5 Rays pitching prospects on the rise in 2024

February 2nd, 2024

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 -- Did it feel like something was missing from MLB Pipeline’s new Top 100 Prospects list?

It’s hard to disagree with the names at the top of the list. You simply can’t argue with the work Jim Callis, Jonathan Mayo, Sam Dykstra and the rest of the Pipeline staff put into these annual rankings. The Rays were well-represented, too, with Junior Caminero at No. 4 followed by Carson Williams (No. 20), Curtis Mead (No. 55) and Xavier Isaac (No. 58).

So, what was missing? How about a Rays pitching prospect?

This is the first year since 2015 the Rays haven’t had a pitcher on MLB Pipeline’s preseason Top 100 list. Tampa Bay also didn’t have a preseason Top 50 pitcher in 2007, ’06 or ’04, the first year of MLB.com’s prospect rankings. Mayo just put together an informative deep dive into 20 years of rankings, if you’re into this kind of thing.

Yes, it’s the first time in a decade without at least one Rays pitching prospect on the preseason list. Blake Snell and Brent Honeywell Jr. were on in 2016, then Honeywell and José De León in ’17. Brendan McKay joined Honeywell from ’18-20, Matthew Liberatore cracked the ‘19 preseason list, and Shane Baz was on there from ‘20 until he graduated. Shane McClanahan debuted on the ’21 preseason list, and Taj Bradley held down a spot entering ’22 and ’23.

Now, obviously, prospect rankings aren’t the end-all, be-all. Those Top 100 pitchers didn’t all work out. There’s a wide range of outcomes just in that small sample. Snell has won two Cy Young Awards. McClanahan quickly earned two All-Star nods. Honeywell and McKay were stalled by injuries. Liberatore begot Randy Arozarena. Baz and Bradley are just getting started.

This may not even matter for the Rays this season, either. They can roll out a rotation with Zach Eflin, Aaron Civale, Zack Littell, Ryan Pepiot and Bradley. Baz is back, albeit with a limited workload. Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen should join the group later in the season. They have some depth in Naoyuki Uwasawa and lefty Jacob Lopez, among others. McClanahan will return in 2025.

But for the last few years, there has been a sort of conveyor belt delivering one highly touted arm after another from the Minors to Tropicana Field. It’s not quite so clear which young pitcher will keep the line moving.

So, who could be next? Which other arms are on the way? Here are some pitching prospects to watch in the Rays’ system.

It spoke volumes that they added the 21-year-old to their 40-man roster even though he’s barely pitched above Single-A and almost certainly won’t see the Majors this season. The Rays believe the organization’s 2023 Pitcher of the Year has the stuff, specifically the high-octane fastball, to be a front-line starter someday. He finished last season as the club’s No. 22 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, but he’ll take a big leap this spring.

The latest reminder to pay attention when the Rays trade for a Rookie-level prospect. Acquired from Miami after pitching well in the Dominican Summer League in 2022, he carried that success stateside last year. He may not have overpowering stuff, but he’s performed too well to ignore and already pitched in Single-A. And he’s only 19.

The Rays felt they’d found a gem when they signed the Venezuelan righty for $210,000, as his stuff exploded shortly before International Signing Day. Their confidence was reflected in his assignment to the Florida Complex League. His Rookie-level numbers weren’t great, but again: He was 17. He’s a long way away but has the big-time arm to be a power starter.

The Rays’ 2022 Minor League Pitcher of the Year struggled much of last year, with walks and homers more of an issue than before. But he finished strong, posting a 1.78 ERA while holding opponents to a .512 OPS and reaching Triple-A Durham during his final six appearances. If he carries forward that success against high-level hitters, watch out.

The 2020 second-round Draft pick caught the big league staff’s attention in ‘21, his first professional season, but he had Tommy John surgery in 2022. He returned for 42 innings over 13 outings last season and put up good results, and he could continue his ascent this year if his velocity comes back.

RHP Cole Wilcox’s numbers with Double-A Montgomery were nothing special, save one: He made 25 starts in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. The last remnant of the Snell trade has plenty of upside if he returns to pre-injury form. … RHP Trevor Martin struck out 131 in 110 innings for Single-A Charleston last year. … RHP Marcus Johnson, a polished strike-thrower acquired alongside Suarez, also pitched well for Charleston. … RHP Logan Workman will be in big league camp this spring. … LHP Keyshawn Askew has a funky sidearm delivery that makes him tough to hit.