Tampa Bay Rays Top 48 Prospects by Eric Longenhagen January 27, 2023 Eric Longenhagen Top Prospects Team Lists 2023 2022 ALBALCHWHOUBOSCLELAANYYDETOAKTBRKCRSEATORMINTEX NLATLCHCARIMIACINCOLNYMMILLADPHIPITSDPWSNSTLSFG ALBALCHWHOUBOSCLELAANYYDETOAKTBRKCRSEATORMINTEX NLATLCHCARIMIACINCOLNYMMILLADPHIPITSDPWSNSTLSFG Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Tampa Bay Rays. Scouting reports were compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as my own observations. This is the third year we’re delineating between two anticipated relief roles, the abbreviations for which you’ll see in the “position” column below: MIRP for multi-inning relief pitchers, and SIRP for single-inning relief pitchers. The ETAs listed generally correspond to the year a player has to be added to the 40-man roster to avoid being made eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Manual adjustments are made where they seem appropriate, but I use that as a rule of thumb. A quick overview of what FV (Future Value) means can be found here. A much deeper overview can be found here. All of the ranked prospects below also appear on The Board, a resource the site offers featuring sortable scouting information for every organization. It has more details (and updated TrackMan data from various sources) than this article and integrates every team’s list so readers can compare prospects across farm systems. It can be found here. Rays Top Prospects Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV 1 Curtis Mead 22.3 AAA LF 2023 55 2 Taj Bradley 21.9 AAA SP 2023 55 3 Kyle Manzardo 22.5 AA 1B 2025 50 4 Carson Williams 19.6 A SS 2026 50 5 Junior Caminero 19.6 A 3B 2025 50 6 Greg Jones 24.9 AA SS 2024 45+ 7 Mason Montgomery 22.6 AA SP 2025 45+ 8 Osleivis Basabe 22.4 AA 2B 2023 45 9 Carlos Colmenarez 19.2 R SS 2025 45 10 Kameron Misner 25.1 AA CF 2024 45 11 Cole Wilcox 23.5 A SP 2025 45 12 Brailer Guerrero 16.6 R RF 2029 40+ 13 Mason Auer 21.9 A+ RF 2025 40+ 14 Colby White 24.6 AAA SIRP 2023 40+ 15 Heriberto Hernandez 23.1 A+ LF 2024 40+ 16 Cooper Kinney 20.0 R 3B 2026 40+ 17 Xavier Isaac 19.1 R 1B 2028 40+ 18 Ian Seymour 24.1 AAA MIRP 2024 40+ 19 Willy Vasquez 21.4 A CF 2025 40+ 20 Nick Bitsko 20.6 A SP 2025 40+ 21 Tristan Peters 22.9 AA RF 2025 40 22 Michael Mercado 23.8 AA SP 2024 40 23 JJ Goss 22.1 A SP 2024 40 24 Ronny Simon 22.8 AA 2B 2024 40 25 Logan Workman 24.1 A+ SP 2025 40 26 Alika Williams 23.9 AAA SS 2025 40 27 Kevin Kelly 25.2 AAA SIRP 2023 40 28 Evan Reifert 23.7 AA SIRP 2024 40 29 Cristopher Barete 21.1 R CF 2025 40 30 Ben Peoples 21.7 A+ SP 2024 40 31 Austin Vernon 24.0 A+ MIRP 2025 40 32 Yoniel Curet 20.2 A SIRP 2025 40 33 Brock Jones 21.8 A CF 2027 35+ 34 Ryan Cermak 21.7 R RF 2027 35+ 35 Anthony Molina 21.0 A+ SP 2024 35+ 36 Gary Gill Hill 18.4 R SP 2027 35+ 37 Trevor Martin 22.1 R SIRP 2026 35+ 38 Antonio Jimenez 21.7 A SP 2023 35+ 39 Marcus Johnson 22.1 A SP 2026 35+ 40 Chandler Simpson 22.2 R 2B 2027 35+ 41 Austin Shenton 25.0 AA 1B 2024 35+ 42 Alexander Alberto 21.2 R SP 2025 35+ 43 Dominic Keegan 22.5 A 1B 2027 35+ 44 Josh Roberson 26.7 AA SIRP 2023 35+ 45 Justin Sterner 26.4 AAA SIRP 2024 35+ 46 Chris Muller 26.8 AAA SIRP 2023 35+ 47 Kamren James 22.7 R 3B 2027 35+ 48 Cade Halemanu 22.5 R SIRP 2026 35+ Reading Options Detail Level Data Only Full Position Filter All All 1B 2B SS 3B LF CF RF SP SIRP MIRP 55 FV Prospects 1. Curtis Mead, LF Video Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Australia (PHI) Age 22.3 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 55 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 45/55 55/60 50/60 40/40 30/35 30 The Rays stole Mead from the Phillies in what seemed like a relatively innocuous trade at the time, a swap that sent a low-level developmental sleeper (Mead) to Tampa for depth starter Cristopher Sánchez. In the three years since the trade, Mead has become one of the more dangerous hitters in the minor leagues and as soon as he becomes a suitable defender, he should provide a well-rounded offensive threat in the middle of Tampa Bay’s order. Mead is a career .306/.376/.517 hitter in the minors and hit .298/.390/.532 throughout a 2022 season spent mostly at Double-A Montgomery, with about a month of reps at Triple-A Durham tagged on at the end. He has impeccable hitter’s timing and a swing that is equal parts balanced and explosive, generating plus all-fields power despite barely utilizing any sort of stride. Even after a wildly successful 2021, Mead still cut down on what was already a very modest in-the-box stride and now derives all of his power from the rotation of his hips and the strength of his hands, which have a setup akin to vintage Evan Longoria. The upright nature of this adjusted swing has impacted Mead’s plate coverage a bit, and he swung through lots of high fastballs and sliders that finished on the outer third of the zone in 2022. When he can get the barrel out there, though, he’s a threat to do extra-base damage the other way because of his bat speed. Historically, Mead has raked despite having a hyper-aggressive approach at the plate, and this is where he grew the most in 2022. His walk rates reached career highs despite facing upper-level pitching for the first time in his life, and Mead’s underlying chase data (only 24%) was better than the big league average (33%). He still needs to find a position, though. Mead has spent a lot of time at third and second base. He isn’t a great hands-and-feet athlete, and his arm strength doesn’t match that of a typical third baseman. Unless he’d throwing on the run, he just sort of lollipops the ball over to first. Indeed, the way Mead plays defense isn’t typical for an infielder at all; it’s as if he grew up not watching big league defenders every summer (which might be true). He does play with lots of effort, though, and Mead has enough range that the second base experiment has merit. It’s possible he’ll find a way to play a mold-breaking style of third base defense over time, but an elbow sprain (which happened amid a throwing program to try to improve his arm strength) ended his 2022 and required a PRP injection, which is often a precursor to Tommy John for pitchers. Because his bat is almost big league ready, it might make sense for Mead to learn left field or for him to debut as a DH while some sort of outfield transition happens on the side. Were he an infielder, there would be times when a manager would want to substitute for him because of how rough his defense can be, but you don’t really want to remove a hitter like this from your lineup in the middle of a game. However the defensive end of things shakes out for Mead (here he projects in left field for the third straight season), he has enough bat to be an above-average everyday player, combining potent contact, power, and perhaps a newfound sense of the strike zone. 2. Taj Bradley, SP Video Drafted: 5th Round, 2018 from Redan HS (GA) (TBR) Age 21.9 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 55 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 60/60 60/60 40/40 45/55 50/60 93-97 / 99 Not all of the pitchers who showed a velocity increase during 2020 Instructional League activity, which came after the prolonged pandemic layoff, have sustained that bump. Bradley has, and he’s done so while building an innings count that should help vault him into the Rays rotation at some point in 2023. He only averaged 91-94 mph during the 2019 season, but he has been parked in the 94-97 range since that ’20 instructs period. His pitch efficiency has been ludicrous and actually got better in 2022, when he walked just 6% of opposing batters. Bradley hammers the zone with his heater (he threw strikes with his fastball at a 71% clip in 2022), and the uphill line and carry on the pitch make it difficult for hitters to get on top of, especially at these velocities. His slider often has curt, unspectacular-looking movement, but Bradley’s command of it and the way he sets it up with well-located fastballs make it a dominant pitch. He’s adept at dropping it into the top of the strike zone, around the hands of left-handed hitters who think it’s a fastball above the zone until it cuts down onto the corner. These two pitches are Bradley’s most-used weapons by a wide margin, as his splitter and curveball are both used 6-7% of the time. Because his delivery is so elegant and consistent, Bradley’s splitter has deep projection. Yes, he’s reached Triple-A, but this is a 21-year-old we’re talking about here. He’s likely to develop feel for that pitch over time and have a more complete arsenal at peak. His fastball’s underlying traits will make his current style of pitching effective at the big league level, and Bradley’s demonstrated durability and command mean he’s going to consume a ton of innings and have some years where he’s one of baseball’s top 25 or so starters from a WAR standpoint even if that splitter is only ever okay. 50 FV Prospects 3. Kyle Manzardo, 1B Drafted: 2nd Round, 2021 from Washington State (TBR) Age 22.5 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 205 Bat / Thr L / R FV 50 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 55/70 40/45 40/50 40/40 40/50 40 Manzardo put up video game numbers at Washington State, slashing .336/.404/.533 during his time with the Cougars and walking nearly as much as he struck out during his draft year. He had among the highest average exit velocities in college baseball at a whopping 98 mph, though that came with what would constitute 40-grade peak exit velocities, around 105 mph (and with a BBCOR bat — major league players’ average is 110 mph with wood). Those metrics illustrate the way Manzardo’s skill set is tailored. He doesn’t have big, over-the-fence power, and instead boasts premium feel for contact and a great idea of the strike zone that makes him a dangerous lefty stick who grinds away at opposing pitchers. Manzardo hasn’t hit a single speed bump in pro ball and moved into the Top 100 during the middle of 2022 on the strength of his statistical performance and visual feel to hit. He slashed .327/.426/.617 combined at High-A Bowling Green and Double-A Montgomery (for the final month), hitting 22 homers across the two levels. He barely ever chases and sprays hard line drives and fly balls everywhere, covering all but the very up-and-in corner of the plate, where Manzardo tends to get jammed. Every aspect of his offense is plus except for his raw power, but Manzardo’s precise feel for the barrel and tendency to hunt pitches he can drive (or spoil ones he can’t until he gets something hittable) should enable his game power to play above his batting practice raw. He’s similar to DJ LeMahieu and Vinnie Pasquantino from a skill set standpoint and should provide a long-term answer at first base for the Rays within the next couple of years. 