With big moves still to come, Rays boost young foundation

Prospects Taj Bradley, Curtis Mead and Colby White all could factor into the team’s 2023 plans.
The Rays recently added infield prospect Curtis Mead to their 40-man roster.
The Rays recently added infield prospect Curtis Mead to their 40-man roster. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Nov. 25, 2022|Updated Nov. 25, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays’ offseason focus remains very much on the immediate future.

Primarily, on which hitter or hitters they will bring in to try to bolster their offense. And whether they will do so via free agency or trade from their current core group.

There’s an interesting assemblage to be considered, some commonly speculated on (Jose Abreu, Josh Bell, Cody Bellinger, Michael Brantley, Michael Conforto, Joey Gallo, Evan Longoria, Brian Reynolds, Jesse Winker) and others that will surprise (Brandon Nimmo).

Secondarily, will they add a veteran starter, filling the role previously played by Charlie Morton and Corey Kluber, to guide their young staff? And will they look to do the same with an experienced catcher?

Whether there are breathless TV reports and newsy-sounding tweets or not, the Rays are certain to have “had internal discussions about,” “checked in on” or “expressed interest in” all of the obvious options and then some. But action doesn’t seem imminent; it is more likely after some bigger moves around the game have been made.

But the past few weeks also were about some important rising players, as the Rays added five prospects — pitchers Taj Bradley and Colby White; and infielders Osleivis Basabe, Greg Jones and Curtis Mead — to their 40-man roster. They traded two others from their infield surplus — Xavier Edwards and Brett Wisely. And they acquired three young pitchers and an outfielder to replenish the lower end of their system.

The Rays recently added pitcher Taj Bradley to their 40-man roster.
The Rays recently added pitcher Taj Bradley to their 40-man roster. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The additions (and two trades) were made from prospects who have been around long enough that they need to be protected from being taken in the Rule 5 draft.

The Rays are hoping Basabe, who split last season between High-A Bowling Green and Double-A Montgomery; and Jones, the 2019 top pick who had a rough year with the Biscuits; will show enough to continue to move through the system.

But Bradley, Mead and White could be part of the 2023 plans.

Mead, 22, built an impressive case last season between Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, hitting .298 with 13 homers, 50 RBIs, a .922 OPS and promising exit velocity and hard-hit rate numbers over 76 games. His season was cut short due to an elbow ligament sprain that is expected to be healed. He can play first, second and third base, as well as designated hitter.

Bradley, 21, looks to need a little more time at Durham, going 4-3 with a 3.66 ERA in 12 games there after a 3-1, 1.70 showing in 16 games at Montgomery. When deemed ready, he could provide the depth that will be needed as the Rays manage injuries and starter workloads.

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“They’ve been over the last year as impressive as any prospect in baseball,” Rays general manager Peter Bendix said of the duo. “To be able to make it up to Triple-A, have success at Triple-A despite being as young as they are, as inexperienced as they are, it says so much about their talent and their aptitude and their ability to develop.

“Both of them are a huge part of our future. They’re both going to come into spring training and compete for major-league jobs. They’re both so young and have a lot of development in front of them, but they’re top prospects for a reason. We’re really excited about them.”

White, 24, pitched his way through four levels in 2021, compiling a combined 4-3 record and 1.44 ERA with 11 saves and 104 Ks in 62-1/3 innings. He would have been a bullpen call-up candidate in 2022 but missed the whole season after April Tommy John surgery. A May/June return is expected.

“We saw what he’s capable of in 2021,” Bendix said. “He touched all four levels in one season, which is virtually unprecedented, and he was unhittable at each of those levels. His stuff is top tier, great demeanor on the mound. We could always use relievers. And he has a chance to be an elite one.”

Related, Baseball America released its list of top 10 prospects, starting with pitcher Shane Baz, who will miss the season recovering from Tommy John surgery. The rest: 2. Mead; 3. Bradley; 4. Carson Williams, shortstop; 5. Kyle Manzardo, first base; 6. Jonathan Aranda, infield; 7. Mason Auer, outfield; 8. Junior Caminero, infield; 9. Mason Montgomery, left-handed starting pitcher; 10. Cole Wilcox, righty starter.

Rays rumblings

Noting “we like to try things,” chief business officer Bill Walsh said that before deciding on 6:40 p.m. weekday start times the Rays “considered everything from 3, 4 o’clock starts potentially up to the traditional 7 o’clock.” … Rather than the usual February launch, single-game tickets will go on sale to the general public on Dec. 2. … Williams, the Rays’ top 2021 pick, won the Gold Glove Award at shortstop among all minor leaguers for his play last year at Class A Charleston at age 19. … Rather than a four-game Friday-Monday series June 2-5 in Boston as originally scheduled, the Rays will play a split doubleheader on June 3 (Saturday) and wrap the series on Sunday. That gives them a second day off in a still-brutal stretch of 33 games in 34 days. … Right-hander Evan Reifert, acquired in November 2021 from Milwaukee for Mike Brosseau, was named the Arizona Fall League’s top reliever, allowing one hit in 11-2/3 innings over eight games, with four walks and 25 Ks.. … Ryan Yarbrough, non-tendered on Nov. 18, took to Instagram to thank the front office, staff, teammates and fans for an “absolutely incredible” five years: “Wow it’s been a ride.” ... After writing the book, “100 Years of Baseball on St. Petersburg’s Waterfront,” Rick Vaughn said on MLB Network he plans to “keep poking” city officials to do something to memorialize former mayor Al Lang, who led the effort to bring in teams. ... With much of the coming season to be spent celebrating the team’s 25th anniversary, it would be a cool touch to wear the Devil Rays throwbacks for the March 30 opener. Tomas Francisco, promoted from the minors to the big-league coaching staff, will assume much of the organizational responsibility handled by Matt Quatraro and Paul Hoover, now the Royals manager and bench coach. … Fifty-two weeks later, is there any different feel to the Rays’ team-record record contract with Wander Franco, which guarantees him $182 million over 11 years and could yield up to $223 million over 12?

Future world

Rays shortstop Wander Franco, right, congratulates third baseman Isaac Paredes (17) after Paredes made a catch during a game against the Houston Astros in September at Tropicana Field.
Rays shortstop Wander Franco, right, congratulates third baseman Isaac Paredes (17) after Paredes made a catch during a game against the Houston Astros in September at Tropicana Field. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Baseball America’s 2026 projected Rays lineup — to be fair, a nearly impossible exercise given their roster churn — is, well, interesting:

C: Francisco Mejia

1B: Kyle Manzardo

2B: Wander Franco

SS: Carson Williams

3B: Isaac Paredes

LF: Randy Arozarena

CF: Josh Lowe

RF: Brandon Lowe

DH: Curtis Mead

Starters, in order: Shane McClanahan, Shane Baz, Drew Rasmussen, Taj Bradley, Mason Montgomery

Closer: Luis Patino

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