MLB Prospect Watch: Meet the Rays prospect who could dictate their trade deadline plans

Though it may feel presumptuous to write about the trade deadline two months ahead of time, it's fair to expect the Tampa Bay Rays to be buyers once July rolls around. The Rays are off to one of the best starts in baseball, and figure to remain in the hunt all year -- be it either for the American League East division crown or a wild-card spot. As such, let's focus on a player who will likely double as their top trade chit come July: 21-year-old Double-A outfielder Jesus Sanchez.

Sanchez entered the season ranked third in the system by Baseball Prospectus and sixth by FanGraphs. That's notable for two reasons:

  1. The Rays have a top-shelf farm by most any measure, making Sanchez a high-grade prospect by default.
  2. The Rays tried trading him during the offseason. League sources confirmed to CBS Sports that Tampa Bay attempted to move Sanchez in a deal for first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. The Arizona Diamondbacks found a different deal more to their liking, but the Rays' willingness to include Sanchez in a deal runs counterculture to their typical hoarder approach.

What is it about Sanchez that makes him both highly desirable and yet seemingly dispensable? It has to do with Sanchez's greatest perceived strength: his bat.

In an ideal scenario, Sanchez's stick will make him a lot of money over the next decade-plus. There's a real chance he turns into a middle-of-the-order hitter who hits for average and power alike. Unfortunately, there's also a real chance he doesn't. The biggest hurdles facing him at the moment are his aggressive approach and the usability of his power tool.

Sanchez entered the week walking in about 8.5 percent of his plate appearances. That would represent a new career-high for someone who, coming into this season, had taken a free pass in around six percent of his trips to the plate as a professional. It's not just that he doesn't like to walk, it's also that he consistently strikes out in about 20 percent of his plate appearances. Additionally, Sanchez's free-swinging ways are more concerning now than they might be in a year or two's time because of how much of his power remains theoretical in nature.

While Sanchez has long been expected to grow into more pop as he grew into his frame, he's yet to realize his potential despite adding mass. At the moment, his single-season high in home runs is 15 -- and that was set in A-ball, when he posted a .173 ISO. Sanchez's current .134 ISO is lower than those posted by five teammates, including speedy shortstop Lucius Fox. One rival talent evaluator pointed out that Sanchez's launch angle is similar to that of current Rays outfielder Avisail Garcia, who had a similar profile and has since authored a mostly disappointing big-league career. Sanchez, then, is a bit of a risk. If he hits, he has star potential; if he comes up short, he could be the type who gets non-tendered before he hits free agency.

The Rays aren't going to give away Sanchez, to be clear, but moving him might make sense for other reasons, too -- like their organizational depth. Already, they have an outfield in place -- of Kevin Kiermaier, Tommy Pham, and Austin Meadows -- that collectively remains under team control through the 2021 season. The Rays have other interesting outfield prospects climbing the ladder, too: Josh Lowe, Ryan Boldt, Garrett Whitley, and Moises Gomez are each stationed at High-A or above. Few, if any of those players are considered better prospects than Sanchez, but they don't have to be for their presence to factor into the calculus.

Add it all up, and Sanchez is likely to remain on the trading block over the coming months. We'll see if anyone bites -- and if so, just who exactly the Rays net in return. 

Good. For a look at which prospects you should be targeting in fantasy baseball, check out our colleague Scott White's take.  

Now, onto our Prospect Watch.

Prospect watch

Kevin Cron is thought of as a Quad-A player. Whether or not he gets the opportunity to fail in the majors, he's showing he's good for the dominating Triple-A part: He entered Sunday with 18 home runs and a 1.194 OPS.

At some point Adam Duvall deserves another big-league look -- be it with the Braves or another team.

Speaking of players whose performances in the minors merit another opportunity, both Chance Sisco and D.J. Stewart are hitting the snot out of the ball in Triple-A.

The Red Sox have a wealth of solid prospects at the infield corners: Josh Ockimey (Triple-A), Bobby Dalbec (Double-A), and Triston Casas (Single-A) are all hitting.

Roberto Caro isn't a power broker, but he is 12-for-15 on stolen-base tries.

In case you need an illustration of how different the majors are versus Triple-A, Alcides Escobar is hitting .323/.354/.496 on the year.

Packy Naughton sounds like an old-timey gangster. But he's actually a lefty with a largely average arsenal who has a chance at sticking at the back of a rotation someday.

Daniel Johnson, part of the return on Yan Gomes, is now hitting for a .943 OPS in Double-A. Consider that a good sign.

We wrote about Rico Garcia earlier in the year -- he's down to a 2.05 ERA and has a 3.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the season. He should be on a big-league pitching staff at some point in the next few months.

Jake Rogers is known for his mitt, but he has an OPS nearing 1.000 for the season. If a chunk of his offensive gains are real, then he has All-Star potential. 

Jose Hernandez-Urquidy is a short right-handed changeup artist. He's currently the organization's leader in strikeout-to-walk ratio, with nearly 10 punchouts per free pass. 

Josh Staumont should make his big-league debut this season. He has a big fastball, but has walked 18 batters in 20 innings in Triple-A.

Jose Castillo is blowing away A-ball hitters with his well-above-average fastball.

Edwin Uceta is on the small and slender side for a starting pitcher. He throws a lot of strikes, but expect scouts to continue to question his long-term viability in the rotation due to his size and lack of an out pitch.

At this rate, Zac Gallen might start taking his lack of a promotion personally.

Alec Bettinger has a stat line that seems to be at war with itself: He's struck out more than five times as many batter as he's walked, yet he has a 5.62 ERA.

In nearly 50 innings across the high minors, Devin Smeltzer has walked six batters. That'll play.

For those wondering, Tim Tebow's OPS is in danger of dipping below .400. Not a great sign for someone who previously looked like a lock to debut this year.

A sixth-round pick last year, Rodney Hutchison has hit nine batters in 16 innings. 

Jorge Mateo is having a good rebound season. His approach remains worrisome.

Ditto for former No. 1 pick Mickey Moniak, whose strikeout-to-walk ratio is nearing 8.00 -- that would be great if he were a pitcher; unfortunately, he's not.

A second-round pick in 2017, Calvin Mitchell has to keep hitting -- the rest of his tools grade as fringe-average at best.

Luis Urias is forcing his way back to the majors.

Mike Yastrzemski has a famous name and an OPS over 1.100 in Triple-A. That he can't get a look in San Francisco's outfield tells you he's viewed as a Quad-A type.

We touched on Ljay Newsome earlier in the year. He's continued to dominate High-A and should be moving on up sooner than later.

Former first-round pick Nick Plummer still hasn't found his footing as a professional. 

The Rays are trying Jake Cronenworth as a two-way player. It's worth a shot -- some have preferred him as a pitcher dating back to his amateur days.

The Rangers have dealt with a flurry of pitcher injuries lately. On the bright side, Cole Winn finally made his professional debut. 

Reggie Pruitt isn't someone you'll find on prospect lists, but he's a burner who is 16-for-20 on steals.

Wil Crowe could join a big-league rotation within the next 18 months. He's likely to hit Triple-A before long.
CBS Sports Staff

R.J. Anderson joined CBS Sports in 2016. He previously wrote for Baseball Prospectus, where he contributed to five of the New York Times bestselling annuals. His work has also appeared in Newsweek and... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories