With fantasy prospect rankings, the key to knowing the usefulness of a specific player is how large and deep of a league you would need to be in for them to end up as a fantasy starter. We will be ranking 10 prospects in each system, but that doesn't mean that every one of them is useful if you play in a 12-team mixed dynasty league. With that said, we're aiming to provide useful information whether you play in a 10-team mixed, a 15-team AL-only, or a 24-team mixed.
Prospect rankings also come with the same caveat that must be rehashed every year. They represent a snapshot of how we view the players at the time of publication. There will inherently be more information published throughout the off-season, and so how we view a player may evolve significantly over time. We're going to get some of these right, we're going to get some of these wrong, and in general my reminder is to find information you trust, and use it to your advantage. If that comes from us, that's great and we're happy you're here. If it doesn't, we'll continue to work and hope that you'll keep checking in to see how we're doing.
The tiers are here though to provide some clarity when comparing players between different teams. It's by no means a perfect system, but the goal is to give you a general idea of which players we think are in a similar range in terms of value and ranking. Since the tiers are also expected to be relatively consistent across teams, there may be tiers that do not have prospects for certain teams.
Tier 1 - The Elite Prospects
These prospects are expected to be in the top-50 prospects overall, and have the potential to be among the top options at their position regardless of format or league size.
#1 - Brent Honeywell (RHP)
Age on Opening Day 2017: 22
A supplemental second-round pick in 2014, Honeywell made an immediate splash at Rookie-level Princeton and, in the two seasons since, has continued his ascent to the top of the Rays’ system. With a plus-fastball, a plus-screwball, an above-average changeup, and excellent control, Honeywell profiles as a future top-of-the-rotation starter whose potential to amass strikeouts will make him a major fantasy asset. In 2016, splitting time between High-A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery, he posted a 2.34 ERA in 20 starts, including 117 strikeouts and only 25 walks in 115.1 IP. He’s currently pitching well in the Arizona Fall League. He should return to Montgomery to open 2017, but don’t be surprised to see him in Tampa before long.
Tier 2 - The Top 100 Candidates
These prospects are expected to be in the discussion for the top 100 prospects overall, and are expected to be starting options in all formats.
#2 - Willy Adames (SS)
Age on Opening Day 2017: 21
Acquired from Detroit in the 2015 David Price deal, Adames thus far has given the Rays all they could have hoped. Playing the entire 2016 season as a 20-year-old in Double-A, he slashed .274/.372/.430. His batting eye continues to improve; in 2016 he drew 74 walks, 20 more than his previous season high. He is probably the best overall baseball player in the Rays’ system. Only time will tell, however, if his counting stats will make him an equally good fantasy player; his 11 HR and 13 SB in 2016 were both career-highs. Also, some scouts think he eventually will move off of shortstop, which would diminish his fantasy value. Still, there’s a lot of talent and upside here.
#3 - Jake Bauers (1B)
Age on Opening Day 2017: 21
Honeywell, Adames, and now Bauers--all could reach Tampa in 2017; all project as useful-to-dynamic fantasy players. Like Adames, Bauers in 2016 showed an excellent batting eye (73:89 BB:K ratio), a little pop (14 HR), and even some sneaky speed (10 SB). Bauers boasts a solid, left-handed swing with some raw power, but that power will need to show up in games if he is to reach his ceiling as an everyday first baseman. His advanced plate discipline means that fantasy owners in head-to-head leagues will love having him as a corner infielder or, if he switches positions, a corner outfielder. Meanwhile, he should spend at least the first half of 2017 honing his craft at Triple-A Durham, where, if he begins to tap into his raw power, he could make a strong case for promotion by season’s end.
Tier 3 - The Next Group of Starters
These prospects would likely slot into the 100-200 range on an overall ranking list, and would be starters in mid-depth formats, like 12 and 14 team leagues.
#4 - Josh Lowe (3B)
Age on Opening Day 2017: 19
Lowe entered the 2016 draft as one of the most dynamic two-way players in the country. Tampa selected him 13th overall, however, with the intention of making him a full-time position player. Though listed as a third baseman, he has the tools to play center field and could make the move there before long. Offensively, his best attributes include plus speed, a compact swing that should generate power as he matures, and an advanced batting eye as evidenced by his .374 OBP. In short, Lowe’s power-speed potential makes him a fantasy player worth monitoring as he opens 2017 (likely) in Low-A ball.
