000 applicants, but today I am hungry; thus, this slice of the rankings belongs to Pie, a 6’4” 175 lb plus athlete who looks like he could play any sport. Honeywell was edged out because Pie tastes better and because Bees. 

Pie could open 2021 in full-season ball somewhere. If he hits enough as a 19-year-old to flash his considerable physical talents, his stock will soar, giving him the edge here over the bevy arms like Shanes, McClanahan and Baz, as well as Seth Johnson and Nick Bitsko. 

Thanks for reading.

I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.

 
  1. Fenway Faithful says:
    (link)

    Hey Itch,

    I love the list and the aggressive ranking for Pie. I follow your posts closely because you’re often ahead of the industry. Thanks so much for all your help.

    I’ve got a question about a deeper Rays prospect…wondered your thoughts, if any, on Nick Schnell? Does he have any potential to be an impact player or someone that I should cut bait with in a deeper dynasty league (24 teams, keep 20). As always, thanks for your insight. Happy holidays!

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
      (link)

      Thanks for the kind words, Fenway Faithful!

      Good call, Schnell’s a smart play in a league that size.

      Plus speed and power in an org this smart kind of always makes sense, in my opinion, but they’re also in invested in Schnell (32nd overall pick out of high school in 2018), so that buys him plenty of opportunity to improve, which is nice.

  2. Player X says:
    (link)

    Geat stuff!

    How would you compare Shane McClanahan, Shane Baz and Josh Fleming? Should all have a shot at in the rotation next year?

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
      (link)

      Thanks, Player X!

      Fleming definitely.

      Baz and McClanahan both seem like better fits in the bullpen.

  3. Smitty says:
    (link)

    TB has a treasure chest ready to roll. Picking up Heriberto was another swipe that will pay off big time. This unrivaled organization has done the best job compiling young talent and their payroll management should be a model for other clubs to follow. Seem to always have the pieces to put into place when needed. Very high on the top 4, obvious top talent, but concur with Joe Ryan being a guy who could be the next stud SP. Thanks Itch! You’re on top of your game

  4. Harley Earl says:
    (link)

    Itch!!!!!!!!!!!

    How long before Brujan gets the call in 2021? Or does he get the call at all?

  5. Dan says:
    (link)

    In a 30 team, H2h, Points dynasty league that is built around real life MLB contracts. I asked another team about Tyler Mahle and he inquired about Aaron Bracho and a second player in return.

    My pitching staff is pretty solid: Darvish, Ryu, Greinke, Skubal, Houser — but I will lose Greinke next year, so hoping to find a solid arm to keep my contention window open longer.

    Starting 2b is L. Arraez

    I’m fairly high on Bracho and have read you are too. Would using him to get an arm like Mahle seem reasonable, or selling low?

    I can give more info if needed but trying to keep it short :)

Comments are closed.