Rays Inbox: How Do the Rays’ Prospects Help Them this season?

How big of a role do you expect guys like McClanahan and McKay to have next season? @tsutsugofanclub via Twitter

Brendan McKay’s health is still unknown after he missed all of 2020 due to season ending surgery. It is still unclear whether the young lefthander will be ready for opening day. However, when he does return, you can expect the former fourth overall pick to slot right into the rotation. He could be used behind an opener right when he comes back to build his arm up but eventually, he will be expected to start due to a lot of uncertainties in the back of the rotation.

Shane McClanahan is one of those uncertainties, due to him not pitching above double-A, with one exception. He made his Major League Debut in the playoffs and struggled mightily with command out of the bullpen. Ultimately, it might be wisest to send him back down for more fine tuning, but with his clock already started and a very unreliable back of the rotation, they may keep him up to eat innings.

Top Pitching Prospect Shane McClanahan (Photo: MLBlog)

Is Patiño going to be an automatic insert into the rotation or is he going to have to beat out the rest of our guys like Fleming and McKay? How does this change if we acquire another starter? – @bri_gonzalez3 via Twitter

Luis Patino, acquired in the Blake Snell trade, seems like a direct replacement of Snell. However, there is no doubt he will have to earn his spot, especially with so many young arms vying to be in the rotation. He will for sure have to compete with the likes of Josh Fleming, Brent Honeywell, and McClanahan.

Patino will eventually be a part of this Rays rotation, but there is a possibility he gets beat out and gets sent down. Obviously with the acquisitions of Rich Hill, Collin McHugh, and Chris Archer, the amount of spots for Patino to compete for has slimmed down significantly, but he still has the opportunity to win a bulk role.

What prospects (besides Wander, McKay, and McClanahan) do you think will make the biggest impact on the team? – @taylorlandau via Twitter

Vidal Brujan is the obvious selection; he could slot in at second base with Brandon Lowe shifting to first base, or he could platoon with Lowe. Another possibility is Brujan could play some outfield, but the Rays are already clogged there so it would be interesting to see how they could find him playing time. Between his high contact ability (which the Rays badly need) and burner speed, he could wreak havoc.

However, don’t sleep on Brent Honeywell. He has been highly touted for years but has struggled to stay on the field. He finally seems ready to take the next step and compete for a big-league rotation spot. It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him have a great rookie season.

How do you believe the Rays will manage their large influx of middle-infield prospects? – @p0wkan via Twitter

This question has been looming for many years and the middle infield is still clogged. The fact of the matter is only so many guys can make the big-league club and play infield. The obvious solution is to package some in a deal that could get Tampa Bay a guy who could put them over the top.

The other is to trade players on the current roster, such as Kevin Kiermaier, to clear room for prospects like the versatile Brujan or prospect Josh Lowe in the outfield. Another player the Rays could trade is Willy Adames; however, he still has four more years left on his contract and is a main piece of the core. It would be surprising if they dealt him now but then again, fans shouldn’t put anything past the Rays when it comes to dealing core players.

The most likely thing to happen is Tampa Bay trades away more expendable players such as Yandy Diaz and Joey Wendle to clear room for their best prospects, then trade away the ones who don’t fit the roster construction. Whatever happens, having too many middle infield prospects is a problem every team would sign up for.

Rays Top Prospect, SS Wander Franco (Photo: MLBlog)

How do you think the Rays will perform in 2021? Will they be World Series contenders again? – @asinghhh01 via Twitter

Rays’ fans won’t want to hear this, but as it stands now, Tampa Bay looks like a second wild card team at best. My concerns are the overwhelming question marks at starting pitching, the amount of so many young unproven players, and the veterans who are coming off injury riddled seasons. With these challenges, it’s asking a lot of them to win the A.L. East.

It will all hinge on the starting rotation and the young pitching prospects in addition to the health of the veterans like Hill and Archer. In all honesty, the Rays look like a team that will exit in the division series, and that’s being generous. This season has bridge year written all over it, but it will set Tampa Bay up for immense success until Tropicana Field’s lease runs out in 2027. Regardless of what happens, it will be fun to watch a full 162 game season again, hopefully filled with many memories.