Witchcraft. That’s the plainest explanation. We need to get some ducks and a big old scale and sort this out once and for all.
It’s no exaggeration to say the Rays have changed baseball. Has there ever been a more successful stretch by a team who didn’t win a single World Series? Perhaps, but probably not if you’re giving them bonus points for thrift, which I think we should probably stop doing at some point. We’re just really into discounts, is all, so when we see a team win as something of a walking clearance rack, we like that. It’s hard-wired. The success here is built from the ground up–a long-term developmental outlook that perennially puts Tampa in the top tier of minor league systems.
Format: Position Player | Age on 4/1/2022 | Highest level played | ETA
1. 2B Vidal Brujan | 24 | MLB | 2021
Perhaps my take is just anecdotal, but it feels like Brujan’s fantasy stock took a big hit when Tampa brought him up to sit the bench last year. Here’s a link to Grey pondering that path in Vidal Brujan, 2022 Fantasy Outlook.
It behooves us to keep our eyes on the context here. The 5’10” 180 lb switch hitter added power to his game early in AAA, belting seven bombs in his first 16 games. But just as easily as he’d found that pop, he lost it again, slugging just five more home runs over his next 87 games at the level. So which player is he? Well, both. Skill-based power ages well, and though he’s an explosive rotator in the batter’s box, Brujan’s best tools are Hit and Run. The speed is going to make him a fantasy mainstay as long as he’s on the field. The hit tool adding power could make him a first-round pick in standard roto leagues. Brujan has always managed a low strikeout rate, so even as a rookie finding that balance between power and contact, he figures to help us even in redraft leagues, even in a part-time role.
2. RHP Shane Baz | 22 | MLB | 2021
I say Baz. Some say Boz, like Brian Bosworth. Shane says whatever the hell he wants. You can argue with his high-nineties (97 mph per statcast) heater about it if you insist. Or his triple digit heater when that zooms by. His curve and slider both exceeded a 40 percent whiff rate in his brief MLB stint. Lines up with the eyeball test. Also throws the occasional change. Just an evil array of pitches. It’s hard to see how Baz struggles outside of injury or totally forgotten command, which took a huge step forward in 2021. I’m guessing the command gains hold and Baz is an ascending asset even at his high price right now. Here’s a link to Grey’s thoughts in Shane Baz, 2022 Fantasy Outlook.
3. OF Josh Lowe | 24 | MLB | 2021
I haven’t been high on Lowe, and someday I’ll learn to stop making that pun. You let one pun in the window and low and behold they’ll take over the apartment. Lowe reached the summit this season, playing in two big league games, drawing a walk and smacking a single without making an out. He’s perfect. Could consider going out on top like George Costanza leaving a meeting. I still think the Rays would like to trade CF Kevin Kiermaier. His contract stipulates he be compensated at something like a fair market rate, meaning he’s expendable. In 111 games at AAA last year, Lowe managed a 13%/26.2% BB/K rate and a .291/.381/.535 slash line with 22 HR and 26 SB. The main reason I’ve been comparatively less enthusiastic about him was time and a grooved swing. Time meaning people pushing Lowe up lists since 2019, and here we sit on the verge of 2022 uncertain whether or not he’ll play, meaning now is probably the time to buy. He has nothing left to prove in the minors.
4. SS Greg Jones | 24 | AA | 2023
The 6’2” 175 lb shortstop’s 2021 season went well enough, but he didn’t play everyday at High-A even though he slashed .291/.389/.527 with 13 HR and 27 SB in just 56 games there. He did strike out in 29.2 percent of his plate appearances at the level, which is less than ideal for a college guy who’s 23 in any A league. This tendency torpedoed his 16 games in AA at season’s end. He struck out at a 35 percent clip and slashed just .185/.267/.296. By no means am I out on Greg Jones. Baseball is hard. The mental/meta/reality aspects of it can be tough at times. 16 games means almost nothing in any sample size, but especially at a new level. These guys have to move, set up house and home, maybe, whatever that means for a move you know is only going to be three weeks because the season is ending. Speed like this doesn’t come with patience and power very often.
