2021 Tampa Bay Rays Midseason Top 30 Prospects Update
Editor's Note: JJ Goss' injury was incorrectly listed initially. Baseball America apologizes for the error.
Here they are again.
After trading away their ace (Blake Snell) in the offseason, the Rays didn’t rebuild. They just retooled, as they always do. The Rays payroll remains miniscule, but they are once again in the thick of the American League East race.
And at the deadline, the Rays did what they do. They continued to churn their roster. They acquired designated hitter Nelson Cruz in a move that was a clear attempt to improve the roster. They then turned around and traded away the team’s closer, Diego Castillo. Before that they also traded away RHP Rich Hill, even though the veteran has had a good year. Well before that they sent Willy Adames to the Brewers to acquire Drew Rasmussen and J.P. Feyereisen.
Why would a team making yet another run at the playoffs trade away one of its best relievers and its starting shortstop? Tampa Bay will trade seemingly any one at any time if it feels that the value it can receive in return is greater than the value of the player on its roster. Tampa Bay is always kicking the can down the road. With a very stingy payroll, replacing Castillo (arbitration eligible in 2022) with J.T. Chargois (arbitration eligible in 2023) is also a factor.
This Rays club is very well balanced, without stars but with productive bats throughout the lineup. The farm system remains extremely deep—there are prospects not on the current 30 who could crack the 11-20 range of thinner systems, which means the Rays will have plenty of prospects to trade in upcoming years as they continue to churn their roster.
1. Shane Baz, RHP
Age: 22. Team: Triple-A Durham
The development of Baz from a wild and somewhat effortful pitcher in Class A to a starter with plus control who cruises through innings is a testament to him and the Rays' pitching development. If Tampa Bay needs a late-season boost to its pitching staff, much like Shane McClanahan provided last year, Baz could help out.
2. Vidal Brujan, 2B/OF
Age: 23 Team: Triple-A Durham
Brujan was one of the hottest hitters in baseball in May. He not only got on base as he always had, but he also showed more power than he’s shown in the past. He’s struggled since, especially in his first big league call-up as he played sporadically. Long term, Brujan’s athleticism, contact ability and versatility should make him a valuable multi-position big leaguer.
3. Xavier Edwards, 2B
Age: 21. Team: Double-A Montgomery
The Rays love athletic, versatile up-the-middle hitters with excellent bat control. Edwards is the next in line. He doesn’t have the defensive value of a Franco or Brujan, but he is a plus hitter who could be an excellent table-setter.
4. Josh Lowe, OF
Age: 23. Team: Triple-A Durham
Lowe’s big tools have long exceeded his ability to consistently bring them to play in games. Injuries were partly the reason for that, as was the 2020 layoff. But now, he’s showing plus range in the outfield (he’s played all three spots this year) but he’s also getting his power into play more consistently and putting together better at-bats.
5. Carlos Colmenarez, SS
Age: 17. Team: DSL Rays
Colmenarez has been slowed by a hamate injury, which means he’s yet to play in a game. His long-term ceiling remains among the highest in the Rays' farm system.
6. Taj Bradley, RHP
Age: 20. Team: Low-A Charleston
Bradley has shown encouraging improvement, continuing to gain velocity as he matures, and now projects to have a plus fastball and plus slider with an average changeup as well. With his athleticism he could continue to get better and better.
7. Taylor Walls, SS
Age: 25. Team: Triple-A Durham
Walls is the player teams ask the Rays for over and over in deals because of the club’s logjam of shortstops. But Walls may end up being hard to pry away from Tampa Bay because his glove is so good. His defensive ability makes him a logical addition to the Rays playoff roster this year.
8. Greg Jones, SS
Age: 23. Team: High-A Bowling Green
The lost 2020 season couldn’t have come at a worse time for Jones. He had yet to play in Class A before this year, so he was sent to High-A Bowling Green, even though at 23, ideally he’d be playing in Double-A all season. His power and speed combination remains exceptional. Jones makes rangy highlight plays at shortstop, but needs to get better at making the routine play.
9. Cole Wilcox, RHP
10. Carson Williams, SS
NEW The Rays’ 2021 first-round pick has one of the better arms among infielders in the class—he could have been a pro pitcher if his bat hadn’t developed so quickly. His power has really come on as he’s filled out. Now the question is whether he can stick at shortstop or will need to eventually slide to third base.
11. Brendan McKay, LHP
12. Curtis Mead, 3B
NEW The Rays have had several breakout prospects in 2021, but Mead has taken the most significant leap forward. Mead left July as the minors' leader in batting average (.356). He hits the ball extremely hard and does so regularly—only Wander Franco has a better hard-hit consistency rate among Rays' minor leaguers. There are doubts of whether he can remain at third base. His range is fringe-average at best and his throwing motion is funky.
13. Nick Bitsko, RHP
14. JJ Goss, RHP
15. Blake Hunt, C
16. Cooper Kinney, 2B
NEW Kinney, the Rays' supplemental first-round pick in 2021, projects as a lefthanded hitter with a shot at above-average power and a plus hit tool. He’s a long way from the majors, but he could prove to be an impact bat.
