C – Ronaldo Hernandez – With the Orioles, Red Sox and Yankees OAS in the books, we move onto the Rays, and I believe (truth be told), that Tampa Bay, by far, houses the best prospects in the entire A.L. East. You name it they have it. And in my humble opinion it all starts with Hernandez. The 6’1”- 185 lb. Colombian added another stellar season to his minor league resume, batting .284 with 20 doubles and 10 stolen bases for LoA Bowling Green. However, it was his power surge that turned even the most skeptical heads. Hernandez blasted 21 home runs, 10 more than his previous three seasons combined, in his first season in full-season ball, all while logging a .990 fielding percentage and gunning down 57 percent of would-be base stealers. There is absolutely Nothing not to like about this kid. We know this is UTR, but when someone like Hernandez buries his organizational competition, it needs recognized.1B – Nate Lowe – Fans who follow our work here, we suspect, may also follow the likes of MLB Pipeline, Baseball Prospectus or Baseball America, just to name a few. These prospect websites make a living off of promoting the best that minor league baseball has to offer. However, our goal is to be the “voice of the voiceless” to coin the common phrase; and my choice of Nathaniel (or Nate) Lowe, some would say isn’t UTR. However, if you’ve been with us since our humble beginnings, you’d know that Lowe has been a UTR fixture since his debut season in 2016 with SS Hudson Valley of the New York-Penn League. Here’s what I had to say about Lowe in our 2016 UTR Organizational All-Star series. But interestingly, 2019 is the first time Lowe cracked the BA top prospect list (#9), and in 2018 Lowe came in at #13 on MLB Pipeline’s Tampa Bay Rays top 30. In three levels last year, Lowe combined to bat .330 with 32 doubles, 27 home runs and 102 RBi’s. A huge production jump from his previous two seasons. If you’re in a league where minors are prevalent, and you waited until the Big Three touted Lowe, welcome to late adoption. If you trusted us and follow open-minded judgement, then you’re way ahead of the curve. I’m not saying pedigree doesn’t mean anything. However, production is everything. Recognizing it at its earliest stages even if it’s from us little guys, is important. Especially when it’s deserved since the start. 2B – Vidal Brujan – Here we go again. Another case of a top prospect clearly outshining his competition in the race for UTR OAS supremacy. Brujan has been in the Tampa organization since 2015, but 2018 seemed to be sort of breakout party for the soon-to-be 21 year old. Over two levels, the switch-hitting Brujan rapped out 25 doubles, cracked 9 home runs and his blazing speed helped him steal 55 bases. Brujan also possesses a discerning eye at the plate walking 63 times to 68 strikeouts last season, and has a career 150:136 walk-to-K ratio. 3B – Amador Arias – It’s pretty cool to see a top prospect make any list, but Tampa Bay third baseman Arias puts us right back into the UTR wheelhouse. Sure I could have chosen 2017 – 6th rounder Zach Rutherford or former Rockie prospect Kevin Padlo, who seems like he’s been around since the Reagan administration, but, the 17-year-old Arias, pound-for-pound, had a better season. In a repeat of the DSL, Arias improved every facet of his game, leading the DSL2 squad in doubles and home runs, but most notably, Arias drew 28 more walks than he did in 2017, and registered one less strikeout (41) in 2018 than in 2017 (42), in 15 more games. SS – Abiezel Ramirez – I could have gone with Rays uber prospect Wander Franco here. After all, he fits the mold being that in his pro debut with Rookie Princeton he batted .351, led the APPY League with 85 hits, had 28 extra-base hits and logged 27 walks to 19 strikeouts, as a freaking 17-year-old. Franco is the Rays #1 prospect and deserves the attention, however, he overshadowed Ramirez, who in 2018 repeated the DSL, but like teammate Arias above, improved in nearly every stat category. Ramirez led the DSL2 roster in hits, triples and RBi. With the spotlight on Franco, Ramirez could be