NEW YORK -- Over the last two years, the Rays have seen a bunch of talented prospects move out of their farm system. Looking at their Top 30 Prospects list at the start of the 2021 season, for instance, 13 of the top 22 players have either graduated to the Majors or been traded in efforts to bolster the big league roster.
Yet that turnover hasn’t led to a significant downturn in the quality of the Rays’ Minor League system. Just take a glance at their re-ranked, midseason Top 30 list from MLB Pipeline. There are still a handful of future stars, plenty of likely big leaguers and a ton of depth.
The list is headlined by a pair of Triple-A talents who took part in this year’s All-Star Futures Game and rank among the game’s top 40 overall prospects: rising right-hander Taj Bradley and slugging infielder Curtis Mead. Those two have soared up prospect rankings over the last two years, with Bradley going from No. 24 to No. 1 in Tampa Bay’s system and Mead vaulting from unranked to the No. 2 spot.
And as usual, the Rays have found ways to fill up their system with dynamic Draft picks, timely trades and nearly peerless player development. Shortstop Carson Williams has become a top prospect, for instance, with an impressive first full season at the plate. And infielder Jonathan Aranda, the No. 22 prospect at the start of this season, has hit his way into the top five this year.
The Rays are as dependent upon their farm system as any club in baseball, so they must keep churning out impact prospects. Keep an eye on fast-rising hitters like infielder Junior Caminero, pitchers like Cole Wilcox and Mason Montgomery and an intriguing Draft class led by first baseman Xavier Isaac and athletic outfielders Brock Jones, Ryan Cermak and Chandler Simpson.
Here are the players whose ranks changed the most from the preseason list:
Jump: Mason Montgomery, LHP (Preseason: unranked | Midseason: No. 7)
A few players made big jumps within the top 30; Aranda soared from 22nd to No. 4, Kyle Manzardo from 26th to No. 6, Osleivis Basabe from No. 28 to 14 and Caminero from 30th to No. 19. But Montgomery earned his way onto the list and into a high ranking, posting a 2.23 ERA and 1.17 WHIP with a whopping 145 strikeouts in 93 innings over his first 21 starts this season. A sixth-round pick out of Texas Tech in 2021, Montgomery moved quickly from High-A Bowling Green to Double-A Montgomery in his first full pro season.
Fall: Nick Bitsko, RHP (Preseason: 17 | Midseason: 30)
Shortstop Greg Jones’ struggles at the plate dropped him from the preseason top five to No. 17, and an uneven start sent right-hander JJ Goss from No. 19 to 27. But the biggest fall was by Bitsko, the Rays’ 2020 first-round pick who underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder only a few months after he was drafted. Bitsko has displayed little control in his Rookie-level pro debut, walking 19 batters compared to 14 strikeouts in 16 innings over his first nine outings. He has the stuff to move back up the board, but he’ll first have to prove his health and command.
New to the list
Here are the players added to the Top 30 from outside the organization:
Impact callup: Bradley
Bradley only has three uneven Triple-A starts under his belt, you might say, but if there's a club that could find a way to take advantage of his plus fastball and cutter without leaving him vulnerable, it's Tampa Bay. The Rays have become masters at playing matchups with their best arms come crunch time, and the 21-year-old right-hander certainly fits the bill on a stuff level. A Bradley promotion could be a shot in the arm for a Tampa Bay team trying to hold onto an AL Wild Card spot. -- Sam Dykstra
Players are graded on a 20-80 scouting scale for future tools -- 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average. Players in parentheses have the same grade.
Hit: 60 -- Curtis Mead (Jonathan Aranda, Xavier Edwards,
Power: 60 -- Heriberto Hernandez (Junior Caminero)
Run: 80 -- Chandler Simpson
Arm: 70 -- Mason Auer
Field: 65 -- Alika Williams
Fastball: 70 -- Sandy Gaston
Curveball: 60 -- Nick Bitsko
Slider/Cutter: 60 -- Taj Bradley (Cole Wilcox)
Changeup: 55 -- Mason Montgomery (Cole Wilcox, Ian Seymour, JJ Goss)
Control: 55 -- Taj Bradley (JJ Goss, Nick Bitsko)