This offseason, MiLB.com is taking a look at the most outstanding campaigns by players in each system across Minor League Baseball and honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization.Life as a small-market club isn't easy. While teams with
This offseason, MiLB.com is taking a look at the most outstanding campaigns by players in each system across Minor League Baseball and honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization.
Life as a small-market club isn't easy. While teams with fatter wallets are able to fill holes by splashing cash in the free agent market, clubs like Tampa Bay need to build winners from within. And that starts with astute player development and scouting. While the big league team continues its climb back into contention in the American League East, the Rays are set up nicely on the farm.
Tampa Bay boasts three of MLB Pipeline's top-20 prospects and six players among the top-100. While some, like top prospectBrent Honeywell Jr. and 2017 first-rounder Brendan McKay were high Draft picks, others like Jesús Sánchez were signed, thanks to adept international scouting.
That's why seeing the Durham Bulls win the Triple-A National Championship shows that, despite the significant hurdles they face, what the Rays are doing is working.
"When you're in our shoes, where you can't sign the big-time free agents, we need to rely on player development and scouting," Rays director of Minor League operations Mitch Lukevics said. "We need to be self-sufficient in what we do, and that's hard to do. Because if you don't hit on these things, like international scouting and drafting, we're cooked."
Rays Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Ronaldo Hernandez, Princeton (54 games): Hernandez's first season in the United States went off without a hitch as he posted an .889 OPS with five homers and 40 RBIs for Rookie-level Princeton. The 20-year-old from Colombia ranked in the top five in the Appalachian League in batting (.332), slugging (.507) and hits (74).
First baseman -- Jake Bauers, Durham (132 games): The 2013 seventh-round pick brought a blend of power and patience to the Durham lineup this year. He finished second in the International League with 78 walks and a 13.6 walk percentage in 575 plate appearances. In addition to his penchant for drawing free passes, Bauers totaled 13 homers, 63 RBIs and 79 runs scored to go with a .263/.368/.412 slash line.
"Jake has been mature as a player from day one, and that reflects in his consistency," Lukevics said. "He's been very steady and is just about to enter his age-22 season. He can handle failure better than most and that, in addition to the fact that he's a pretty good hitter, has given him a lot of stability."
Second baseman -- Brandon Lowe, Charlotte (90 games), Montgomery (24 games): Prior to his August promotion to Double-A Montgomery, Lowe was one of the standout offensive performers in the Florida State League. The 23-year-old posted a FSL-leading .421 wOBA (weighted on-base average) and 171 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) in 90 games before finishing the season with a 24-game stint in the Southern League.
Third baseman -- Michael Brosseau, Bowling Green (80 games), Charlotte (19 games): After putting together an impressive rookie campaign in the Gulf Coast League, the undrafted 23-year-old continued to prove himself in the Midwest League. He posted an .853 OPS in 80 games. Brosseau didn't slow much upon his promotion to Class A Advanced Charlotte, where he put up a .333/.425/.420 slash line in 19 contests.
Shortstop -- Willy Adames, Durham (130 games): Adames was a rock for the Triple-A champions, playing 130 games and only twice serving as the Bulls' designated hitter. The native of the Dominican Republic continued to prove himself as one of the Minors' most consistent middle infielders, posting a .277/.360/.415 line with 10 homers, 62 RBIs and 74 runs scored. A deeper look at Adames' numbers paints an even rosier picture as he finished in the top-10 in wOBA and wRC+ as a 22-year-old.
"He's a really good player with really good mental makeup for a 22-year-old," Lukevics said. "Willy has wonderful intangibles, which means he's really coachable. His attiude is good and his aptitude is good. And you can see the consistency of his play is getting better as he's physically and mentally maturing."
Outfielders -- Justin Williams, Montgomery (96 games): Even though he's only 22, Williams already has five professional seasons under his belt, and 2017 was arguably his brightest as he finished third in the Southern League with an .853 OPS (.853) and 145 wRC+.
"First of all, Justin has matured as a person and you can't underestimate the impact that has on a player," Lukevics said. "He's always had the skill. He's got great bat speed and his arm plays well in the outfield, but now his mental tools are catching up to his physical tools and that's the single biggest accomplishment in Justin's young career. He's right where he needs to be."
Jesús Sánchez, Bowling Green (117 games): Sanchez flourished in his first full season as a pro. The 20-year-old from the Dominican Republic finished second in the Midwest League with a .305 batting average and led Class A Bowling Green with 15 long balls. It's still early in his development, but he seems a good bet to be a quick riser with the Rays.
Joe McCarthy, Montgomery (127 games): McCarthy has shown a knack for getting on base throughout his career, but this season was his best yet. The 23-year-old was second in the Southern League with a .409 on-base percentage and his 90 walks were seventh among all Minor Leaguers.
Utility -- Robbie Tenerowicz, Bowling Green (94 games): Not only did Tenerowicz prove a versatile option in the field by spending time at four positions, the 22-year-old also hit in every spot in the order this year. Moving up and down and all around didn't seem to faze the 2016 27th-round pick as he posted an .845 OPS with 11 homers, 37 RBIs and 43 runs scored. He also had a .382 wOBA and 139 wRC+, both of which ranked third in the Midwest League.
Right-handed starter -- Brent Honeywell Jr., Montgomery (two games), Durham (24 games): After being assigned to Montgomery out of Spring Training, Honeywell wasted no time making it clear that he was ready for the next step. The 22-year-old didn't get off to a great start at Durham, but by the time the weather warmed up, Honeywell had found his groove. From July 4 on, the right-hander posted a 1.79 ERA and 1.01 WHIP with 62 strikeouts over 50 1/3 innings. When all was said and done, he had 172 punchouts, good for fifth in all of Minor League baseball.
"Brent is quite an interesting young man," Lukevics said. "He's one of the most competitive players I've ever been around and he's got all the physical tools. But he's another one of these young players that is starting to mature, and that helps. It's not all about the skill but the mental capability to be able to handle the rigors and up-and-down nature of professional baseball."
Left-handed starter -- Ryan Yarbrough, Durham (26 games): He may not have the wipeout stuff as Honeywell, but Yarbrough -- acquired from the Mariners in the offseason -- put up sparkling numbers in his first season with the Rays. The deceptive southpaw led the International League with 159 strikeouts and ranked third with 157 1/3 innings.
Honorable mention -- Yonny Chirinos, Montgomery (four games), Durham (23 games): Given Honeywell's prospect status and Yarbrough's breakout campaign, it would be easy to overlook the year Chrinos had. The 23-year-old Venezuelan quietly worked 168 1/3 innings, third-most in the Minors, and pitched to a 0.97 WHIP, which tied for eighth-lowest.
"Here's a young man who's worked his tail off to get to where he is right now on our 40-man roster," Lukevics said. "He's had, for the most part, a successful Minor League career, but what happened in Durham that really put him on the radar was his work ethic. He's a great worker, his stuff is pretty good and he commands it. He's always had the ability to throw strikes, but his stuff wasn't quite there yet in his younger years, but he got stronger and his stuff got better. Yonny is a great story. He worked his tail off to put himself in this position. He lit it up in his 27 starts."
Relief pitcher -- Diego Castillo, Montgomery (21 games) Durham (30 games): Castillo was a dependable late-game option at both Double-A and Triple-A in 2017. The 23-year-old right-hander recorded 90 strikeouts against 20 walks over 71 2/3 innings while posting a 1.09 WHIP.
Michael Leboff is a contributor to MiLB.com.