4. Carson Williams, SS Drafted: 1st Round, 2021 from Torrey Pines HS (TBR) Age 19.6 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 20/30 55/60 25/60 55/55 45/55 70 Williams was a two-way high school player who was talented enough to be considered a prospect as both a shortstop and pitcher. The Rays gave him a $2.3 million bonus to keep him from heading to Cal and have developed him solely at short. So far that looks to have been the correct assessment, as Williams hit 19 homers, tallied 51 extra-base hits, stole 28 bases and solidified shortstop as his future defensive home during his 2022 foray into full-season ball. Williams has a prototypical baseball frame at a strapping 6-foot-2, and has the range, actions, and internal clock to remain at shortstop long-term, as well as a great infield arm. His raw power has improved considerably over the last two years, and at age 19, he already has thunderous pull-side pop and is lifting the ball consistently in games. His hard-hit and barrel rates are already well above what is typical for a big league shortstop, and he still has more room for mass on his frame. Still, there are all kinds of hit tool red flags here, both in the data and in Williams’ visual scouting report. For one, he struck out in a third of his A-ball plate appearances, and the track record for hitters who K that much at such a low level is not very good. We can quibble over whether A-ball dynamics have changed due to the elimination of the short season leagues in a way that might invalidate historical precedents like this, but it’s reasonable to have some pause about Williams’ long-term prospectdom when you realize the closest 2022 comp for his contact data (66% contact%, 78% z-contact) was Paul DeJong. Williams’ swing makes it tough for him to get to pitches finishing down-and-in, and eyeball scouts think his breaking ball recognition is middling. His defensive ability alone gives him a big league floor, and his power gives him a big ceiling if he can get to it in games. He’s such a good athlete with such polished baseball aptitude (the Rays field staff raves about it unprompted) that this forecast expects him to make the necessary adjustments to do so. 5. Junior Caminero, 3B Video Signed: July 2nd Period, 2019 from Dominican Republic (CLE) Age 19.6 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 20/45 55/60 20/60 50/50 30/50 60 Powerful and explosive, the exciting Caminero was among the DSL’s home run leaders in 2021 before coming over from Cleveland in a 40-man roster deadline trade for pitcher Tobias Myers that offseason. He took a throw to the face during extended spring training, but was back for the start of the Complex League season and was one of that league’s most dominant hitters, slashing .326/.403/.492 with a 13% K% and 10% BB%, and earning a promotion to full-season ball, which also went swimmingly (.299/.359/.505). Caminero is much bigger than his team-listed height and weight, and is very likely a third base-only fit, though the Rays continue to give him some middle infield reps. He also has sizable raw power thanks to his plus bat speed and a promising early-career bat-to-ball track record. Caminero has a big leg kick, loads his hands low, and swings with bloodthirsty effort, with plus bat speed driving big pull-side power. His peak exit velocities are absurd for a teenager, and while his breaking ball recognition and overall plate discipline are both crude, his in-zone feel for contact is also very promising. The hit/power combination to profile at third base is pretty comfortably here, and Caminero might yet come into more power at physical maturity. He might have to augment his swing to get to all of that power, and the chase component threatens to drag the hit tool down, but guys who hit the ball this often and this hard tend to turn into good big leaguers. 45+ FV Prospects 6. Greg Jones, SS Video Drafted: 1st Round, 2019 from UNC Wilmington (TBR) Age 24.9 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr S / R FV 45+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 20/30 55/55 30/45 80/80 40/45 45 Jones was a fascinating amateur prospect who ended up heading to UNC Wilmington because he was extremely raw for a 19-year-old high school hitter despite his speed and power. Old enough to be a draft-eligible sophomore two years later, there were scouts who thought Jones had the best tools package in the entire 2019 draft, but still his bat-to-ball skills and inconsistent defense made clubs uncomfortable, and he wasn’t taken until the back of the first round. Jones largely remains that same kind of player. He struck out in 35.8% of his 2022 PA with Double-A Montgomery and looked especially lost against offspeed pitches, slashing .238/.318/.392 (an 88 wRC+) as a 24-year-old and eliciting mixed opinions from scouts about his defense (mostly related to his throwing). Still, the Rays saw fit to put Jones on their 40-man roster after the 2022 season so they and they alone would have access to the next couple years of his development, for as long as they’re willing to use a roster spot on what is still a developmental player. That’s because sometimes Jones will show you all-world ability. His range on defense is incredible, and while his throwing stroke is atypical for a big league shortstop, he finds improbable ways to get the ball over to first base via his body control. Jones is also capable of punishing fastballs. Synergy Sports has him slashing .291/.369/.481 against heaters in 2022, and he’s effective as a fastball hitter from both sides of the plate. He has enough power to hit the occasional oppo tank from the left side, and shows above-average pull-side raw from the right. He wouldn’t be a good big league player if you inserted him into a lineup tomorrow, and in part because the Rays have been too slow in expanding Jones’ horizons to non-shortstop positions, he’s probably a ways off from even playing a limited, speed-driven role toward the bottom of the roster. It’s reasonable to hope, especially if/when he learns to play other positions, for Jones to provide a switch-hitting version of what Christopher Morel did during his rookie season with the Cubs, and there’s a chance that he has some huge seasons in his late 20s. 7. Mason Montgomery, SP Drafted: 6th Round, 2021 from Texas Tech (TBR) Age 22.6 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr L / L FV 45+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops 50/55 50/55 60/60 40/45 90-94 / 96 Whether they have player dev shortcomings or are just under-scouted in a talent-dense state, Texas Tech seems to leave developmental meat on the bones of their pitching prospects, many of whom enjoy performance improvement in pro ball. Montgomery is the most recent example of this, finishing 2022 (his first full pro season) sixth in the minors in strikeouts while reaching Double-A. He was especially dominant against High-A hitters (12.4 K/9 with Bowling Green, 8.8 K/9 with Montgomery), who struggled to parse Montgomery’s oddly-paced, deceptive delivery. His glove hand plays the role of the magician’s assistant, flying above Montgomery’s head and toward the hitter when, suddenly, the baseball appears out from behind his head. This smokescreen is common throughout Tampa’s system. Montgomery already had his ultra-short, vignette arm action when they drafted him. His arm is totally bent until he extends to release the baseball, which he does with a nearly perfect north/south arm slot, imparting the look of rise on his fastball. It looks a little awkward and Montgomery doesn’t have precise fastball command, but because of the heater’s shape, he doesn’t have to. He does, however, have consistent feel for locating his changeup. Even though this pitch was de-emphasized in 2022, it’s still a viable big league offering and would probably be a much bigger part of his operation if Montgomery were put in a big league rotation tomorrow. His mid-80s slider is new (he used to have a mid-70s curveball) and played like a plus pitch in 2022 even though he hadn’t been throwing it very long. There are three potential bat-missing pitches here even though Montgomery only sits 91-93 mph, and he’s already built enough of an innings count to track like a late-2024 addition to the big league rotation. 