Top TB prospect Edwards grows youth camp

Infielder giving back to South Florida community by helping out kids

December 15th, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- Over the past four years, Rays prospect Xavier Edwards has seen his annual baseball skills camp grow exponentially.

After his first professional season, he found himself instructing 18 local baseball players. The next year, attendance jumped to around 50 kids. Last year, there were 75 or 80 there. Next week, he’s expecting a sold-out group of around 110 to take the field at North Broward Preparatory School.

“Word’s getting out,” Edwards remarked.

Young players between the ages of 8 and 18 will practice hitting, fielding, baserunning, throwing and other fundamentals with guidance from Edwards, his father Jovon and a handful of friends from the Majors and Minors, like Cubs hitting coach (and former Rays hitting coordinator) Greg Brown.

Edwards hopes it’s a fun and helpful experience, but also an influential and inspirational one. He wants kids from his area to see the path has already been paved from South Florida to college baseball’s most prestigious programs -- Edwards was a Vanderbilt commit -- and professional baseball. And he’d like to help them walk it.

“The purpose of the camp is just to give back, to give these kids something to take from the camp and also look forward to,” Edwards said. “Their dream is not too big, and it’s definitely not unreachable. So we’re going to instill in them that they can do whatever it is they set their mind to do and also give them some good, professional, collegiate-level instruction.”

This year’s XE9 Baseball Camp will take place Dec. 22-23 at North Broward Prep in Coconut Creek, Fla., where Edwards -- the Rays’ No. 3 prospect per MLB Pipeline -- went to high school before the Padres selected him with the No. 38 overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. It’s rare to see a player who’s yet to reach the Majors establish and operate a camp like this, but it’s an example of the 22-year-old Edwards’ desire to give back.

“I don’t think they understand how much fun it is for me just to be able to run the camp. It’s great to be able to help other people,” Edwards said. “I’ve been given a lot, so I think a lot is asked of me. The least I can do in my immediate area is to give back to kids who may be less fortunate or might not have the same instruction I got at such a young age from my dad. It’s literally the least I can do.”

Between his camp and his personal preparation, Edwards has been keeping busy this offseason. Fresh off an afternoon workout earlier this week, the switch-hitting infielder -- MLB Pipeline’s No. 70 overall prospect -- reflected on his season with Double-A Montgomery and looked ahead to “the next big jump that I feel like I’m able to make.”

Acquired from the Padres in December 2019, Edwards had to wait through the canceled '20 Minors season to finally make his organizational debut on the field this year. Even then, he had to wait a little longer than expected. After spending time in Major League Spring Training, Edwards sustained an oblique injury in the batting cage on the second-to-last day of camp and didn’t take the field for Double-A Montgomery until June 8.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that Edwards said a major goal for next year -- when he will presumably make the jump to Triple-A Durham -- is staying healthy and playing a full season. The top prospect showed this year what he’s capable of doing when he’s in the lineup.

Edwards hit .302 with a .377 on-base percentage, 19 stolen bases, 36 walks and only 42 strikeouts in 79 games for Montgomery, which fell one win short of a Double-A South title. He earned a spot in the American League lineup at the All-Star Futures Game. After making a minor adjustment to where he positioned his hands in his setup at the plate, he finished the season on a tear in which he hit .432/.475/.527 over 19 games in September.

Understanding the importance of being a versatile defender in the Rays’ system, Edwards added third base to his repertoire (22 starts) while still playing second base (53 starts) and working out at shortstop. Before one game, he even requested that Montgomery manager Morgan Ensberg swap him and Jake Palomaki so Edwards could start at the hot corner that night.

“It’s something the Rays want me to do, so there’s only one way to get better at it -- and that’s by going over there,” Edwards said. “I got comfortable playing third. I enjoyed it.”

Edwards is working on every part of his game this winter, looking to improve from both sides of the plate and at three infield positions while building his arm strength and maintaining his base-stealing ability. It’s no secret the Rays have a talented big league team and a Minor League system overflowing with talent, especially in the infield, but Edwards isn’t worried about where he might fit down the road.

For now, Edwards has got plenty to keep him busy.

“It’s a tough game, so to look at other people or try to see where you fit in, only time will tell. It’ll be a matter of time before I’m up there and able to contribute to help the team win,” Edwards said. “We’ve got a lot of good players. We’re not the No. 1 Minor League system or organization in baseball for no reason. We’ve got a lot of good players out there. Just have to keep putting the work in, put your head down and go to work, and that’s all I can do. Everything else will take care of itself.”