What to expect from Curtis Mead in the Majors

August 4th, 2023

Score another for the boys Down Under.

The Rays are calling up No. 31 overall prospect to make his Major League debut on Friday. Tampa Bay is on the road against Detroit and added Mead to the active roster after ace Shane McClanahan (left forearm) was placed on the 15-day injured list.

The call comes at a good time for the Australia native, who missed two months earlier in the season with a left wrist fracture suffered after an April 29 hit-by-pitch. Since his return to the Triple-A Durham lineup on June 30, Mead has produced a .355/.460/.538 line over his last 24 games before Friday's call to The Show. In that span, he produced twice as many walks (18) as strikeouts (nine) and collected 13 extra-base hits, 10 of which were doubles.

That type of production is roughly in line with the right-handed slugger's scouting report.

Mead stands tall in the box with an upright stance, first taught to him by his father, Tim -- a former Australian Baseball Leaguer -- back home, that allows him to see the ball well and react to pitches of all sorts. He generally doesn't expand the zone often and keeps his swing-and-miss rates relatively low, regardless of pitch type. Owner of a career .302 average in the Minors, he projects to have a plus hit tool at the top level, and it helps his case that he's been a fairly steady performer since he debuted stateside in 2018.

The 22-year-old needs to hit, though, because the power and defense are bigger questions.

He's topped out with a max exit velocity of 109.5 mph this season, and that would place ninth among current Rays Major League qualifiers between Wander Franco (111.0) and Christian Bethancourt (109.2). His 42.1 percent hard-hit rate would place fifth, but that came against Triple-A arms. The Rays have long stated that they've believed Mead can turn doubles into homers as he ages, but while he's on the young side for Triple-A and the Majors, that translation hasn't occurred yet in 2023.

Mead has primarily played third base in 2023 while sprinkling in some second as well. Below-average arm strength makes him a stretch for the hot corner, but as a below-average runner, he isn't a perfect fit for the keystone either. Some evaluators view the 6-foot infielder as a future fit at first base, which would heighten the need for him to meet his offensive ceiling.

Isaac Paredes (current owner of a 148 wRC+ in the bigs) has gotten the lion's share of starts at third for Tampa Bay this year, and Mead's arrival alone isn't likely to move him off that position. He could serve as part of a righty-lefty platoon with Brandon Lowe at second base, but the defensive questions there make that an even bigger ask.

The most likely possibility is that Mead provides a quality right-handed bat as a DH/third-base fill-in and off the bench for Tampa Bay at a time when the club sits two games back of Baltimore in the AL East.

Acquired from the Phillies in November 2019 for left-hander Cristopher Sánchez, Mead has been one of the Rays' best player-development success stories of recent years, blossoming from a complex-level find to a legit Top 100 prospect. Upon his arrival, he'll be the 34th player born in Australia to see the Major Leagues and the first Australian position player to debut since Aaron Whitefield in 2020.

The highest career bWAR for a player from that country belongs to Dave Nilsson at 10.6. If Mead comes close to reaching his offensive ceiling during his time in St. Petersburg, it may not take him long to claim that crown for himself.