45 FV Prospects 8. Osleivis Basabe, 2B Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Venezuela (TEX) Age 22.4 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 188 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 55/60 40/40 20/30 50/50 45/50 55 Poised to play a multi-positional infield role in the big leagues relatively soon, Basabe makes an over-aggressive approach and high-effort swing work via his fantastic hand-eye coordination and bat control, which have made him a .316/.375..434 career hitter in the minors. He takes such wild full-body hacks that sometimes he looks like he’s going to faceplant in the batter’s box, but Basabe finds all sorts of funky ways to put the bat on the baseball, usually in the form of high infield choppers and opposite-field line drives. We’re talking about a 91% Z-contact rate in 2022, a 70 on the scale. Almost completely lacking over-the-fence power (he has just eight career homers in four seasons), Basabe is like a boxer who beats you with nothing but jabs. He’s passable at shortstop but a better fit at third and second base, where he makes acrobatic plays through sheer effort, and his lightning-quick transfer makes him especially good at fielding high choppers that he has to get rid of quickly, which third base sees most often. He’ll probably carve out a 250-ish plate appearance role with the Rays within the next few years. 9. Carlos Colmenarez, SS Video Signed: July 2nd Period, 2021 from Venezuela (TBR) Age 19.2 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr L / R FV 45 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 20/40 40/50 20/40 55/55 45/60 60 A sweet-swinging, lefty-hitting shortstop with a good frame, Colmenarez was among the highest profile (and most highly paid) prospects in the 2021 international amateur class. A hamate injury cost him all but 17 games in 2021 and likely impacted his performance in those, and he also missed a few weeks of the ’22 slate while posting a shrug-inducing .254/.379/.381 line and striking out a lackluster 27% of the time. While the hitters in the 45+ FV tier have offensive tools that might enable them to leap into the Top 100, that is probably not true of Colmenarez, who now has a glove-heavy utility infield profile. He’s not only likely to stay at short but might be plus there. He has plus hands and actions, and closer to average range and arm strength. Of medium build, there is probably not going to be impact power here at maturity, so any sort of everyday role will have to be obtained via Colmenarez’s hit tool, which looks like a future 40 so far. Still, lefty-hitting shortstops with this kind of athleticism don’t exactly grow on trees, and Colmenarez now has the look of a low-end shortstop regular or luxury utilityman, albeit one who’s still a great distance from the Trop. 10. Kameron Misner, CF Video Drafted: 1st Round, 2019 from Missouri (MIA) Age 25.1 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 218 Bat / Thr L / L FV 45 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/30 60/60 50/55 55/55 45/45 55 Misner was a talented if maddening college prospect whose combination of plus raw power and speed was sometimes masked by a foot injury. He was well-regarded despite industry knowledge that he’d need a swing overhaul in pro ball and was likely to be a slow-burning developmental project, especially for a college hitter. But the possibility that he’d turn into a left-handed-hitting George Springer was very enticing, and the Marlins selected him 35th overall in the 2019 draft. In the two-and-a-half seasons since then, Misner had made some mechanical tweaks, was traded to the Rays for Joey Wendle, and reached Triple-A while maintaining his power-over-hit reputation. Misner can put balls out to all-fields with the flick of his wrists. The changes he’s made to his swing since college (a bigger leg kick, hands loading further away from his body and out over the plate) have helped the power play in games, and Misner sprayed a career-high 16 home runs out of Southern League ballparks in 2022. He also K’d at a 30% clip, which is consistent with his career norms, so while the changes have aided the power, they haven’t solved Misner’s issues with contact, and he swings over the top of lots of secondary pitches. After the org asked him to alter his two-strike approach in the middle of the year, Misner cut his strikeouts a bit and hit .305 from July on. In many ways Misner is like Josh Lowe. He has a pretty extreme, power-dependent profile and is on the defensive fringe in center field. The Rays opted not to protect him from the Rule 5 this offseason and Misner went unselected. Plus left-handed power like his tends to find a way to play in games, and his on-base skills will help make that a reality in a platoon capacity at one of the outfield spots. 11. Cole Wilcox, SP Video Drafted: 3rd Round, 2020 from Georgia (SDP) Age 23.5 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 230 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops 55/55 55/60 45/55 35/45 93-97 / 100 Wilcox was a 50 FV high school prospect who fell toward the bottom of teams’ first tier of prep pitching due to the shape of his fastball and his physically mature frame. He ended up at Georgia, where he pitched out of the bullpen throughout much of his freshman year and routinely sat 97-99 mph in that role, often touching 100. As a starter in 2020, Wilcox sat 93-96 with more consistent command than he had as a freshman (he walked no hitters in his final three starts and walked just two in 23 total innings) and more effective slider shape. The Padres drafted him in the third round and gave him $3.3 million, which broke the record for a third rounder’s bonus, then traded him to the Rays as part of the Blake Snell deal before Wilcox had thrown a pitch at a Padres affiliate. While his Low-A assignment to start 2021 was a very conservative line for the Rays to take, Wilcox only walked five hitters in 44 innings there before he was shut down with an injury that would ultimately lead to Tommy John surgery in September and cost him most of ’22. He made a few short rehab appearances on the complex in August and four Low-A starts after that, working two to three innings at a time, with his fastball in the 91-94 mph range. It was such a quick return from the TJ that it’s too early to be worried about the arm strength regression. The sink and tail on Wilcox’s fastball causes hitters to chop it into the ground, which helps embolden him to go right at them and work efficiently. This, plus his burly, innings-eating frame, has us locked in on him as a starter prospect even though he’s only thrown about 85 innings combined as a starter since 2020. If there’s anything that might hinder that, it’s that Wilcox has barely gotten reps with his split/change because of his initial ‘pen role in college, the time missed due to the pandemic, and now the timing of his surgery. When it’s right, he has a biting, two-plane out pitch in his slider, which sits in the 85-89 mph range and often has more length than any pitch that hard has a right to be. His peak fastball, slider and present command would be enough to project Wilcox in a late-inning bullpen role, but a better change or split (the development of which was slowed by his freshman role) would enable him to be a mid-rotation piece. 40+ FV Prospects 12. Brailer Guerrero, RF Signed: July 2nd Period, 2023 from Dominican Republic (TBR) Age 16.6 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 25/55 45/55 25/55 45/40 30/50 50 Signed for $3.7 million in early January as the org’s top international amateur, Guerrero had one of the most picturesque swings in the 2023 class, a lovely and dynamic cut that produces all-fields power. At his size, he is a certain corner outfielder, but his hitting talent makes him a potential everyday force. Guerrero will likely spend 2023 in the DSL and come to the U.S. if the Rays have instructs, assuming their complex has sufficiently recovered from Hurricane Ian by then (the Rays are playing minor league spring games in Orlando due to current issues on their Port Charlotte campus). 13. Mason Auer, RF Video Drafted: 5th Round, 2021 from San Jacinto (TX) (TBR) Age 21.9 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/50 55/60 30/50 55/55 35/60 70 A toolsy two-way prospect at Kickapoo High School in Missouri, hit tool questions funneled Auer to college and he spent a year at Missouri State before transferring to San Jacinto for his sophomore season. The Rays used a fifth rounder on him and Auer slayed A-ball as a 21-year-old in his first full pro season, slashing .290/.372/.487 split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Bowling Green. Then Auer went to the Arizona Fall League, where he stood out among lots of other premier hitting prospects because of his physicality and showcase tools. Auer is one of the buffest players in all of pro baseball, an 80 on the beefcake scale, and the strength of his upper body helps facilitate his power output. He also runs well enough to continue seeing time in center field (a jailbreak 4.19 was his best AFL bolt, with most times in the 4.25-4.30 second range, better than average) and could be plus in a corner if he can’t stay there. Some of Auer’s batting average performance was BABIP-driven, and his K% spiked after promotion. His feel to hit is south of average even though his surface-level stats indicate otherwise, but the entire package looks like a good big league outfielder, the sort Tampa Bay tends to Voltron together with a lefty-hitting partner to create a 3-WAR player in aggregate. 