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Rays look beyond 2015 for success

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Barring epic collapses by multiple teams, the Tampa Bay Rays will not be going to the post season. The loss of front-line talent and injuries kept them from making a serious run. They had some ups and downs, but received a steady hand from first-year manager Kevin Cash.

Some help appears to be on the way. According to MLB.com, the Rays have five of the top 100 prospects in professional baseball. There is likely even more talent to be developed.

Willy Adames, a shortstop from the Dominican Republic, is the Rays’ top prospect. He started the year ranked 77th overall, but finished at number 39 as he helped lead the Class A Charlotte Stone Crabs to the Florida State League Championship. Scouts like his strong arm. Adames came to the Rays from Detroit as part of last year’s David Price trade.

Blake Snell is the Rays’ second overall and their top pitching prospect in addition to MLB’s sixth-rated left-handed pitcher. Snell was chosen Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America. He pitched in Class A and Double A before finishing at Triple A Durham this season. Snell went a combined 15-4 with a 1.41 earned run average this year. His low-to-mid 90s fastball helped him strike out 163 in 134 innings.

Brent Honeywell is a six-foot, two-inch right-handed pitcher who went 9-6 with a 3.18 earned run average for two Class A farm clubs, including the Stone Crabs. He struck out 129 while walking only 27. Only 20 years old, his fastball velocity is increasing (mid 90s) as he matures. Honeywell is Tampa Bay’s third-highest prospect and is ranked 52nd by MLB.

Garrett Whitley is an 18-year-old fleet centerfielder from Upstate New York. Whitley just finished his first year in professional baseball, playing at the short season Class A level. Scouts say the Rays’ first-round pick in 2015 “has an advanced approach at the plate” with an outstanding arm in the field. He is MLB’s 72nd ranked prospect.

The Rays’ fifth-best prospect and 84th by MLB is shortstop Daniel Robertson. Robertson played in 78 games for the Class Double A Montgomery (Alabama) Biscuits. He hit .274 with 20 doubles and 41 runs batted in. Scouts say it is possible Robertson switches to second or third base as he progresses, but is a good fielder and will hit well. A former first-round draft pick, he came to Tampa Bay earlier this year from Oakland as part of the Ben Zobrist trade.

Injuries happen and small market teams like the Rays must draft well, develop well and trade well to stay competitive. It is hard to replace a Price or a Zobrist, but it appears some reinforcements are on the farm.

Tampa Bay is better stocked than some of its opponents in the American League’s Eastern Division. Baltimore and Toronto have two of the top 100, the Yankees have three and Boston has the second-most with six. The Colorado Rockies have seven top 100 prospects.

It is possible that not all of Rays’ top five will pan out, but often a low-round draft choice or a “throw in” on a trade develops into a player that surprises nearly everyone.

Two or three more of the latter would be welcomed by Cash, Rays’ management and the fans.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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