a great helium candidate if he pumps out the same production in 2019, possibly in the GCL or even Rookie Princeton than he did in 2018. LF – Moises Gomez – When a 19-year-old draws Marcell Ozuna comparisons, you should pay attention. Gomez has methodically ascended up the ranks since his debut in 2015 in the former Venezuelan Summer League. His 2018 season with LoA Bowling Green was a breakout, where he batted .280 and clubbed 34 doubles, four more than he did in his previous three seasons. I expect the 5’11”- 200 lb. righty to see HiA Charlotte in 2019 where he’ll be tested by the pitcher friendly Florida State League. CF – Daiwer Castellanos – Reaching deep into the UTR prospect box, Tampa Bay signed the Venezuelan teenager in April of 2018 and he was assigned to the DSL, where he posted more “One to Watch” numbers than OAS numbers I’ll admit. I could have chosen Josh Lowe and his huge doubles total, but a .238 batting average, 18 stolen bases and 117 strikeouts in 105 games didn’t measure up in a pound-for-pound frame of mind. Castellanos walked more than he struckout (18:15) and logged a .373 on-base percentage. He’s definitely is one to watch. RF – Jordan Qsar– Here’s another circumstance where I could have gone with another stud prospect. The current Baseball America #6 Rays prospect Jesus Sanchez can hit for average, has budding power and isn’t the huge strikeout guy that you’d expect from a prototypical right fielder. But I went with Qsar, a 2018 – 25th rounder out of Pepperdine, who saw two levels last season, starting with Rookie Princeton then an early-August promotion to SS Hudson Valley. He came to the Rays as a two-way player, batting .277, with 18 home runs and 110 RBis in his four year collegiate career. He also served as the the Pepperdine team closer notching nine saves in 18.3 innings. As a full-time hitter though, he’s actually improved as a pro, batting .350 and hit four less home runs (14) than he hit during his entire collegiate career. In fact, 48 percent of his hits this season went for extra bases, and he committed only one error in 113 total chances in the outfield. In other words, Qsar is the perfect under-the-radar prospect. He should/could start the 2019 season in LoA Bowling Green, and it’s not out of the question to see him reach HiA Charlotte before the end of the 2019 seasonTop 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. LHP Resly Linares – (15) / LoA Bowling Green
** The lanky left-hander had an outstanding 2018 season with Bowling Green. Linares just turned 21 back in December and still has plenty of developmental growth ahead, as well as adding strength to his projectable 6’2″ 170 lb frame. His fastball already ranges in the low 90’s and should see an uptick, for those reasons stated prior. He has an advanced curveball, but needs improvement on his change-up, and to provide more deception to his offerings. Linares was on my International Watch list after the 2015 season. That proved to be his only season in the DSL, as the Blue Jays brought Linares to the States and into the Appy League, where he enjoyed modest success with a 3.75 K/BB rate over 32 innings.
2. LHP Josh Fleming – (12.5) / HiA Charlotte
3. RHP Austin Franklin – (10) / LoA Bowling Green
4. LHP Brendan McKay – (9) / HiA Charlotte** Uber prospect McKay made more appearances (19) on the mound in 2018, than he did the previous season with only six starts. The rare prospect of lefty pitcher/first-baseman would make any top 10 list from either position. The scrappy 6’2″ 212 lb southpaw could have been in consideration for Marc’s list above, but declined at the plate in 242 plate appearances. He batted .214, but saw slight increases in SLG (.368) and OPS (.727) from his 2017 debut numbers. Now that he’s reached the advanced levels, it will be curious to see whether the Rays will allow McKay follow the Shohei Ohtani path.
5. RHP Tobias Myers – (9)/ LoA Bowling GreenTop 3 Relief Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Jose Disla– (11) / HiA Charlotte
2. RHP Phoenix Sanders – (8) / HiA Charlotte
3. RHP Orlando Romero – (4)/ HiA Charlotte