Rays' No. 3 prospect closing in on return from injury

June 26th, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- With Taj Bradley graduating from prospect status in recent days and MLB Pipeline shuffling its Top 100 Prospects list, there’s a new look atop the Rays’ Top 30 Prospects list.

Junior Caminero is now Tampa Bay’s new top prospect. Carson Williams is up to No. 2 on the list. And dropping down a spot to No. 3 is infielder Curtis Mead. The 22-year-old Australian earned his place on the Top 100 Prospects list with a pair of outstanding seasons in the Rays’ system in 2021-22, but didn’t get off to the start he wanted this year.

Mead played only 22 games for Triple-A Durham to start the season before being hit by a pitch on April 29 that resulted in a fractured left wrist. Mead spent nearly two months recovering and rehabbing the injury, but he’s set to rejoin Durham at some point next week.

Mead began playing Minor League rehabilitation games with the Rookie-level Florida Complex League Rays on Thursday and took the field again on Saturday. He will likely play a few more games for the FCL Rays before heading north.

It might take some time for Mead to regain his timing at the plate, but the Rays were encouraged by the work he put in with the organization’s extended spring group in Sarasota, Fla. Since the injury was isolated to his left wrist, he was able to keep his legs and throwing arm in motion even before he was cleared to resume full baseball activities.

“We know how good he can be offensively and have no doubt that he's going to reach those peaks that he was able to over the last couple seasons,” said Jeff McLerran, the Rays’ director of Minor League operations. “He's really put in a lot of work defensively with his mobility and his agility to really be as well-rounded of a player as he can be.”

Here’s a quick look at one prospect impressing at each of the Rays’ four full-season levels.

Triple-A Durham: C Blake Hunt
Hunt isn’t currently ranked on Tampa Bay’s Top 30 Prospects list, but he’s offered a reminder of why he was a highly regarded prospect when the Rays acquired him from the Padres as part of the Blake Snell trade. The 24-year-old struggled at the plate in his first season with the organization and for much of ‘22, but he made an adjustment that allowed him to hit .274/.320/.537 over his final 27 games last year and carried that into this season.

In 46 games, most of them in Double-A, Hunt has hit .271/.346/.530 with 10 homers. Highly regarded for his defensive work, Hunt was promoted to Durham because the Rays needed someone to replace the injured René Pinto. He’s making an argument that he deserves to stay, though, by going 12-for-34 with eight extra-base hits in his first nine games in Triple-A.

Double-A Montgomery: 3B/1B Austin Shenton
Shenton has torn up the Southern League in his return to Montgomery. Acquired from the Mariners as part of the Diego Castillo deal prior to the 2021 Trade Deadline, Shenton entered Sunday with a .355/.460/.703 slash line, 14 homers and 38 RBIs over his last 44 games.

Between his performance and age, the 25-year-old corner infielder is probably due for a promotion. But the Rays are about to be even more jammed up at third and first base in Triple-A with Mead soon joining Kyle Manzardo, the scorching-hot Jonathan Aranda and the versatile Osleivis Basabe.

High-A Bowling Green: SS Carson Williams
Strikeouts remain a work-in-progress for Williams, the Rays’ top pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, but he’s making incremental progress in that area. After posting whiff rates of 35.7% in April and 27.9% in May, Tampa Bay’s second-ranked prospect -- who just turned 20 on Sunday -- lowered that figure to 25.3% while upping his walk rate to 14.5% through 19 games this month.

Those may sound like small strides, but they’re notable for a player as talented as Williams, who entered Sunday hitting .255/.364/.484 with nine homers, four triples and 11 steals. Improved plate discipline is the last step for someone who already hits the ball hard, runs the bases well and plays excellent defense at a key position.

Single-A Charleston: 1B Xavier Isaac
As his first full season goes on, Isaac continues to prove why the Rays made him a somewhat surprising first-round pick in the 2022 MLB Draft. The 19-year-old is more than just a hulking power hitter, showing advanced plate discipline, pitch recognition and contact ability that’s allowed him to more consistently display his significant strength.

Isaac is hitting .271/.397/.447 with 34 walks and 36 strikeouts overall this season, numbers boosted by a recent hot stretch in which he slashed .302/.388/.547 with five homers and nine doubles in 28 games since his May 18 return from a minor wrist injury.