When asked to name his team’s greatest strength at the start of Spring Training, Rays general manager Erik Neander had two answers: talent and depth.
Those two words define both Tampa Bay’s Major League roster and its top-ranked farm system. From the big leagues to the lowest levels of the Minors, the Rays organization is overflowing with potential impact players.
“Our farm system is what it is. It’s ranked No. 1 for a reason,” Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said recently. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen more depth in a Minor League system, and then the talent you have in the big leagues, what a great combo to have. You’ve got a lot of guys who are waiting for their names to be called upon. But man, the Rays, they have an eye for talent in many regards.”
Indeed, the Rays are loaded with a high quantity of quality young players who could and likely will play big roles in the Majors this year. Of their Major League-leading eight Top 100 Prospects, six are projected to be in the big leagues this season -- including consensus top prospect Wander Franco -- and the other two should arrive next year.
That constantly rolling conveyor belt pushing young talent through the system is how the Rays hope to function as a self-sustaining contender, a small-market team that will compete for championships year-in and year-out even as they continue to make tough decisions like declining Charlie Morton’s club option and trading Blake Snell. It was the Snell trade, after all, that brought them No. 2 prospect Luis Patiño, catcher Francisco Mejía and top 30 prospects Cole Wilcox and Blake Hunt.
The Rays seem to find talent in every corner of the industry, from international players like Franco and Vidal Bruján to Draft picks like Brendan McKay and Shane McClanahan to savvy trade pickups like Patiño, Xavier Edwards, Shane Baz and Randy Arozarena.
There is perhaps no player who better represents the Rays’ unique standing than Arozarena. He’s a record-breaking postseason hero who will play a prominent part in their lineup again this season as they look to finish the job and win the franchise’s first World Series. Yet he is also still a rookie, one of the most intriguing talents in Tampa Bay’s deep farm system.
“It's just crazy how talented the Rays farm system is,” veteran starter Chris Archer said. “That was part of the draw in coming back, knowing that not only the 25 to 35 guys that we’ll use in the season are good. We’re super, super deep, too. So if things do happen and someone needs to step up, we’ve got guys ready. The mainstream might not know who they are, but the baseball world definitely knows who they are -- and a lot of them are knocking on the door.”
Here’s a look at the Rays’ top prospects:
Here are the players whose ranks changed the most from the 2020 preseason list to the 2021 preseason list:
Jump: Randy Arozarena, OF (2020: 17 | 2021: 3) -- Perhaps you’ve heard a thing or two about what he did last fall. The Rays had some players climb up the list, including Drew Strotman (eight spots), Josh Fleming (seven spots) and Taylor Walls (six spots). But nobody vaulted to the forefront of the entire sport’s collective consciousness quite like Arozarena did last October. He transformed from a prospect ranked in the teens of his own organization into one of the most-watched players in baseball.
Fall: Moisés Gómez, OF (2020: 14 | 2021: NR) -- Gómez didn’t fall far off the list, and he could leap back up the rankings with a more well-rounded showing this season. He has some of the best raw power in the entire system, as evidenced by the way he bombed a couple balls off the backstop this Spring Training. But he’s now a 22-year-old corner bat who hit just .220/.297/.402 with 164 strikeouts in 119 games during his last campaign.
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: 80 – Wander Franco
Power: 60 – Randy Arozarena (Wander Franco, Heriberto Hernandez)
Run: 70 – Vidal Bruján (Xavier Edwards, Greg Jones)
Arm: 60 – Josh Lowe (Blake Hunt)
Defense: 65 -- Taylor Walls
Fastball: 70 -- Luis Patiño (Shane McClanahan, Shane Baz)
Curveball: 60 -- Nick Bitsko
Slider: 65 – Baz
Changeup: 60 – Cole Wilcox (Brent Honeywell Jr.)
Other: 60 (screwball) – Honeywell
Control: 60 – Josh Fleming (Brendan McKay, Drew Strotman)
How they were built
Draft: 16 | International: 5 | Waivers: 9
Breakdown by ETA
2021: 12 | 2022: 6 | 2023: 8 | 2024: 4
Breakdown by position
C: 2 | INF/C: 1 |1B: 0 | 2B: 2 | 3B: 1 | SS: 7 | OF: 3 | RHP: 10 | LHP: 4