5. OF Heriberto Hernandez | 22 | A | 2024
Hernandez had a weird start to his time with Tampa, slashing .211/.417/.421 with three home runs and a 30.1 percent strikeout rate over his first 24 games. Looks like an overly passive approach to me, but something that shifted the rest of the way when the 6’1” 195 lb righty slashed .270/.364/.466 with nine home runs in 49 games. Whichever outcomes you prefer, both were disappointing to me. Hernandez generates massive power as an explosive rotator with a thick trunk and keeps his swing short enough that he’s got a chance at a plus hit tool. He’s not the best athlete on the field but can be functional in a corner. I’m still excited for the future but a little less gung ho than I was this time last year. Probably the Rays are helping him make little changes and grow into his game, which will take time and might create a buy low opportunity or two as he rides the slow road to Tampa.
6. RHP Taj Bradley | 21 | A+ | 2023
Might predict a 2022 arrival for Bradley in some organizations, but even if that happens in this case, it’ll come so late as to be mostly useless for our purposes, like Shane Baz and Joe Ryan this year. “Misleading” is probably a better way to say it. And those guys were much more experienced than Bradley is now by the time they made the majors. A 6’2” 190 lb plus athlete, Bradley repeats his delivery well and, as those types tend to do, commands his pitches well and even improved in that area throughout the year. He’ll probably make Grey’s group of soon-to-be rookies to write up next winter.
7. 2B Jonathan Aranda | 23 | AA | 2023
Can’t get him out of my heart. A 5’10” 173 lb left handed hitter, Aranda played mostly first base on a loaded AA team in Montgomery last year and figured he might as well hit like a first baseman while he was at it, slashing .325/.410/.540 with 10 HR and 4 SB in 79 games. That deserves a wow. He struck out 63 (19.3%) times and drew 33 walks (10.2%). He could prove superior to AAA pitching early in 2022 and be on the tips of prospect peoples’ fingers for most of the season—a considerable achievement for MLB pipeline’s 30th ranked MiLB Ray.
8. 3B Curtis Mead | 21 | AAA | 2023
Grab a tankard. Time to get tipsy. Mead is a little like Jackie Chan in The Legend of Drunken Master in that he’s slightly unconventional in his fluidity. He can hit just about any pitch and employs a variety of swings to do so, which can be an extremely rare and valuable skill so long as you don’t lose your best base mechanics along the way. You don’t compare people to Vladimir Guerrero Sr. because he was an omicron—sorry, a unicorn—but that’s the kind of skill I’m referencing. CJ Abrams and Julio Rodriguez have some of this in them too. They, like the 6’2” 171 lb Mead, can collect hits on cuts that look less than picturesque. These contact-making skills allowed Mead to play at four different levels this year, beginning in Low-A and ending in the Arizona Fall League with the AAA playoffs in between. It’s been a wild ride for Mead, who can make a case to be as high as 4th on this list.
9. 2B Xavier Edwards | 22 | AA | 2023
The hope is that Edwards finds his way onto the field in an everyday capacity and swipes 40 bases with a .360 OBP and .290 AVG. He might also hit zero home runs, as he’s hit just one in 953 professional at bats. That lack of thump makes me think the Rays are too good a team to hand him an everyday role, or even a Rays-version of that, so he’ll have to get traded to help us in fantasy, goes the thinking. Even so, the Rangers’ Yonny Hernandez was good for some standings points thanks to 11 steals in 43 games last year, and it’s easy to imagine Edwards as a fantasy fun factory if he can crack a big league lineup.
10. SS Carlos Colmenarez | 18 | DSL | 2025
I’m keeping tabs on all the big money international guys from the 2021 class. The tax code stipulates they have to stay in the Dominican Republic for a calendar year if they want to protect their signing bonus, which creates an odd bubble of having arrived as a professional while waiting for your career to really begin. In this sort of incubator, weird things can happen, like Wilman Diaz playing only a month or Carlos Colmanarez slashing .247/.319/.289. That’s a lot of singles: 21 to be exact, along with two doubles and a triple across 26 games. Well hello, Buy Window, quite nice of you to pop open. Colmenarez was considered by some to be the most pro-ready bat in his class and signed for $3 million. He doesn’t generate much loft at the moment (clearly) but makes a lot of contact from a quick, level swing that should serve him well in the long run. He was my least favorite of the big name, high-price teenagers last winter, but I still like him enough to kick the tires at what could be the lowest his prospect stock goes.
Thanks for reading!
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