No. 2 prospect Mead blasts off with 2-HR day

Plus, No. 1 prospect Bradley OK after taking comebacker off leg

March 5th, 2023

TAMPA, Fla. -- Curtis Mead, the Rays’ top position player prospect per MLB Pipeline, keeps a journal with him to help track all of his baseball thoughts. After every game or perhaps every at-bat, he will pen whatever is on his mind.

He certainly had something to write about Saturday.

Mead bashed two homers in the Rays’ 14-10 Grapefruit League victory over the Yankees, marking his first two hits this spring and his first two home runs in any type of MLB game.

The first dinger came on a hanging slider from Yanks starter Luis Severino that Mead lofted over the wall down the left-field line in the second inning. But the second one was the real highlight: A blast into the batter’s eye in center field in the fifth, traveling a Statcast-projected 443 feet.

“That one definitely felt better than the first one,” Mead said. “Both of them felt really good.”

All home runs are nice, but they must be especially rewarding for Mead, who centered his winter around recovering from a right elbow injury that ended his 2022 season in September. And frankly, he is not operating at 100 percent yet. The Rays are managing his workload and keeping him from throwing on consecutive days.

You wouldn’t think that he was limited in any way by watching him at the plate Saturday.

“I worked really hard in the offseason to kind of improve all the strength around [the elbow] to make sure that it was not going to bother me this season,” Mead said, “and I think it’s paying off.”

The Australian-born infielder didn’t get a hit in his first three spring games, something manager Kevin Cash attributed to nerves. But “whatever he did today looked pretty impressive,” Cash said. “The second home run to center was really impressive.”

Mead, who posted a .922 OPS with 13 home runs across 76 games between Double-A and Triple-A last year, said journaling allows him to move forward from game to game and also pinpoint where he can make improvements.

“I write about my swing decisions, how I felt on that day, how my preparation was,” he said. “Some days, your preparation doesn’t go well, and I think writing it down and understanding that at the end of the day, it wasn’t a great game but the preparation wasn’t good either -- you just kind of move on and can be able to prepare for the next day.”

This day, however, was a big one for Mead, who grew up rooting for the Yankees. He is glad to have this memory from George M. Steinbrenner Field in the books.

“It was awesome to be here,” he said.

Bradley leaves early
While the Rays’ No. 2 prospect shined at the plate, the franchise’s No. 1 prospect -- right-handed starter Taj Bradley -- saw his second spring outing cut short after he was hit on the side of his right leg by a hard comebacker.

Bradley’s first offering of the second inning, a 95 mph fastball to Josh Donaldson, was sent right back to him at 107 mph. The ball connected with Bradley’s calf on one bounce and deflected all the way into shallow right field.

After a short chat on the mound with Cash and a trainer, Bradley made his way to the Rays’ dugout.

But not to worry: Bradley said he’s OK. He has no contusion and said the comebacker didn’t even hurt when it hit him.

“Cash came out and just told me it’s Spring Training; we don’t want to push anything even though I feel fine. … I was saying ‘no.’ I wanted to stay, but you can’t be adamant on it. That’s fine. You can’t be mad when they put the player’s health first.”

Prior to departing, Bradley dominated in a fashion similar to his Spring Training debut last week. His clean, 14-pitch first inning featured a 97 mph four-seamer that induced a popout from Yankees top prospect Anthony Volpe, a strikeout of Oswaldo Cabrera on a 90 mph changeup with wicked movement and another changeup that forced a weak grounder from veteran first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

“The changeup was a plus,” Bradley said. “I didn’t throw any last game, so to see it move the way it did and see how it plays against older hitters, I was happy about that.”