14. Colby White, SIRP Drafted: 6th Round, 2019 from Mississippi State (TBR) Age 24.6 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Command Sits/Tops 70/70 50/55 40/40 92-95 / 97 There’s no change to White’s blurb. He had Tommy John in April of 2022 and missed the entire year, but the Rays added him to the 40-man roster after the season anyway since his rehab timeline puts him on track to return relatively early during the ’23 slate. He spent two years at Pearl River Community College, then transferred to Mississippi State where he dominated, striking out nearly two batters per inning. White is of the vertical fastball/breaking ball power-pitching variety, leaning heavily on his 93-98 mph heater, which features huge carry at the top of the zone. His slider isn’t nearly as good, but it had gotten better over the year prior to his elbow blowing out and could be above-average if that trajectory continues. This fastball is going to pave over lots of big league hitters, giving White a chance to pitch in late-inning relief. 15. Heriberto Hernandez, LF Video Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Dominican Republic (TEX) Age 23.1 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/35 60/60 50/55 30/30 30/40 40 Arguably the best hitter in 2019 complex ball, Hernandez earned the nickname “Heribertgod” during a late-season tear that included a dominant postseason run in two different leagues. He was stuffed toward the back of the Top 100 list after that season and traded from Texas to Tampa Bay as part of the sizable Nate Lowe/Osleivis Basabe deal during the winter of 2020. He hit for power amid injury in 2021 but started to show potentially problematic strikeout issues, though one could argue it was too small a sample to trust. That continued in 2022 at High-A (31.4% K%), and the issue is severe enough and has been demonstrated across a big enough sample to now reposition Hernandez outside the Top 100. Heriberto walked at a 13.6% clip (in line with career norms) and hit 24 homers in 2022 despite striking out a ton, as his short little T-Rex arms make it tough for him to cover the outer third of the plate. His hand speed through the zone is ridiculous, and it’s amazing how such a compact athlete can generate such power at this size. So hellbent on pull-side contact is Hernandez that he’s capable of barrelling pitches that look like they’re going to bean him in the ribs. The on-base skill and power playability should help Heriberto play a Harold Ramírez type of role as a dangerous righty LF/1B. 16. Cooper Kinney, 3B Drafted: 1st Round, 2021 from Baylor HS (TN) (TBR) Age 20.0 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 25/55 45/50 20/50 40/40 30/45 50 Kinney tore the labrum in his shoulder in the spring and didn’t get into a regular season game in 2022, but he was able to pick up reps during Tampa Bay’s Instructional League activity after the season. He is a physical, lefty-hitting infielder with advanced feel for contact and a big, projectable frame. Kinney has terrific natural feel for working the opposite field gap, and he generates impressive power for his age despite using a very short, conservative style of swinging. He had a 2-to-1 balls-in-play to swinging strike ratio during his pre-draft showcase period, when he was facing a curated tier of high school peers; as much as showcase data is meaningful at all, it’s this sort that can be leaned on the most. A fairly slow-twitch athlete, Kinney caught a little bit in high school and played mostly second base during his first pro trial on the complex, but he’s much more likely to be a long-term athletic fit at third base, and there’s a chance he outgrows that and moves to first. Other than a slight tendency to expand the zone on fastballs away from him, his early-career plate discipline performance is encouraging. That’s going to be very important, especially if Kinney slips down the defensive spectrum. Variability around his size could also mean variability around his eventual raw power, which might be plus if indeed he gets too big for some positions, or if the Rays and Kinney make his swing a little more kinetic. The carrying tool here is Kinney’s bat, which gives him a puncher’s chance to be an everyday player, even at a corner infield spot. 17. Xavier Isaac, 1B Drafted: 1st Round, 2022 from East Forsyth HS (NC) (TBR) Age 19.1 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 240 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 25/55 55/60 25/55 20/20 20/30 40 It was a surprise when Isaac came off the board in the first round of the 2022 draft and even more of a surprise when he signed for full slot. It’s difficult to clear the major’s sky-scraping offensive bar at first base, and the track record of 1B/DH-only athletes coming straight out of high school is checkered at best. Teams, especially those the industry feels are more analytically-inclined, tend only to wade into these waters when there’s a relatively high degree of confidence in the prospect’s bat, as there was with Nick Pratto and Triston Casas. Often this confidence is the result of a large sample of data generated against elite peers on the showcase circuit and in geographic locations where the quality of varsity baseball is extremely high, like Southern California and Florida. That wasn’t the case with Isaac, and so this pick is a departure for Tampa Bay. There were other teams on Isaac in roughly this range, through pick 60 or so. He has pretty serious juice for a high school hitter and can do damage when he’s off balance through sheer strength and bat speed. Isaac tracks pitches well with his eyes and shows you the ability to move the barrel east and west at the bottom of the strike zone, either poking contact the other way or taking a healthy, pull-side rip depending on the situation. Visual indications of an exciting hit and power combination, even for a first baseman, are definitely here, it’s just that they were shown against pitchers throwing 84-89 mph. The elements of Isaac’s eyeball report are enough to consider him a prospect, but it’s hard to know how good those elements are until he starts accumulating pro at-bats. 18. Ian Seymour, MIRP Drafted: 2nd Round, 2020 from Virginia Tech (TBR) Age 24.1 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops 45/45 50/55 50/55 55/55 50/50 93-95 / 96 Seymour had a dominant 2021. He wasn’t sent to an affiliate until late June, but after he finally started pitching, he ascended through the Rays system like a rocket ship, making two starts each at Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham to end the year. He struck out a whopping 87 hitters across 55 innings throughout the season, posting a 19% swinging strike rate that was nearly the best in a loaded org. He made just a few starts in 2022 before he was shut down with a flexor strain and, ultimately, had Tommy John in June. Violent deception and a plus changeup drive Seymour’s ability to miss bats. He’s a squat-bodied guy with short levers and a vertical arm slot, so his fastball approaches the plate with shallow angle and backspin, giving it the ability to blow past hitters in the strike zone. He has an NC-17 delivery with a grotesque head whack, but that doesn’t seem to inhibit his ability to throw strikes and his mechanics are off-putting to hitters, who don’t seem comfortable in the box against him. Seymour’s changeup has 10 mph of separation from his fastball and he sells it like a seasoned used car salesman by maintaining his delivery’s effort and arm speed. The 2023 season is his 40-man evaluation year, so how Seymour looks when he returns from TJ will dictate whether he gets added. The timing of the surgery makes it more likely that Seymour ends up as a nasty multi-inning reliever. 19. Willy Vasquez, CF Signed: July 2nd Period, 2019 from Dominican Republic (TBR) Age 21.4 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/45 55/60 30/50 55/50 40/50 60 Vasquez’s 2022 was a tale of two halves. His brother passed away just before the season and he was understandably dealing with the aftermath of that during the earlier portion of the calendar. When May ended, he was hitting just .205 and taking hapless at-bats. From June on, he hit .283/.347/.465, cut his strikeouts by nearly a third, and hit nine of his 10 2022 home runs. Extremely muscular and somewhat stiff, Vasquez is a very explosive hitter with plus bat speed and power. The downward-cutting nature of his swing doesn’t allow that power to play in games, and Vasquez has only slugged .410 each of the last two years despite swinging like a human blur. The overall look of his cut is kind of strange, and there are scouts who don’t think it will play in the upper minors. Vasquez also needs to find a defensive home. He has seen time all over the infield so far, including at shortstop, but an eventual full-time move to third base is probable, and Vasquez doesn’t necessarily bend well enough or have the hands to stay there, either. The outfield may be his ultimate destination, as projected here. Most aspects of Vasquez’s profile remain magmatic. You can’t teach this kind of bat speed, and it gives him considerable upside if the hit tool is real, regardless of what position Vasquez ends up playing. Still, despite his mid-2022 rebound, there are reasons to be apprehensive about the bat actually playing. 