Tier 4 - Single League and Deep Format Plays
These prospects would likely slot into the 200-300 range on a ranking list, and would have the most value to mixed leagues with 16+ teams and single-league formats with 12+ teams.
#5 - Adrian Rondon (SS)
Age on Opening Day 2017: 18
This is a bullish ranking based on Rondon’s pedigree as one of the top players in the 2014 international class, as well as the promise he flashed as a 17-year-old in the Appalachian League, including a three-homer game on June 24. His .731 OPS in 52 games shows that he at least held his own against older competition. Rondon lacks the speed to become a truly elite fantasy player, but his youth and power potential in the middle infield make him an intriguing prospect. He’ll get a full-season test at Low-A Bowling Green in 2017.
#6 - Lucius Fox (SS)
Age on Opening Day 2017: 19
A 2015 international free agent who signed for an eye-popping $6 million, Fox came to Tampa as a part of the deadline deal that sent LHP Matt Moore to San Francisco. Fox’s best attribute is his double-plus speed, which makes him a threat to steal 50 bases. Of course, he’ll first have to get on base, and his professional debut (.207/.305/.277 with 76 K in 75 games) showed that he has a long way to go as a hitter. The tools are there, however, for Fox to develop into an impact player at the top of a batting order. The Rays might ask him to repeat Low-A in 2017.
#7 - Casey Gillaspie (1B)
Age on Opening Day 2017: 24
Gillaspie is the younger brother of Conor Gillaspie, the veteran third baseman whose three-run homer won the 2016 NL Wildcard Game for the San Francisco Giants. Those heroics notwithstanding, the younger Gillaspie possesses more raw power than his older brother--more raw power, in fact, than most other prospects in the Tampa system. The Rays’ first-round pick in 2014, Gillaspie has moved as expected through the organization, reaching Triple-A Durham in 2016. Between Double-A and Triple-A this past season, Gillaspie slashed .284/.388/.479 with 18 HR and 64 RBI. The power numbers and on-base percentage augur well for a player who projects as at least an average first baseman.
#8 - Jacob Faria (RHP)
Age on Opening Day 2017: 23
Faria’s breakout season came in 2015, when he finished 17-4 with a 1.92 ERA and 159 strikeouts in 149.2 IP across HIgh-A and Double-A. He opened 2016 back in Double-A and eventually made it to Triple-A, though without the same eye-popping numbers (a combined 5-10, 3.99 ERA). His strikeouts remained high this past season, but he also allowed 68 walks in 151 IP. His fastball and changeup are both plus offerings, though his curve remains a work in progress. With improved control, he’s close to helping the big-league club.
#9 - Garrett Whitley (OF)
Age on Opening Day 2017: 20
Tampa’s first-round pick in 2015, Whitley has yet to receive a taste of full-season ball. He spent all of 2016 at Hudson Valley of the short-season New York-Penn League, where he slashed .266/.356/.379 with one homer and 21 steals. As evidenced by his counting stats, his best asset is his plus speed, which one day should serve him well as a top-of-the-order table setter--that is, unless he harnesses his long-ish swing and develops some power. If that happens, then he could become an elite fantasy player; it’s easy to forget, after all, that in 2015 Whitley at least briefly was in the conversation for pick 1-1. He’s still a long way from the majors, however, and will need all the time he can get, starting in 2017 at Low-A Bowling Green.
#10 - Taylor Guerrieri (RHP)
Age on Opening Day 2017: 24
In 2015 Guerrieri made a spectacular return from Tommy John surgery, posting a 5-3 record with a 1.85 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 78 IP between HIgh-A and Double-A. His 2016 numbers, however, included a sharp decline in strikeouts (89 in 146 IP), which, coupled with his injury history, makes it difficult to project his future fantasy value. He should be ticketed for Triple-A Durham to open 2017, so there’s still a bit more time to find out about him. A late-season promotion to Tampa would not be out of the question.