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Tampa Bay Rays

Over the past ten years, the Rays have done an excellent job at getting value out of their farm system.  Their entire business model is based on a constant influx of new talent as they generally move players after four years of service time and restock.  Occasionally, a potential cornerstone player emerges like Wander Franco, and they spend money, but it’s a churning process for the most part.

The system is again loaded.  Taj Bradley is the top player in the system.  He’s an athletic pitcher who throws strikes and should join Glasnow, McClannahan, and Springs in the starting rotation in Tampa. If you like players like Wander Franco, you’re going to like Curtis Mead.  He’s a hit-first player with position flexibility and emerging power.  It then goes on from there for another 15 players.  I overachieved on this system, writing up 17 players, including a few young Latin players, for deeper Dynasty League managers.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Taj Bradley
  • Biggest Mover: Mason Montgomery
  • Emerging Prospect: Jose Contreras

1. Taj Bradley (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP
  • Tools Summary: Quickly becoming one of the best pitching prospects in the game with a plus fastball-slider with control.

Bradley was a two-way player in high school who played more in the field than he pitched.  The Rays liked the athleticism and took him in the fifth round in 2018, and it’s been a slow but effective burn for him.  Last season, he took a big step forward, and in 2022, he came into his own.  In 28 starts across Double and Triple-A, he pitched to a 2.57 ERA striking out over 9.5 per nine while walking 2.2 per nine. His fastball is his best pitch as it sits in the mid-90s with good run.  His slider, which looks more like a cutter, is also nasty on hitters. His change-up is still below-average, but he started to show a better feel for it later in the season.

I’m a big believer in athletic pitchers who throw hard, which is what we have in Bradley.  Last year, I thought his floor was a number 4 starter with a ceiling of a number three.  Now, the floor is a number three with a chance to be a solid number two starter, maybe more. 

2. Curtis Mead (3B)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 3B or Top 10 2B
  • Tools Summary: Plus hit tool with emerging power that could grow to 20 home run pop with a little bit of speed.

When Curtis Mead came out of nowhere in 2021 to hit .321 with 15 home runs and 11 stolen bases, I was intrigued but still needed some convincing.  No more.  Mead can flat-out hit, and the power is growing.  The Rays appear to agree as they pushed him hard in 2022 with an aggressive assignment to Double-A.  Even as one of the younger players in the league, he excelled, slashing .305/.395/.561 with ten home runs and four stolen bases.  He’s become the best offensive player in the Rays system and is now one of the best prospects in the game.

3. Mason Montgomery (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 SP
  • Tools Summary: Solid arsenal with some funk in his delivery.

Drafted in the 6th round in 2021, Montgomery had little trouble with High-A in 2022.  In 16 starts, he pitched to a 1.81 ERA, striking out 15 batters per nine.  The effort got him a rare Ray in-season promotion, where he continued to pitch well in Double-A.  He doesn’t always throw strikes, and his fastball sits in the Low-90s, but the pitch data loves his stuff.  Batters don’t square any of his pitches, and his fastball and breaking pitches have high spin rates.  Also, throw some funk in his delivery, and he could succeed at the highest level.  I’ve put his ceiling as a number three starter.

4. Carson Williams (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2025-26 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 SS or Top 10 2B
  • Tools Summary: Athletic and toolsy but with significant swing and miss in his game.

Carson Williams is one of the more tooled-up Rays’ farm hands in the system.  He has excellent bat speed and is a plus runner with a cannon for an arm.  The issue is that he struck out 32% of the time last season in Low-A.  I will remind you that history is not kind to players who strike out more than 30% of the time in Low-A – they rarely become impact players in the Major Leagues. His problem is that he chases too many pitches out of the strike zone, which in my opinion, is one of the more difficult issues to overcome as a hitter.  If he can solve that, the upside is significant.

5. Kyle Manzardo (1B)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 1B
  • Tools Summary: Solid hit tool but needs to add more power to be a full-time regular.

The Rays had Kyle Manzardo start the year in High-A, and he’s done nothing but hit.  He needs to get stronger, but there is enough bat speed to project at least average future power. But he can hit, and that’s more than half the battle.

6. Mason Auer (OF)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF
  • Tools Summary: Toolsy outfielder with a feel to hit.

Mason Auer had a productive 2022 season showing off his double-plus speed and power potential by hitting ten home runs and stealing 41 bases across Low and High-A.  He has a solid approach and, provided he can control his strikeouts, is yet another high-end Rays prospect working his way through the system.  If it all comes together, the ceiling is a number three outfielder.

7. Jonathan Aranda (2B)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 2B
  • Tools Summary: Solid hit tool with enough power to project as a full-time regular.

Aranda had a nice step-up season in 2022, showing an improved approach at the plate while showing more pop.  In 104 games in Triple-A, he hit .318 with a .394 OBP striking out 21.5% of the time while walking 10% of the time.  He also slugged .521 with 18 home runs.  He’s not terribly athletic, so he will likely be relegated to second base, but I think he hits enough to be a full-time regular.  Will that be with the Rays?  It’s a tough call as the Rays mix and match with the best of them.  While he had four stolen bases, I don’t think there will be many stolen bases long-term.

8. Carlos Colmenarez (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Complex ETA: 2026 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 SS with risk
  • Tools Summary: He has all the tools to be a star.  Will it happen?  Time will tell.

If you’re scouting the stat line, you might gloss over Carlos Colmenarez.  It was okay – 153 PA, .254/.379/.381 with a home run and 13 stolen bases.  But, the swing is short to the ball, and there’s plenty of bat speed to suggest future power with plus speed.  Once he gets stronger, I think he unlocks his power.  Remember, he turned 19 in November and didn’t look lost against in the Complex League.  There continues to be a significant ceiling here, but with risk, given how much work is left to do.

9. Shane Sasaki (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 OF if he can develop more power
  • Tools Summary: His carrying tool is his blazing speed.  There is little current power, and until he starts to show some, he profiles more as a fourth outfielder on a Major League team.

Shane Sasaki’s carrying tool is his 70-grade speed that he showed in spades last season when he stole 47 of 51 bases in Low-A.  He grinds at-bats, taking many pitches but will get fooled on breaking pitches.  The power is more doubles-oriented than home run pop at this point, and given his flat plane through the zone, it might stay that way.  While the speed is intriguing and the approach is solid, he might profile more as a fourth outfielder on a Major League roster or, in the proper organization, a Myles Straw type of performer.

10. Cole Wilcox (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 40 SP with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: He spent most of the season recovering from TJS.  He has size (6-foot-5) and a plus arsenal.

Cole Wilcox spent most of 2022 recovering from Tommy John Surgery.  He did pitch 16 innings at the end of the season and looked good.  He dominated Complex and Low-A hitters, striking out 24 in those 16 innings.  Assuming he’s now healthy, he has top-of-the-rotation stuff but did have spotty control in college.  We should know more next season, but if you want to get a jump on your fellow Dynasty League managers, now is the time to add him.

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