The Tampa Bay Rays have something brewing within their farm system.
With the team currently in rebuild mode, the Rays have quietly built up one of the better farm systems in the league, which is currently led by infielder Willy Adames and right-handed pitcher Brent Honeywell. However, the acquisition of right-handed starter Jose De Leon in the Logan Forsythe trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers helps solidify their status as a top ten farm system, giving them considerable attention for years to come.
The acquisition of De Leon also means that the Rays' rotation could be fearsome in just a matter of time. With Blake Snell and Brent Honeywell projected to be front-line starters, De Leon helps create a potentially lethal three-headed monster at the front of the team's future rotation, only if current starters Chris Archer and Alex Cobb are shipped off within the coming seasons. But what could the back end of the team's rotation be if Snell, Honeywell, and De Leon were the front three?
The Rays have a load of pitching depth that could fare well in the future, and many of those are currently within the top two minor league levels in the organization, Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham. Which prospects could fill in the back of that rotation?
We will start with the front of the rotation with rookie sensation Blake Snell.
Snell made his debut against the New York Yankees on April 23rd of last season, dealing six quality innings and taking a no decision. Over 19 starts, Snell posted a 6-8 record and a quality 3.54 ERA with a 3.39 FIP alongside. He also struck out 98 batters across 89 innings of work, but walked 51 batters. However, Snell has always had a walk issue throughout his career, with a career minor-league BB/9 ratio of 4.4. Snell's arsenal consists of one of the best left-handed curveballs in the game, as well as a fastball that consistently hits 94 MPH, which is accompanied by a changeup and a slider.
Next up is Brent Honeywell, who spent the 2016 season between Single-A Advanced Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery. Honeywell is not expected to debut until late in the 2017 season, but he has quickly risen up the ranks in the Rays' organization.
Honeywell pitched to a 7-3 record and a 2.34 ERA across 20 starts, 10 starts between Charlotte and Montgomery equally, striking out 117 batters across nearly 116 innings and walking just 25. Honeywell has excellent command of his pitches, which includes a fastball that can reach 96 MPH, a changeup, a cutter, a curveball, a slider, and a screwball. Honeywell is the only known screwball pitcher in the minors, making him a special prospect.
Following Honeywell would be the newly-acquired Jose De Leon, who made his debut for the Dodgers on September 4th.
In 4 starts at the major league level, De Leon pitched to a 2-0 record and a 6.35 ERA. However, that's just a small sample size. When looking at De Leon's minor league numbers, you will find a future ace, as De Leon pitched to a 23-13 record and a 3.35 ERA across four minor league seasons. Even more impressive, De Leon struck out 446 batters across nearly 331 innings and walked only 99. Impressive, correct?
Unlike Snell and Honeywell, De Leon's fastball sits around league average at 92 MPH, but he boasts an impressive changeup, as well as a slider and a curveball. De Leon could start the 2017 season with Triple-A Durham before joining the Rays in May or June.
Outside of those three, the last two rotation spots are a massive puzzle, mainly due to the Rays impressive pitching depth. Starters Jacob Faria and Jaime Schultz, both at Triple-A Durham, look impressive on paper, but Faria will have a better shot at the rotation's 4th spot due to Schultz's below average control, which likens him to the bullpen rather than a rotation spot. The Rays could continue developing Schultz as a starter as his walk rate decreased in 2016, but a future as a setup man or middle reliever is more likely.
Faria, Tampa's ninth-ranked prospect, quickly rose to attention with a 2015 season that featured a 17-4 record with a 1.92 ERA across 23 starts and 2 bullpen appearances. However, in 2016, Faria fell back down to earth, posting a 5-10 record with a 3.99 ERA, but had a nice bounce-back with the Durham Bulls after a disastrous start. Faria's arsenal consists of a fastball that can touch 95 MPH, a 12-6 curveball, and a above average changeup.
As for the fifth and final spot, the puzzle becomes even more complicated. The Rays farm system lacks left-handed pitching, with Genesis Cabrera and Ryan Yarbrough being the only notable southpaws in the organization. However, in order to keep balance between left-handed and right-handed starters, Ryan Yarbrough takes the final rotation spot.
Yarbrough was part of the Mallex Smith package that saw Drew Smyly become a Seattle Mariner. Yarbrough spent 2016 at Double-A Jackson and in 25 starts, Yarbrough impressed as he pitched to a 12-4 record and a 2.95 ERA, including pitching a complete game shutout. Yarbrough is known for his extremely good command, as he boasts a 2.0 BB/9 minor league ratio. He is also known for being a decent ground-ball pitcher, mainly in part to a changeup to accompanies a fastball that can touch 93 MPH and a slurvy breaking ball that he can throw for strikes.
It is still too early to tell what happens within the Rays organization in the coming years, but if the rebuilding trend continues, there's a chance that the future rotation can get even stronger. The potential three-headed beast of Snell, Honeywell, and De Leon is still an easy prediction to come by, but the back end of a future rotation without Archer and Cobb still looks complex. Either way, the Rays still have enough depth to fill out those spots, as well as good enough arms to potentially have a shutdown bullpen with the likes of the aforementioned Schultz, Brandon Koch, and potential closer Ryne Stanek.