ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays talk a lot about their depth and this season have shown it’s for good reason.
The team-record 61 players they have used (so far) to win 97 games and the American League East title include some signed as minor-league free agents, some acquired in trades big and small, and some prospects who rose through their farm system.
“It is not just talk, no. And I think we’ve proven that,” bullpen coach Stan Boroski said. “They say it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to win a World Series. It’s not just the 40 (players) you start with.”
Two of those young players who came up to make their debuts this season were honored Monday, as outfielder Josh Lowe was named the organization’s minor-league Player of the Year for his play at Triple-A Durham, and Shane Baz — who went a combined 5-4, 2.06 in 17 starts between Double-A Montgomery and Durham, around a stint with the silver medal-winning U.S. Olympic team — their top pitcher.
Lowe, 23, was rewarded with a cameo appearance in the majors earlier this month, called up in Boston to make a start at fabled Fenway Park. Baz, 22, joined the Rays last week and after making two starts that drew raves, he has the chance to play a starring role as a member of the postseason rotation.
Then there is 20-year-old Wander Franco, the game’s consensus top prospect, who didn’t win any of the minor-league awards since he was called up in June.
Instead, he just has to settle for having a key spot in the Rays’ lineup, some likely votes in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting and a 41-game (and counting) on-base streak that is the second longest in history for players 20 and under.
As interesting and charismatic as some of the Rays’ fringy free-agent additions are, such as pitchers Louis Head, who when signed was selling solar panels in a potential transition to a post-playing career, and Dietrich Enns, who was plucked out of an independent league in August 2020, the young players are the foundation to future success.
Others who came up this year included infielder Taylor Walls, named their defensive player of the year, infielder/outfielder Vidal Brujan and pitcher Brent Honeywell.
There are a few other young and talented ones who made their debuts last year, such as pitchers Shane McClanahan (historically in the postseason with the Rays), Luis Patino (with the Padres) and Drew Rasmussen (Brewers).
It’s easy to see why the Rays feel the kids are all right.
“We’ve just been really fortunate with a lot of the young players that have come up here,” manager Kevin Cash said. “They’ve kind of had a pretty seamless transition.”
Franco, over three months, and Baz, in two starts, have already shown what they can do in the big leagues.
For Lowe (pronounced low), who likely already would be playing regularly in the majors in many other organizations, that opportunity is still to come.
The 2016 first-round pick, and younger brother of former Ray Nate Lowe, had an impressive all-around season at Triple-A Durham. His 20-20 performance — 21 homers, 26 steals (in 26 attempts) — got the most attention, but his .291 average, .918 OPS, 28 doubles and 75 RBIs in 107 games also were noteworthy.
Most impressive, Durham manager Brady Williams said Monday, was his consistency in personality and performance, and the improvement he made in his defense at all three outfield positions.
“He’s going to have a chance to have a very long (major-league) career,” Williams said from Durham. “Part of that is the makeup. The other part is just the overall skill set. He can change a game in so many ways. But the fact that he is the same guy every day, and work ethic-wise it doesn’t change, that’s going to give him a chance to be a great player.”
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