20. Nick Bitsko, SP Video Drafted: 1st Round, 2020 from Central Bucks East HS (TBR) Age 20.6 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 220 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 50/60 50/60 35/50 30/50 92-95 / 97 Bitsko was originally going to be part of the 2021 draft but reclassified in January of ’20 , moving up a class at what turned out to be an inopportune time. Though he was a known underclass prospect, the COVID shutdown meant teams barely had any time to bear down on the cold-weather righty with the urgency typically applied to someone who’s eligible to be picked in a couple of months rather than a couple of years. As a result, teams’ opinions of Bitsko were driven by what he did in the fall of 2019 (he was 92-96 mph in front of heavy-hitting eyeballs at East Coast Pro) and, in the case of some teams, what they saw in the bullpen just before the shutdown, plus any pitch data he generated thereafter. In each instance, Bitsko’s arm strength, curveball, and touch-and-feel command were on par with first-round high school arms. Still, some teams weren’t comfortable taking a player they’d barely seen, and this dichotomy made Bitsko’s stock volatile. He seemed like someone’s overslot target in the comp round, but the Rays took him before he could fall that far and signed him for $3 million. After experiencing fits of shoulder soreness and discomfort during his post-draft remote training, Bitsko elected to have labrum surgery in December of 2020. Shoulder issues persisted during his rehab, and he didn’t get into an actual pro game until June of 2022, approaching three years since he had last pitched in a competitive setting. When he finally took the mound, Bitsko looked to be in amazing shape for someone who had been shelved for so long, but his arm strength hadn’t totally returned. He made 10 appearances on the complex before being sent out to an affiliate for his final four starts, sitting 90-94 for most of that stretch. His power breaking ball was intact, though, and it is still comfortably plus when he finishes it in a competitive location. As you can probably tell from peeking at Bitsko’s walk totals, that wasn’t usually the case. His arm circle is quite long and his feel for release was very inconsistent; he scattered his fastball all over the place. This might have been rust related, but it isn’t as if we have a big pre-injury sample to point to as evidence that Bitsko actually has starter-level command. He still has a prototypical starter’s frame and one hell of a breaking ball, but shoulder issues can be very disruptive, as Brendan McKay followers and Rays fans know. I think you can still reasonably hope that Bitsko might end up being really good, and even though it’d be tough to value him in this area if you were a GM having actual trade discussions with the Rays, the possibility that he might be much more than a 40 demands that he be positioned in this FV tier. 40 FV Prospects 21. Tristan Peters, RF Drafted: 7th Round, 2021 from Southern Illinois (MIL) Age 22.9 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 35/60 40/45 30/40 50/50 30/50 55 Peters has already played meaningful baseball all over the country. The Canadian outfielder was a southwest JUCO player who matriculated to Southern Illinois, he was drafted by Milwaukee and has already been traded twice, once to San Francisco (Trevor Rosenthal) and then to Tampa Bay (Brett Wisely) on 40-man deadline day. His carrying tool is the bat. Peters is a contact-oriented corner outfield prospect with great feel for the barrel. He has a slow, balanced stride before his hands fire, and is adept at altering his posture mid-swing to change his bat path to meet the baseball. Peters has a narrow build and isn’t an especially physical player, but he still swings pretty hard and has potent doubles pop right now. His ceiling will be dictated by how much stronger he can get, and at age 23, the clock is ticking. Even with middling power, he’s got the most important skill in the game and is tracking like a corner platoon bat with a plus hit tool but not enough power to be a Matt Joyce-style 45. 22. Michael Mercado, SP Drafted: 2nd Round, 2017 from Westview HS (CA) (TBR) Age 23.8 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops 50/50 50/50 45/50 40/50 45/50 93-97 / 99 Mercado’s velocity has yo-yo’d throughout his pro career and did so again in 2022. Drafted as a projectable high schooler with an upper-80s heater, he had TJ in 2019 and returned during instructs the following year sitting 93-94 mph. After a velo dip in 2021, he arrived at camp last season sitting 96-99 in the bullpen. As 2022 progressed, that dialed down into the 92-95 range, still a career best for Mercado as he worked 102.2 innings at Double-A, also a career high. The most important development, though, was Mercado’s mid-season addition of a late-moving cutter. The upper-80s offering gave him a second breaking ball and a way to keep hitters off his fastball. Mercado entered the All-Star break with a 6.08 ERA, then posted a 3.78 ERA, 27% K% and 7% walk rate in the second half after adding the cutter. There’s still not a true plus pitch here but the command and repertoire depth of a fifth starter are present. 23. JJ Goss, SP Drafted: 1st Round, 2019 from Cypress Ranch HS (TX) (TBR) Age 22.1 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Splitter Command Sits/Tops 40/40 50/55 40/45 50/55 35/60 90-94 / 95 Goss continues to fill the zone with four pitches — a low-90s fastball, an average slider and split, a get-me-over curveball — and walked just 5% of opposing batters in 2022, making him a high-floor/low-ceiling prospect likely to pitch toward the back of a rotation eventually. His spin rates were abnormally high shortly after he entered pro ball (2,600 rpm on his fastball for a while!) but are now back down to his pre-draft levels, which is a bit of a sticking point in this evaluation. His on-mound athleticism and projected plus command should enable Goss’ split/change to play like an above-average pitch at peak, and he shows consistent feel for creating tail and tumble on that pitch. Goss will be an interesting 2023 Rule 5/40-man candidate if he can sustain this level of performance amid an innings increase (Goss threw 100 frames in 2022) and against upper-level hitters. 24. Ronny Simon, 2B Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Dominican Republic (CHC) Age 22.8 Height 5′ 9″ Weight 165 Bat / Thr S / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/35 45/50 30/40 60/60 50/50 45 Simon has already been traded twice: once from the Cubs to the Diamondbacks as the PTBNL in exchange for lefty reliever Andrew Chafin, and then from Arizona to Tampa Bay for Jordan Luplow. He is coming off a season in which he posted slightly above-average batting lines at High- and Double-A before hitting really well in the Fall League. He still wasn’t added to the Rays 40-man and went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft, likely due to a lack of real defensive versatility. Simon’s general defensive inconsistency and throwing stroke aren’t great fits on the left side of the infield (his first step and range are great, everything else is a bit inconsistent), and there are scouts who think he’s landlocked at second base. Built like a little sports car, Simon packs quite a wallop for a hitter his size, especially from the left side of the plate. He has to swing with a lot of effort to generate it, though. That creates some natural swing-and-miss, which is compounded by Simon’s wreckless plate discipline. There’s enough happening here to consider Simon an above-replacement player, and if he were given second base reps every day, he’d probably hit double digit homers and steal double digit bases. It’s just tough to find a consistent big league role for a second base-only guy who isn’t hitting quite enough to play every day. 25. Logan Workman, SP Drafted: 7th Round, 2021 from Lee University (TBR) Age 24.1 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops 55/55 45/50 50/55 30/40 30/50 93-95 / 96 Workman went to Soddy Daisy High School in Tennessee and pitched for the Savannah Bananas during the summer of 2020 after his junior year was squashed by COVID. Drafted as a fourth-year junior out of Division-II Lee University in 2021, Workman was shot out of a cannon in ’22 and dominated Low-A so mightily that he was quickly promoted to Bowling Green. The barrel-torso’d righty maintained a 93-96 mph fastball all year and made alterations to his secondary pitches — he leans on a changeup but also has a vertical breaker and a new cutter — while throwing plenty of strikes across 90 innings of work. He doesn’t have a typical big league starter’s build or athleticism, but he does have the arm strength and repertoire depth and looks like a fifth starter who might yet be scratching the surface. 26. Alika Williams, SS Drafted: 1st Round, 2020 from Arizona State (TBR) Age 23.9 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 40/50 35/40 20/30 60/60 50/60 55 A plus runner and slick shortstop defender, Williams’ carrying tool is his defensive ability. He’s also had a good bat-to-ball track record, but the nature of his swing (which appears geared for low-ball contact) and his propensity to chase might make him vulnerable against power fastballs at the letters in the big leagues, though for now it just limits the quality of his contact. Weirdly, the swing comp here is Zack Greinke, since Williams is best at ambushing fastballs middle-down and scooping them out to left field. He’s short to the ball and can lift balls down and in, while he serves pitches away from him the other way. He’s also not very physical. The Rays love his frame and think he’ll get stronger, but he left one of the best athletic programs in the country — ASU has a nice weight room — without much strength. He’s a low-variance bench infielder, most likely to play a role as a defensive replacement. 