17. Seth Johnson, RHP
18. Tommy Romero, RHP
19. Alika Williams, SS
20. Brent Honeywell, RHP
21. Osleivis Basabe, SS
NEW If you’re looking for the next player in the endless wave of Rays middle infielders who are pests to pitchers because of bat-to-ball skills, focus on Basabe. His statistics so far aren’t sensational, but he puts together excellent at-bats and should develop more power as he matures.
22. Austin Shenton, 3B
NEW One of the two players the Rays acquired for RHP Diego Castillo, Shenton has real power. He’ll need to improve his defense to stay at third base, but the Rays love to find roles for players with clear pluses. If Shenton continues to improve at the plate, they will work around his defense.
23. Jacob Lopez, LHP
NEW Lopez used the 2020 layoff to get into better shape and his stuff has improved because of that. He’s repeating his delivery well and dominated High-A to recently earn a promotion to Double-A Montgomery.
24. Tobias Myers, RHP
NEW Myers' impeccable plus control is now combined with improved stuff. He’s improved his body and regained the 93-95 mph fastball velocity he had early in his pro career. He recently earned a promotion to Triple-A Durham.
25. Ryan Spikes, SS
NEW The Rays definitely have a type. Spikes has a simple, compact swing that should keep his strikeout rate low while he produces high batting averages and on-base percentages with doubles and the occasional home run. He’ll have to show he can stay at shortstop, but the tools are there for the Rays’ 2021 third-round pick to be a well-rounded player.
26. Louis Head, RHP
NEW Signed as a minor league free agent, Head had already been released once and had never pitched in the majors in nine years in the minors. Head has proven to be yet another find for the Rays' scouting department. He’s a run-of-the-mill fastball/slider reliever, but with options that give the Rays bullpen flexibility, he’s a valued part of the Rays' multi-headed bullpen.
27. Miles Mastrobuoni, INF/OF
NEW Mastrobuoni has played more than five games at five different positions this year (SS, 2B, 3B, CF, RF) and has played another three in left field. In reality he’s only fit to be an emergency shortstop in the majors, but his ability to play almost anywhere (helped by a plus arm), along with his ability to square up velocity make him a scout’s favorite as a player who does a lot of different things well.
28. Jonathan Aranda, 3B/1B
NEW Yet another bat-first infielder with some defensive questions, Aranda has played every spot around the infield, but he is stretched anywhere other than first thanks to fringy range. His bat could clear a path anyway. He has bat speed, developing power and hand-eye coordination.
29. Ruben Cardenas, OF
NEW Cardenas is another low-key Rays trade acquisition who has emerged with a big offensive breakout, hitting 13 home runs in his only full season of work in the minors before this year. Now he’s hit 21 home runs with more than a month left in the season. He’s got a hard profile to fit on an MLB roster, as he’s really best in left field only and despite his big power numbers this year, there are concerns he’s got more average than above-average productive power. But the Rays figure out how to get the most from players and their roster, and Cardenas can hit for average with some power.
30. Heriberto Hernandez, OF
2022 MLB Top Prospects For Every Team
With the minor league season heating up, we are updating Top 30 lists for all 30 teams, starting with the East divisions this week.
RHP Tanner Dodson has decided to focus on pitching and shelve the two-way experiment where he also plays in the outfield. He’s still got the high-90s fastball and hard slider that could fit in the seventh or eighth inning.
LHP Dietrich Enns was signed out of the independent American Association last summer. Now he looks like the next bullpen find for the Rays. He’s throwing harder than he was before (92-95 mph up from 87-91 in 2019) and the Rays have him throwing his fastball almost exclusively up in and above the strike zone while pairing a downer slider that works down in the zone.
Not many players bounce between catcher and shortstop, but SS/C Ford Proctor, much like well-traveled MLB catcher Tony Wolters, is an infielder converting to catcher who is showing he’s capable of playing both positions, sometimes in the same series. Proctor’s catching is steadily improving but still has a ways to go. His versatility and ability to work counts give him a shot at an eventual MLB backup role.
The opportunity was there for 3B Kevin Padlo to hit his way to an MLB job this year. Instead he’s suffering through the worst season of his career in Triple-A. If he can’t make more consistent hard contact, his 40-man roster status could be at risk with the Rays facing their normal roster crunch.
OF Nick Schnell has easy power and has developed into a plus defender in center field, but he just doesn’t make enough contact. Plus power and plus defense are being dragged down by a bottom-of-the-scale hit tool.
RHP Nick Bitsko is sidelined as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery.
RHP JJ Goss has yet to pitch this year. He had an shoulder impingement but is throwing bullpens with the hope of getting back on the mound in games before the end of the season.
RHP Cole Wilcox left his June 27 start and has been on the injured list since then with an elbow strain.
RHP Luis Patino missed some time with a finger injury, but has returned to action.
LHP Brendan McKay is slowly returning from offseason shoulder surgery. He’s made three brief rehab appearances in the Florida Complex League so far, working one inning each time.
LHP Josh Fleming seems like a pitcher from a different age. He’s managed to be a productive swing starter for the Rays despite a strikeout rate (5.6 K/9) that seems out of place in the current game.
LHP Shane McClanahan has built off of his strong finish to 2020 to grab hold of a spot in the Rays' rotation.
RHP Ryan Thompson has been an excellent part of the Rays' bullpen thanks to his unusual arm slot.