Rays seize chance to add pitching prospects

December 10th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Adam Berry’s Rays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays addressed one of their needs at the big league level by acquiring starter , and they still want to upgrade their lineup before the offseason ends. But as a team always mindful of both the present and future, it’s worth a look at how Tampa Bay has consistently added pitching prospect depth at nearly every turn so far this winter.

Last month, the Rays picked up right-hander Jack Hartman for Ji-Man Choi and righty Alfredo Zarraga for Miles Mastrobuoni. They dealt a big league reliever, JT Chargois, and a top middle-infield prospect, Xavier Edwards, for two more young pitchers: right-handers Marcus Johnson and Santiago Suarez.

Then the Rays added two more pitching prospects at the Winter Meetings, acquiring lefty Keyshawn Askew from the Mets in a one-for-one deal for lefty reliever Brooks Raley, then reliever Kevin Kelly in a Rule 5 Draft trade.

Johnson, now their No. 27 prospect, is the mostly highly regarded of the new arms. But Askew had recently been among the Mets’ Top 30 prospects, and Kelly will compete for a big league bullpen job in Spring Training.

Speaking on the last day of the Winter Meetings, Rays general manager Peter Bendix noted that the team’s run of acquiring pitching prospects has been partially happenstance but also somewhat by design.

"You can never have enough pitching, and I think our pitching in the Minor Leagues, just the depth of pitching, is probably a little bit behind the depth of position players,” Bendix said. “So all else equal, when we've had the chance to acquire younger players this offseason, we've put a little bit more emphasis on pitching.”

Even a quick look at MLB Pipeline’s list of the Rays’ Top 30 Prospects, which will be updated early next year, shows the disparity. Here’s the breakdown:

Right-handed pitchers: 7
Left-handed pitchers: 2
Catchers: 1
Infielders: 14
Outfielders: 6

Tampa Bay has traded away some intriguing young arms recently to make the big league team better (Matthew Liberatore for Randy Arozarena, Joe Ryan for Nelson Cruz, Seth Johnson for Jose Siri, for example), while two of their most highly regarded prospects (Brent Honeywell Jr. and Brendan McKay) were held back by years of injuries.

Granted, the Rays have a bunch of controllable starting/bulk-inning pitchers on their roster in Tyler Glasnow (extended through 2024), Eflin (soon to be officially signed through 2025), Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, Jeffrey Springs, Josh Fleming, Luis Patiño, Yonny Chirinos and Shane Baz (returning from Tommy John surgery in 2024). And nobody doubts their ability to find useful bullpen arms.

But they must be able to produce pitching from within, especially considering how many arms they’ve needed to get through the last few seasons, and keeping the system stocked is key to that.

Here’s what Bendix said about Askew: “He's got really good stuff. There's ingredients there. Certainly no guarantee that he's going to work, but you need that pipeline of starting pitching prospects. We've seen what it can do for our success, and to be able to acquire somebody that we think is a pretty good starter prospect and help balance our bullpen a little bit, that was kind of the impetus for this.”

And here’s Bendix on Kelly: “He’s somebody that from the right side has ingredients to get both righties and lefties out. … That's how we're able to utilize our bullpen, and [manager Kevin Cash] is phenomenal at putting guys in the right position to succeed. We think Kelly has the chance to be a really strong reliever.”