27. Kevin Kelly, SIRP Drafted: 19th Round, 2019 from James Madison (CLE) Age 25.2 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Command Sits/Tops 55/55 50/50 60/60 90-92 / 94 Tampa Bay’s 2022 Rule 5 pick from Cleveland, Kelly is a sidearm reliever with east/west command of a fastball/slider combination that has given hitters fits at each minor league level. He posted a 1.11 ERA at Akron during the first half of the 2022 season and a 2.73 mark at Columbus in the second, but the Guardians didn’t add him to their 40-man and the Rays popped him in the Rule 5. His fastball bores in toward the knees of right-handed hitters and is difficult to square up even though Kelly only sits 90-92 mph. The pitch generates a ton of groundballs; Kelly has never run a groundball rate south of 50%, and he is almost impossible to elevate. Even though his delivery is pretty whacky, he still has solid glove-side control of his slider. He isn’t Sergio Romo or anything, but he tends to live on the outer half and stay away from damage, missing the occasional bat against righties who just don’t see that pitch out of his hand. There’s enough here for Kelly to stick on Tampa Bay’s roster as a middle-inning option all throughout 2023, a great option out of the bullpen when you need a groundball to get out of a jam. 28. Evan Reifert, SIRP Video Undrafted Free Agent, 2020 (MIL) Age 23.7 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Command Sits/Tops 55/55 70/70 30/30 94-97 / 98 Reifert transferred from an Iowa JUCO to Central Missouri, became a $20,000 undrafted free agent of the Brewers after the 2020 draft, and then was flipped for big league role player Mike Brosseau within a few months of signing. While the sample was truncated somewhat by an injury that limited Reifert’s innings, his slider generated the top whiff rate of any pitch in the 2022 minors at a whopping 70%. Reifert went to Arizona to pick up innings in the fall (he threw 37.1 during the year, another 11.2 in the desert) and had maybe the best six-week run a reliever has ever had in the AFL. He struck out 25 hitters and allowed just one hit, which came on the final day of the season. Reifert’s slider is incredible, a low-80s knee-buckler that he throws about as much as his fastball; it often freezes hitters even when Reifert hangs it. He lacks feel for landing it consistently and until his AFL stint, he had struggled quite badly to throw strikes throughout his pro career. Reifert is not going to work efficiently. His slider-heavy style and the way he uses his mid-90s fastball (there was lots of 94-96 from him in AZ) are dependent on chase occurring throughout the entire at-bat, not just as a way of finishing hitters. It works in a middle relief capacity as projected here, but you’re playing with fire when you give big league lineups free passes as often as Reifert seems likely to. 29. Cristopher Barete, CF Signed: July 2nd Period, 2018 from Dominican Republic (TBR) Age 21.1 Height 5′ 9″ Weight 165 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 35/50 30/35 30/35 60/60 45/55 50 A torn meniscus kept Barete from playing during the 2022 regular season, but his extended spring training and instructs look were both very promising. The twitchy 21-year-old has an old school leadoff man’s skill set, searing liners and hard-hit grounders to all fields, then digging for first with all-out effort. As intense an on-field competitor as there is in this system, Barete’s on-field makeup fortifies scout confidence that he will find a way to max out his abilities and play a complementary big league role. 30. Ben Peoples, SP Drafted: 22th Round, 2019 from Giles County HS (TN) (TBR) Age 21.7 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Splitter Command Sits/Tops 45/50 60/60 40/50 30/45 91-95 / 96 Obscured by the pandemic in 2020 and a limited workload in ’21, Peoples had a fantastic ’22 season during which he struck out more than a batter per inning and showed one of the better breaking balls in the Rays org, an 80-84 mph hammer with huge depth. It plays nicely off his riding low-90s fastball, which averaged 92-94 mph throughout a 94-inning workload. Peoples’ walk totals are okay for now, but his style of pitching is chase-dependent and he doesn’t have a weapon that lives in the zone. It could eventually push him toward the bullpen, where he might have two plus pitches from the arm strength boost he’d theoretically enjoy from airing it out an innings at a time. 31. Austin Vernon, MIRP Drafted: 10th Round, 2021 from North Carolina Central (TBR) Age 24.0 Height 6′ 8″ Weight 256 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 60/60 50/55 45/50 55/60 30/40 94-96 / 97 The gigantic Vernon had a velocity spike late in his college career, when he went from averaging 92 mph to averaging 94-95 and touching 98 over his final few outings with North Carolina Central. He struck out 13.5/9 IP during a pre-draft stretch on Cape Cod but struggled with walks. The Rays drafted him in the 10th round. Vernon re-shaped his physique somewhat and seems to have better control of his never-ending limbs; he is also getting down the mound more than before. He so significantly curbed his walks while deployed in a multi-inning relief role during the first half of the 2022 season that the Rays moved him into the rotation and promoted him, after which the walks returned. He retained his peak arm strength, sitting 94-96 and typically topping out at 97 mph. Adding to his fastball’s playability is Vernon’s deceptive delivery, which is a loose impression of Chris Bassitt’s, except Vernon is 6-foot-8. Like Bassitt, Vernon has a bevy of pitches, mixing in two well-delineated breaking balls (the slider is a putaway offering right now) and a changeup that he commands with regularity. The Rays have the 2023 and ’24 seasons to continue developing Vernon as a starter before they have to consider him for the 40-man. Whatever regimen helps him sustain or continue to improve the level of conditioning he’s found in pro ball is the path they should take. From a mechanical standpoint, Vernon certainly looks like an eventual reliever. 32. Yoniel Curet, SIRP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2019 from Dominican Republic (TBR) Age 20.2 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 55/60 55/60 30/40 30/40 94-97 / 98 He’s a little more physically mature than most other 20-year-old pitching prospects, but Curet has good arm strength for his age (his fastball averaged 96 mph in 2022, up two ticks from ’21) and a nasty, sweeping, mid-70s curveball. His delivery features a well-balanced lower-half, but also a lot of head violence, and Curet struggled to throw strikes in his two-start cup of coffee with Charleston at the end of 2022. Barring more substantial control and changeup progression than is projected here, he looks like a relief prospect who is still probably at least two years away from 40-man consideration. 35+ FV Prospects 33. Brock Jones, CF Drafted: 2nd Round, 2022 from Stanford (TBR) Age 21.8 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 203 Bat / Thr L / L FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/35 60/60 35/50 60/60 40/50 50 Jones was a notable high school prospect who was considered unsignable due to his strong Stanford commitment. He brings a rare power and speed combination to the table for a college prospect, clubbing 40 homers and stealing 33 bags in 137 college games. Built like a tank, Jones compares in tools and swing to former Louisville outfielder Corey Ray. His uppercut bat path makes Jones extremely vulnerable to swings and misses, and barring adjustment, it’s going to make it very difficult for him to get on top of today’s high fastballs. Skepticism around Jones’ hit tool is why he was evaluated in this FV tier prior to the draft, more like a toolsy third or fourth rounder than a second. While his college strikeout rate (24%) wasn’t out of control on its own, visual scouting elements like Jones’ tendency to swing underneath shallow heaters and to stab over the top of changeups (similar to Ray and Yankees outfielder Estevan Florial) are driving the hit tool projection here. The good news is that Jones runs well enough to stay in center field. His routes are a bit circuitous at this point, but he covers plenty of ground and missed a year of reps due to the pandemic. 