'No complacency': Mead determined to forge a spot in the Majors

February 17th, 2024

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Last Spring Training, manager Kevin Cash got a glimpse of the motivated mindset that drives . The Rays optioned the young infielder to the Minors, as expected, and he immediately asked his skipper what he needed to do to become a better offensive player. Before even leaving the room, Mead wanted answers that would help him accomplish his goal.

“I was honest,” Cash recalled earlier this week. “Like, ‘That’s not fair for me to answer. I just saw you have 20 Spring Training at-bats. But I love that you are determined to be really good.’”

Mead delivered another reminder to Cash about a week after the Rays were swept out of the postseason last October, requesting a meeting to discuss the next step in his career that wound up lasting hours. The 23-year-old rookie, MLB Pipeline’s No. 55 overall prospect, turned that conversation into action and has already stood out among the early arriving position players at Charlotte Sports Park.

“Last year didn’t necessarily go awesome, and it didn’t necessarily go super bad. I kind of felt like I got some opportunities through guys being hurt and not being around,” Mead said. “Knowing that they were going to come back, I think I kind of knew that I’d have to have a big offseason and big camp to solidify my spot on the team.

“I just kind of wanted to get some feedback from him and hear from everyone else what they think I can improve on. I just want to be the best player I can and help the team as much as possible. I want to play in the big leagues.”

The Rays are going to give Mead every opportunity to do so, even with a crowded infield mix that includes Yandy Díaz, Isaac Paredes, Brandon Lowe, José Caballero and Jonathan Aranda, plus right-handed-hitting DH Harold Ramírez.

In addition to playing second and third base, Mead will spend some time at shortstop in Spring Training as a potential backup option behind Caballero while Taylor Walls is sidelined with a right hip injury.

Mead spent four innings at shortstop in last year’s regular-season finale, his first reps there since he was 18 years old playing for the Phillies in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Mead said he played more shortstop when he was younger but dropped it in pro ball, noting with a smile, “I looked around, and I was like, ‘Damn, there’s a lot of good shortstops. I’m going to go and play third.’”

Cash said Mead took the defensive advice offered by bench coach Rodney Linares and third-base coach Brady Williams and looks “clean” fielding ground balls around the infield in Spring Training.

“He will take as much information as you can give him, as much of the data, as much of the result information, all those things, and he’ll kind of sit on it, think about it and put it to use,” Cash said. “[Hitting coach Chad Mottola is] very happy with where he’s at. We’re all happy defensively.”

Mead certainly put in the work. He essentially took no time off from training and only gave himself about a month off from baseball activity over the offseason, starting as soon as he went home to Australia in November and ramping it up by reporting to Tropicana Field for workouts the first week of January.

“It’s one of the things that you can definitely tell about the guy is there’s no complacency,” Lowe said. “Whatever impression that he made, I think he knows he wants to improve on that and do whatever he can to do better and obviously get more playing time than he did last year.”

Mead’s bat is the reason he became such a highly regarded prospect, and it’s what will ultimately keep him in the lineup. After crushing the ball at every level of the Minors, he hit just .253/.326/.349 with 21 strikeouts in 92 plate appearances with the Rays -- not a disastrous performance by any means, but not what he expects of himself.

Mead figured his biggest issue was mental, not mechanical, saying he was “trying to be a superstar as opposed to trying to be who I am as a hitter.”

He’s motivated to be both, of course.

“After being around it and being around the guys, I definitely feel more confident coming into camp this season,” Mead added. “I didn’t feel like I had my best month or so offensively, and I felt like it was still fine. I think that was cool because I feel like when it does click, I could be pretty good. I’m looking forward to seeing what this year brings.”