Rays' Minors teams all vying for '21 titles

September 21st, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG – The Rays began the week leading the American League East, potentially only a matter of days away from clinching their third straight postseason berth. They own the best record in the AL and the third-best record in the Majors. The franchise’s first 100-win season isn’t out of the question. And they’ve been just as good, if not better, at the Minor League level.

Want proof? Look at the final regular-season standings in the Minors, then check out the playoff field.

Triple-A Durham went 77-43, the best record in the Triple-A East and, in fact, the best record of any Triple-A team. Double-A Montgomery finished the regular season 62-55, the second-best mark in the Double-A South. High-A Bowling Green ripped through the season with an 82-36 record, the best winning percentage (.695) of any full-season affiliate this year. Low-A Charleston wasn’t far behind at 82-38, the only other team in the Minors to reach the 80-win mark.

Finally, the Rookie-level FCL Rays put together by far the best winning percentage (.737) in the Florida Complex League. In a league with no postseason, they went 42-15, the best record in either Rookie-level league this season.

In other words, the Rays could see all five of their domestic affiliates win their respective leagues this season. Overall, Tampa Bay led baseball with a .621 organizational winning percentage. The affiliates, including the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League clubs, have combined to go 390-238 this season.

“The success this year is a testament to our players and staff remaining engaged and committed to improving throughout last year’s shutdown,” said Carlos Rodriguez, the Rays’ vice president of player development and international scouting. “We try not to lose sight of our priority, to develop championship-caliber players, and have always looked at winning as a byproduct of development. This season has been no different, in that sense.

“But what our group experienced this year, winning consistently across all levels, is unique -- especially when you consider the amount of talent across the industry today. We are excited by what these accomplishments signify for our players in their individual development journeys and for what it all means for our organization looking toward the future.”

Durham already clinched the Triple-A East title with its regular-season performance. So did the FCL Rays. While the big league Rays work to punch their ticket to the postseason, three more affiliates have advanced to their respective playoffs.

Montgomery will face the Mississippi Braves in a five-game series beginning Tuesday for the Double-A South title, while Bowling Green will begin a five-game series Tuesday against the Greensboro Grasshoppers, vying for the High-A East championship. Charleston’s playoff series also begins Tuesday, as the RiverDogs will play the Down East Wood Ducks in a five-game series for the Low-A East title.

If those three clubs emerge victorious and the big league club repeats what it did last year in the postseason, the Rays could claim six league championships by the end of October.

The Rays believe the best way to build a sustainable contending team in this market is to stockpile talent and depth at all levels of the organization. If this year’s results are any indication, they’re on the right track.

“The decisions that we make are very player-centric, but we hope that if we make enough of the right decisions, it leads to team success,” director of Minor League operations Jeff McLerran said recently. “There’s certainly a real benefit to having a winning environment in terms of -- in the dog days of August and coming into September, it makes it easier to come to the ballpark and continue to work to get better when you’re having that kind of success. I think that it something that we strive for, certainly not at the cost of development, but as an added benefit to all the things we’re doing.”