34. Ryan Cermak, RF Drafted: 2nd Round, 2022 from Illinois State (TBR) Age 21.7 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 205 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/35 60/60 35/50 55/55 30/55 60 Cermak hit for huge power during his second and third seasons at Illinois State, tallying a .301/.386/.600 career line. He was among crosscheckers’ and scouting directors’ most challenging evaluations in 2022, because it was difficult to get a great look at him playing center field (Cermak used to play third base) and to see Cermak face pro-quality stuff, rare in the Missouri Valley Conference. Stiff and very physical, Cermak is more explosive than he is athletic. He has plus raw power but is extremely vulnerable to high fastballs, which he routinely swings underneath, and he’s only going to see more and more of those as he climbs through the minors. While he played third base and then center field in college, Cermak is best suited for right. Still, it makes sense for Tampa to run him out in center for a while to see if he can polish his feel for the position, as he only moved there full-time in 2021. Similar to Brock Jones in many respects (except for handedness), Cermak may take longer to adjust to pro ball because the leap from the MVC is a big one. 35. Anthony Molina, SP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2018 from Venezuela (TBR) Age 21.0 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops 50/55 35/40 55/60 35/55 93-95 / 97 Molina threw his hard sinker for strikes at a 70% clip in 2022, and off of that he works a funky mid-80s changeup that is an actual bat-missing weapon. His low-spin slider flummoxed High-A hitters and has vertical shape, but it lacks great bite and is a visually below-average pitch that needs to develop if Molina is going to be a big league starter. The sinker/changeup combo along with Molina’s fastball control should facilitate some kind of big league role eventually, and the 21-year-old has been invited to big league camp in 2023. 36. Gary Gill Hill, SP Drafted: 6th Round, 2022 from JFK Catholic HS (NY) (TBR) Age 18.4 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 160 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops 35/55 50/55 40/50 20/45 88-92 / 95 An over-slot sixth round pick, Gill Hill presents a special combination of on-mound athleticism and projection at a wiry 6-foot-2. His bounding delivery and low three-quarters arm slot give his fastball a shallow approach angle, his slider has nasty two-plane break, and even though his arm swing is a little long right now, Gill Hill can sell his changeup with his arm speed. You can project pretty heavily on his present fastball velo range because of GGH’s lanky build and looseness. He’s a high-upside dev project for the Rays. 37. Trevor Martin, SIRP Drafted: 3rd Round, 2022 from Oklahoma State (TBR) Age 22.1 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 240 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 55/60 45/55 40/45 30/40 30/40 92-95 / 98 Martin has a riding mid-90s fastball that sits 93-94 mph and was up to 98 at Oklahoma State, where he was a draft-eligible sophomore reliever in 2022. He rocketed up draft boards late in the spring when he punched out 16 hitters in a 6.2-inning relief appearance during a Regional elimination game, working 93-96 for most of that outing. While his frame is maxed out, Martin only has the two college relief seasons under his developmental belt, so the Rays may be able to coax more out of at least one of his secondary offerings. 38. Antonio Jimenez, SP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Dominican Republic (TBR) Age 21.7 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 145 Bat / Thr L / L FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops 30/45 55/60 45/50 30/45 89-93 / 95 Jimenez sustained his typical level of performance in 2022 while throwing many more innings than he ever had in a single season, working 108.1 frames across 26 outings, with his ERA and FIP hovering around 4.00. In years prior, Jimenez had shown fastballs in the 91-97 mph range, and things tended to fall toward the bottom of that range last season. His changeup will flash average, while Jimenez’s two-plane, upper-70s slider is consistently above. Jimenez checks a lot of starter boxes because of his repertoire depth and on-mound athleticism, but his fastball is very vulnerable right now. It’s possible a bullpen move will coax out more velocity, which would allow Jimenez to pitch more heavily off his slider and lean into some of the parts of his delivery that disrupt hitters’ timing (he does the Luis Garcia “rock the baby” windup from the left side). He started to get his feet wet as a long reliever during the back half of 2022 and the ‘pen is his projected destination. If the velo pops with a move, Jimenez will probably stay on a roster in perpetuity. 39. Marcus Johnson, SP Drafted: 4th Round, 2022 from Duke (MIA) Age 22.1 Height 6′ 6″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops 30/40 50/55 45/50 30/50 92-94 / 95 One of the most projectable college pitching prospects in the 2022 draft, Johnson came over from Miami as part of a 40-man deadline deal for Xavier Edwards. He sits about 93 mph, and his size negatively impacts his fastball’s playability because its angle puts it on plane with hitters’ bat paths. His slider and changeup are both capable of getting whiffs, which is impressive considering Johnson spent just one collegiate season as a starter. What can be done about the fastball utility? Well, Johnson is athletic enough that his stride could be elongated to get him lower to the ground at release and create a shallower angle, and his frame indicates he might still get stronger and throw harder, which certainly wouldn’t hurt. He has the stuff of a depth starter with his current heater, but because he’s a recent draftee, the Rays have time to shape his repertoire. 40. Chandler Simpson, 2B Drafted: 2nd Round, 2022 from Georgia Tech (TBR) Age 22.2 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr L / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 35/60 30/30 20/30 80/80 35/40 30 A transfer from UAB to Georgia Tech, Simpson is a speed demon who is also extremely tough to make swing and miss. He has a slash-and-dash approach to contact, poking grounders and liners down the third base line and hauling ass to first. Then Simpson becomes a threat to steal, though he didn’t do so efficiently in 2022, with roughly a 60% success rate. He has some premium tools and data indicators (80 speed, a 2% swinging strike rate, a better-than-average chase rate), but he’s likely to end up with bottom-of-the-scale power and is stuck defensively, profiling as a below-average second baseman. He was one of the more fascinating prospects in the 2022 draft and either needs to add strength or defensive versatility to his game. 41. Austin Shenton, 1B Drafted: 5th Round, 2019 from Florida International (SEA) Age 25.0 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 230 Bat / Thr L / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/35 60/60 50/55 30/30 30/30 50 Shenton missed most of 2022 with a hip injury, another in a long line of injuries for him. He has plus raw power that he gets to in games via an ill-intentioned swing that is geared for extreme pull-side lift. Shenton is heavy and stiff and should really only play third base in a pinch; he is better suited for first base duty. His power makes him a dangerous bench option, but the bat-to-ball skills to play an integral corner role really aren’t here. 42. Alexander Alberto, SP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2019 from Dominican Republic (TBR) Age 21.2 Height 6′ 8″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Command Sits/Tops 30/55 40/45 45/50 30/40 90-92 / 95 There was no uptick to Alberto’s stuff in 2022, and he remains more of a frame-based projection sleeper than a well-defined big league prospect at this point. Built like an NBA forward at a lanky 6-foot-8, Alberto’s velocity has all sorts of abstract projection because his frame has yet to add strength and velocity. He has been sitting in the 90-94 mph range for the last two years, which was very exciting when he was 19 but hits a little different now that Alberto is 21. But he also has some freaky traits (high spin for his fastball velocity, which also has natural cut), so there are some other reasons to put your thumb on the FV scale here, even though from an arm strength standpoint Alberto looks like a generic college reliever. 43. Dominic Keegan, 1B Drafted: 4th Round, 2022 from Vanderbilt (TBR) Age 22.5 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/45 55/55 35/50 30/30 20/45 40 A four-year college performer in the SEC (.345/.431/.605), Keegan is generally seen as a first base prospect without quite enough bat, though the Rays announced him as a catcher when they drafted him; if he can develop there, it’ll give him the best shot to reach the bigs. After catching a couple of times every year, Keegan donned the Tools of Ignorance 25 times as a fourth-year junior. While his mobility and receiving are pretty good considering how little he’s played the position, his arm strength needs to improve for him to stay back there. Keegan has the bat to profile as a complementary catcher. Even with his grooved swing, his all-fields power is rare for a would-be backstop, but pretty fringy (especially for a right-handed hitter) at first base. 44. Josh Roberson, SIRP Drafted: 12th Round, 2017 from UNC Wilmington (MIA) Age 26.7 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops 50/55 55/60 40/45 40/45 90-93 / 95 The Player to Be Named Later Miami sent to Tampa Bay for Louis Head, Roberson has an explosive upper-90s fastball and a hard slider with variable shape and quality, at times breaking straight down and at times looking more like a cutter. It’s even possible there are two distinct breaking balls here, but Roberson is so wild that this write-up assumes it is just one breaking ball that he releases inconsistently. It’s slam dunk big league stuff undercut by 20-grade command, and Roberson has walked nearly a batter per inning throughout his career. At this age, things aren’t expected to suddenly “click” from a control standpoint, but Roberson’s stuff is still that of a