Rays Prospect Primer: De Leon joins arms race

New acquisition brings Major League stuff to pitching-rich system

Jose De Leon has racked up 446 strikeouts over 330 2/3 innings in four Minor League seasons. (David Goldman/AP)

By Alex Kraft / MiLB.com | March 30, 2017 10:15 AM

Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2017 season approaching, MiLB.com takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.

Major League-ready: Jose De Leon, RHP

The Rays already had a great complement of arms in the Minor Leagues when they acquired De Leon, MLB.com's No. 33 overall prospect, in a January swap with the Dodgers for infielder Logan Forsythe. Pairing him with top pitching prospect Brent Honeywell gives Tampa Bay a pretty stellar one-two punch to dream on. De Leon is the more advanced of the two, having spent most of last season with Triple-A Oklahoma City. The right-hander made his big league debut in September, though he was lit up for a 6.35 ERA over 17 innings in four starts. With the Rays, De Leon will start off in Triple-A with Durham, but could return to The Show later in the season if he matches the 2.61 ERA and 111 strikeouts he posted in 86 1/3 innings at that level last season.

"We're expecting to get a very competitive pitcher, as you see with his track record through his Minor League career," said Mitch Lukevics, Tampa Bay's director of Minor League operations. "He's been very successful. We're counting on him to be good. He's going to get some time in Durham to refine what he needs to refine to be a very good Major League pitcher."

Shining star: Willy Adames, SS

It is a golden age for talented young shortstops, and the Rays have one in Adames. The right-handed hitter out of the Dominican Republic ranks as the sixth-best shortstop prospect after amassing career highs with a .274 average, 31 doubles, 11 homers and 13 steals in 132 games for Double-A Montgomery. Adames has always possessed a stellar glove, but his offensive game has caught up since he was traded from Detroit in 2014 for David Price. He will get the chance to continue that progress in the International League, where the 21-year-old will be one of the youngest players on the circuit.

"He'll get more reps there as he works toward his ultimate goal, that being the Major Leagues," Lukevics said. "The league is going to play up for him. It's going to be faster. He's going to have to make those adjustments with the game being quicker for him. I think there will be a learning curve there, and then he'll catch up and be right where he needs to be and show his skills."

Video: Adames hits go-ahead shot for Biscuits

Breakout prospect: Jesus Sanchez, OF

Tampa Bay signed Sanchez out of the Dominican Republic in 2015. He made his stateside debut last season, compiling a .329/.351/.549 batting line over 56 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and Appalachian League. Gifted with a set of tools that receive above-average grades on MLB Pipeline's 20-80 scale and with a maturity that belies his young age, the 19-year-old could garner plenty of attention when he makes the jump to Class A Bowling Green this summer.

"You never know when a young boy comes over from Latin America how he will fit in. New culture, new environment, new everything," Lukevics said. "He handled himself really well off the field, as you can see how well he handled himself on the field. ... He's right where we need him to be. He's really gotten acclimated to the United States well."

At the crossroads: Garrett Whitley, OF

Taken 13th overall in the 2015 Draft, Whitley's first Minor League season went rather poorly. The New York native batted .174 with just nine extra-base hits in 42 games between the Gulf Coast League and Class A Short Season Hudson Valley. He righted the ship a bit after returning to the Renegades in 2016, when he hit .266 and stole 21 bases in 65 games.

Still just 20 years old, Whitley has plenty of time to get on track. Yet the tools that prompted the Rays to nab him in the first round suggest he is capable of more. Part of the problem, according to Lukevics, has been a lack of experience. Whitley's cold-weather home in upstate New York initially set him back, with shorter summers affording him less preparation time. He injured his hamstring in Spring Training last year, delaying the start of his season until mid-June. With a full slate of games in the Midwest League, Lukevics believes Whitley's talent will begin to shine through.

"He's getting acclimated," Lukevics said. "I keep saying this time and time again that he comes from a cold-weather climate. When he started here, he was behind. No question about it. What we're looking forward to is for him to catch up. You look at his first year, he didn't hit real well in the Gulf Coast League, but neither did Derek Jeter. Not that I'm going to compare him to Derek Jeter, that's not fair. However, he ended up competing well for our Hudson Valley club. He'll be with our Bowling Green club and he's going to be league-age at 20 this year. He's right where he should be."

Loudest tool: Jake Fraley, OF

Fraley joined Whitley in Hudson Valley's outfield last season and proceeded to wreak havoc on the basepaths. The 21-year-old racked up a New York-Penn League-high 33 steals in 55 games after Tampa Bay snatched him with the No. 77 pick in the Draft. Fraley's other numbers don't jump off the page -- .238 average, nine doubles, one homer, 18 RBIs -- but his 70-grade speed and plus defensive skills still stood out.

"He has skill," Lukevics said. "That's what it comes down to. He's one of those sandwich picks coming from a really good college program at LSU. I'm sure by his standards he didn't hit as well as he would like by normal batting average and on-base percentage, but this young guy has skill. He's a really good defender, he can throw well and he runs really well."

Though Fraley's destination for 2017 has yet to be decided, there is a chance his speed and advanced college bat could land him in Class A Advanced Charlotte.

Others to keep an eye on: Honeywell dominated in the Minors last season with a 7-3 record, 2.34 ERA and 117 strikeouts over 115 1/3 frames between Charlotte and Montgomery. The 21-year-old's deep arsenal and advanced control should have fans salivating. ... Casey Gillaspie could get a look in the big leagues at some point this year. The power-hitting first baseman established career highs in average (.284), homers (18) and RBIs (64) with Montgomery and Durham in 2016. ... It might be worth keeping tabs on Lucius Fox. The 19-year-old shortstop acquired from the Giants in last year's Matt Moore deal was shut down for the season with a foot injury shortly after arriving, but touts a solid glove and tons of speed when healthy.

Alex Kraft is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and chat with him on Twitter @Alex_Kraft21. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

View More