2022 Minor League Team Of The Year: Charleston RiverDogs
Being the best team in the minor leagues takes a team effort.
The Low-A Charleston RiverDogs were a prime example in 2022. The Rays affiliate won a franchise-record 88 games en route to a second consecutive Carolina League championship.
It added up to a nod as the Baseball America Minor League Team of the Year.
The 61 players who suited up for Charleston got the job done on the field. So, too, did the people behind the scenes, from the RiverDogs’ coaches and manager Blake Butera to the Rays’ player development and scouting staffs to the fans who created an environment conducive to winning at The Joe, as Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park is known.
“Coming out of spring training, we felt really, really good about the way our roster was shaking out,” Butera said. “We had a lot of young or recently drafted or recently acquired players who were kind of getting their first taste of affiliated baseball.
“We knew it was a young, highly talented group, and there was a lot of teaching. So obviously tons of credit goes to our staff in Charleston and our staff throughout the minor leagues, with the coordinators coming in and out as well.
“Just the sheer volume of teaching was just outstanding to see. And then you could really see, I think, month to month, just how much growth there was with each individual player.”
It was business as usual for the parent Rays, whose affiliates had the best overall record in organization standings for a fourth year in a row. Tampa Bay’s five domestic affiliates won 60% of their games in 2022 after establishing a modern minor league record with a .653 winning percentage in 2021.
Among Charleston’s many contributors, outfielder Shane Sasaki stood out, hitting .324 with 27 doubles, nine home runs and 47 stolen bases in 89 games, earning team MVP honors.
“We had so many players contribute that I feel like I’m going to miss somebody,” Butera said. “But just going down the list, Shane Sasaki was outstanding. I think his second half of the season was one of the best second halves I’ve ever seen out of a player. In all facets—defensively, he got on base at a high clip and stole a ton of bases.”
Rays top 2021 draft pick Carson Williams, a high school shortstop from San Diego who turned 19 halfway through the season, also played a big role. He hit .252 with 22 doubles, 10 triples, 19 homers and an .818 OPS. He won the organization’s defensive player of the year award.
“Just a tremendous season,” Butera said.
Another tremendous season was had by first baseman Bobby Seymour. “He was our rock,” Butera said of the 23-year-old Wake Forest product who hit .281 with 12 homers and 73 RBIs.
Third baseman Willy Vasquez was another key cog. As he had in 2021, he finished strong, hitting .256 with 10 homers, 73 RBIs and a .723 OPS.
Another measure of Charleston’s team effort: RiverDogs players won three of the league’s six monthly top position player awards and one pitcher award.
On the pitching side, 2019 supplemental first-round righthander JJ Goss played a key role, working his way back from injury and into top form. The 21-year-old went 4-1, 2.50 over his final 11 starts and led the postseason rotation. “He was our guy,” Butera said.
As with the big league Rays, the RiverDogs dealt with a constantly changing roster. Several key players were promoted during the season to High-A Bowling Green, helping the Hot Rods win the South Atlantic League championship.
Less experienced replacements came to Charleston from the Florida Complex League, including 2022 draftees such as second-round outfielder Brock Jones and fourth-round catcher Dominic Keegan.
Another factor in the team’s success, Butera said, was the game atmosphere in Charleston. The RiverDogs averaged close to 4,000 fans per game, fourth best among the 30 Low-A teams and not far off the leader. Charleston drew even better in the postseason, with the team reporting record sales of tickets, sponsorships and merchandise.
Also to their benefit is playing in what Sports Business Journal called the best minor league market. The RiverDogs are joined by the South Carolina Stings Rays hockey team and the Charleston Battery soccer club.
“It’s perfect. It really is,” Butera said. “The environment helps immensely.”
Over the last two years, the RiverDogs have the best record in the minors at 170-82. In 2021, they won Charleston’s first championship since 1942.
What made the success even more meaningful, Butera said, was that they hit on the dueling goals of minor league baseball: winning games and helping the players improve.
“One thing our staff in Charleston did really well was sitting down with each player individually and going over goals and room for improvement, and where we want to spend the majority of our time helping these players get better,” he said.
“Obviously we’re in the minor leagues and we want to win, but we never want to win at the cost of the development of a player. It’s really a special moment when both of those things can come to fruition, where you’re developing players and you’re winning. And there aren’t many organizations that have had the success that (the Rays have) had in the past several seasons with that.”
And that payoff will become more obvious.
“The next two or three years, you’re going to see a lot of these guys in the big leagues and look back and be like, ‘Oh, that’s why Charleston was so good.’ ”
Rays Top Organization Standings—Again
Once again, the Rays have the most successful farm system in baseball, as measured by on-field success.
The Rays’ .604 winning percentage across all their domestic minor league affiliates was easily the best in baseball, topping the second-place Yankees by more than 40 percentage points. This accounts for the Rays’ five domestic affiliates, from the Rookie-level Florida Complex League to Triple-A Durham.
This is the fourth consecutive season in which the Rays have topped the domestic organization standings.
Tampa Bay’s minor league success is a tier above any other organization. From 2018 to 2022, Rays affiliates had a winning percentage of .597. No other organization has managed a .597 overall winning percentage in any one of those four seasons.
In other words, the Rays’ overall winning percentage in the domestic minors over the past four seasons—there was no 2020 season—is better than the best single season from any of the other 29 organizations.
Highlights from the 2022 Rays’ farm system:
-Triple-A Durham won its eighth International League title since 2002 following a 86-64 (.573) season.
-High-A Bowling Green went 78-52 (.600) and won the South Atlantic League.
-Low-A Charleston went 88-44 and led all full-season clubs with a .667 winning percentage. The RiverDogs won the Carolina League title.
-The FCL Rays led all domestic teams with a .709 winning percentage by going 39-16.
Here are the farm system standings for all 30 organizations, counting domestic affiliates only.