lightning-in-a-bottle up/down type. 45. Justin Sterner, SIRP Undrafted Free Agent, 2020 (MIA) Age 26.4 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Command Sits/Tops 30/30 60/60 55/55 88-92 / 94 Signed as an undrafted free agent by Miami after the 2020 draft and later traded for David Hess, Sterner has a plus slider and upshot fastball, which lives entirely off its angle and deception. His delivery is as close to a shot putter’s motion as you’ll see in baseball, and its weirdness helps enable his success, but the heater lives on angle alone and doesn’t have remarkable life or velocity. His fastball spin rates actually tanked in 2022, down about 300 rpm from ’21. He commands it to the very top of the zone consistently enough that he stands a chance to survive against big league hitters, but not to dominate them. Sterner’s slider, which he uses half the time, is plus. It plays nicely with his fastball, and he spots it where he wants. He should be able to lean on that pitch en route to a high-probability up/down relief role. 46. Chris Muller, SIRP Drafted: 17th Round, 2017 from UT-San Antonio (TBR) Age 26.8 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 230 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Splitter Command Sits/Tops 55/55 50/50 55/55 30/35 94-97 / 99 Muller missed most of 2021 with shoulder tendinitis but his stuff was back in ’22, as he once again sat 94-96 mph and showed bat-missing ability with all three pitches throughout a season in Durham’s bullpen. Burly and stiff, Muller’s feel for location is imprecise, which impacts the quality and consistency of his secondary pitches. His fastball has riding life, while his split/change and slider are each quite firm and have late sink. All of those pitches are impressive individually but they don’t fit together in a way that tricks hitters, in part because of Muller’s control. Purely on stuff quality, it’s likely Muller pitches in the big leagues, hopping on and off the fringes of teams’ rosters unless his command improves. 47. Kamren James, 3B Drafted: 16th Round, 2022 from Mississippi State (TBR) Age 22.7 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 205 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/45 45/50 30/45 45/45 35/60 60 A polished defender with a plus arm, James is a well-rounded third baseman with plus soft skills (the arm, plate discipline) and vanilla power, especially for a corner infielder. He’s a slick enough defender that he might be able to slide up the defensive spectrum and try the middle infield, which he did in pro ball after signing; he also played a handful of games in center field while at Mississippi State. He could be a balanced utilityman. 48. Cade Halemanu, SIRP Drafted: 10th Round, 2022 from Hawaii (TBR) Age 22.5 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 40/50 40/45 60/60 30/40 91-94 / 96 Halemanu is built like an NFL quarterback and came out the gate in 2022 showing a much harder fastball, sitting 93-95 mph as a starter while finishing hitters with his trademark changeup. The velocity was inconsistent throughout the year, and Halemanu’s delivery seemed to lose some of its ease and athleticism at times. It’s possible better mechanics and/or a move to the bullpen will help the fastball be more consistent. The plus changeup and frame/athleticism combination that Halemanu presents makes him an interesting developmental prospect despite his age. Other Prospects of Note Grouped by type and listed in order of preference within each category. Toolsy Youngsters Angel Mateo, CF Santiago Suarez, SP Juanfel Peguero, SS Jhonny Piron, CF Nicandro Aybar, 3B Mateo, who turns 18 in a couple of weeks, had a huge 2022 in the DSL, bringing a well-composed frame and power/speed combination to the table. His swing is quite long. Suarez, who came over from Miami in the Xavier Edwards trade, is an 18-year-old righty with starter traits. He enjoyed a two-tick fastball bump in 2022 and now sits 90-94 mph with feel for a firm, mid-80s changeup and a true 76-79 mph curveball. At a softer-bodied 6-foot-1, he lacks frame-based physical projection. Peguero, 18, was the best shortstop defender in the Rays DSL group last year, and he has pretty good feel to hit. He came to Rays camp at about 140 pounds and needs to get stronger. The 18-year-old Piron, who signed for $1.8 million, has a speedy extra outfielder’s skill set but didn’t hit in 2022. Aybar is a switch-hitting infielder of medium build who made a ton of contact in the 2022 DSL. Fallen Friends Hunter Barnhart, SP Sandy Gaston, SIRP Brendan McKay, SP Barnhart, 20, is a recent over-slot high school pick who had Tommy John in 2021 and was out until the very end of ’22, when he sat 90-92 mph in his lone rehab outing. He also has a pretty curveball. Gaston was a big-name amateur who signed for just over $2.5 million. He’s still throwing hard (94-97 mph in the AFL) and will show you a plus slider, but his command causes everything to play down, closer to average. I’ve lost count of McKay’s injuries at this point. He deserved better. Southpaw Funk and Junk John Doxakis, SP Patrick Wicklander, SP Keyshawn Askew, SP Joe LaSorsa, RP Jacob Lopez, RP Aside from Wicklander, this entire group has east/west fastball movement created by a lower slot, a very popular archetype in this system. Doxakis has five pitches that all play a little worse than big league average. He might yet be a depth option. Wicklander paved over Low-A like you’d expect an SEC arm to. His uphill 91-94 mph fastball punches above its weight and he throws lots of strikes with it, though that’s not true of his slider or changeup. Askew, who has a great name for a low-slot lefty, was acquired from the Mets for Brooks Raley. The Clemson alum has a big, sweeping slider and may develop versatile fastball utility. He carved Low-A but, again, as a large-conference prospect, he should have. LaSorsa sits 84-86 but commands the hell out of a plus slider and is nice LOOGY depth. Lopez is another funky lefty with a huge sweeper who has missed time recovering from TJ. Young Velocity Over Galue, MIRP Jose Urbina, SP Junior William, RP Galue (pronounced like it is in Joey “Galloway,” not like “glue”) is a 21-year-old who sits 93-95 mph and has two really hard secondaries in his slider and changeup, both of which flash above average but are undermined by Galue’s control. Urbina, who signed on January 15 for $210,000, has been throwing harder of late and was bumping 97 not long before list publication. If he can sustain that through the year, he’ll move onto the main section of the list. His two-plane breaker has lovely natural sweep. William is a big-bodied 22-year-old righty with a max-effort delivery that generates a 94-97 mph fastball. Bench Depth Blake Hunt, C Tanner Murray, 2B Diego Infante, RF Matt Dyer, C Dru Baker, OF Ruben Cardenas, OF Shane Sasaki, LF This whole group could conceivably play a low-end bench role. Hunt still has a plus arm, but I overreacted to his new swing in the fall of 2020 and he doesn’t seem likely to hit enough to stick on a 40-man in perpetuity. Murray has a plus hit tool. His aggro approach and lack of power mean his OBP and SLG are going to be well below average, and as a 2B/3B fit on defense, you wish he had one of those other ingredients in addition to the contact piece. Infante is a corner outfielder with a 40 bat and 55 power. Dyer is a gangly catcher with a plus arm and a deuce bat. Baker, Cardenas, and Sasaki are all hovering in the Quad-A outfielder range, with Cardenas the closest of that group to the big leagues and Baker the one most likely to out-hit this ranking. System Overview The Rays had one of the best farm systems in baseball throughout the 2022 season, per our valuations. The graduation of four Top 100 prospects (if you’re wondering, Jonathan Aranda and Shane Baz both lost rookie eligibility — they’d otherwise be 50s), along with the reevaluation of Heriberto Hernandez and Greg Jones and uncertainty surrounding many of the high-profile pitchers due to injury, has delivered a bit of a body blow to the system. This group is still likely to be in the top 10 based on its fantastic depth, probably close to seventh in baseball give or take a couple of spots. The Rays’ 2022 amateur draft was interesting. The industry (and your friendly neighborhood prospect writer) thought they reached for first rounder Xavier Isaac, and second rounder Brock Jones generates mixed opinions. But they also collected as many interesting prospects (above the prospect list threshold, anyway) as any franchise in baseball. If the 2022 class turns out to be anything like the ’21 group, they’ll all shoot up this list over the next year. Seven of the Rays’ 2021 picks are on the list, with five occupying an impact FV tier (Manzardo, Carson Williams, Montgomery, Auer and Kinney). As always, the pro scouting department is heavily involved in building the farm, much more than is typical for a team that tends to operate on the buyer/contender end of the spectrum at the big league level. The Rays are extremely transactional. They trade established, lower-impact big leaguers once they lose roster flexibility or put pressure on the payroll, swapping them for minor league prospects (usually more than one to mitigate risk). Fourteen of the prospects here were originally drafted or signed by a different team, and if we include the Honorable Mention guys and the dudes who barely graduated, it’s 20 players. Continued success in this area is key to the Rays sustaining their recent competitive run.