Rays announce 2019 Minor League Award winners

September 23rd, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—The Tampa Bay Rays have announced shortstop Wander Franco as its Minor League Player of the Year and righthander Joe Ryan as its Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Additionally, right-handed pitcher Simon Rosenblum-Larson was named the Erik Walker Community Champion. The Rays also announced the Most Valuable Players for each of their nine affiliates, as well as organization-wide awards for Baserunner of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Relief Pitcher of the Year.

This year’s winners will be honored during an awards ceremony at Tropicana Field prior to tonight’s game against the Boston Red Sox. A pregame autograph session will be held along the first base line from 5:45–6:30 p.m., featuring many of the organization’s award winners.

The following players were named Most Valuable Player for their respective minor league teams: infielder/right-handed pitcher Jake Cronenworth (Durham Bulls, Triple-A); left-handed pitcher Josh Fleming (Montgomery Biscuits, Double-A); right-handed pitcher Tommy Romero (Charlotte Stone Crabs, Class-A); right-handed pitcher Caleb Sampen (Bowling Green Hot Rods, Class-A); shortstop Greg Jones (Hudson Valley Renegades, Short-A); outfielder Diego Infante (Princeton Rays, Rookie-level); infielder Abiezel Ramírez (Gulf Coast League Rays, Rookie-level); infielder Alfredo Balbuena (Dominican Summer League Rays 1, Rookie-level); and infielder Johan López (Dominican Summer League Rays 2, Rookie-level).

Baserunner of the Year honors went to infielder Vidal Bruján, while righthander Tyler Zombro was named Reliever of the Year and infielder Taylor Walls was named Defensive Player of the Year.

Franco, 18, was named the Rays Minor League Player of the Year after batting .327/.398/.487 (139-for-425) with nine home runs, 53 RBI and 18 stolen bases in 114 games between Bowling Green and Charlotte. Ranked by Baseball America and MLB.com as the No. 1 overall prospect in the minors, Franco led Rays minor leaguers with 82 runs, tied for first in hits, ranked second with 207 total bases and fourth in batting avg. (min. 150 AB). He was named to the Midwest League midseason All-Star Team and earned postseason honors in both the Midwest League and Florida State League. At the time of his June 25 promotion to Charlotte, Franco ranked second in the Midwest League in batting avg. (.318), fourth in on-base pct. (.390), fourth in extra-base hits (27) and sixth in slugging pct. (.506). Franco represented the Rays in the All-Star Futures Game at Progressive Field, batting leadoff for the American League team.

Ryan, 23, was tabbed the Rays Minor League Pitcher of the Year after going 9-4 with a 1.96 ERA (123.2-IP, 27-ER) in 24 appearances (22 starts) between Bowling Green, Charlotte and Montgomery. He ranked fifth among Rays minor leaguers in ERA (min. 50 IP) and led the organization with 183 strikeouts, which ranked second in all of Minor League Baseball and were the most by a Rays farmhand since Matt Moore (210) in 2011. Ryan was named the organization’s Pitcher of the Month for both July and August, going 2-0 with a 1.49 ERA (48.1-IP, 8-ER) and 75 strikeouts in nine starts over that span. Despite making only 15 appearances (13 starts) for Charlotte, his 112 strikeouts tied for sixth in the Florida State League.

Rosenblum-Larson, 22, took home the Erik Walker Community Champion Award. Named after former Rays minor league pitcher Erik Walker, who died tragically in 2006 following his first season in professional baseball, the award annually recognizes a Rays minor leaguer who exemplifies teamwork, sportsmanship and community involvement. Charlotte’s nominee for the award, Rosenblum-Larson, was selected from a field that included nominees from each Rays affiliate. The Rays Baseball Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, will make a $2,500 donation in Rosenblum-Larson’s name to the nonprofit organization of his choice. He selected Shore Community Services, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities through educational, residential and vocational programs.

Bruján, 21, was recognized as the organization’s Baserunner of the Year for a second consecutive season. His 48 stolen bases led the organization and tied for fifth in all of Minor League Baseball. Ranked by MLB.com as the No. 3 prospect in the organization, Bruján was successful on 78.7 pct. (48 of 61) of his stolen base attempts, the highest rate of his minor league career. Following the season, he was ranked by Baseball America as the Best Baserunner, Fastest Baserunner and Most Exciting Player in the Florida State League in its Best Tools survey.

Zombro, 25, was named Reliever of the Year after going 2-1 with a 2.29 ERA (63-IP, 16-ER) and 11 saves in 41 appearances (three starts) between Montgomery and Durham. All 11 saves came with the Biscuits, which tied for fourth in the Southern League. Between the two levels, opponents hit only .222 (50-for-225) against him, including a .196 (32-for-163) mark in 34 appearances (two starts) from May 6 through the end of the season.

Walls, 23, was named Defensive Player of the Year for a second straight season, recording a .972 fielding pct. over 761.1 innings between Charlotte and Montgomery. Between the two levels, he made 70 starts at shortstop, 10 starts at second base and six starts at third base. Walls was charged with only 10 errors in 354 chances, compared to 18 errors in 462 chances with Bowling Green in 2018.

Cronenworth, 25, hit .334/.429/.520 (115-for-344) with 26 doubles, four triples, 10 home runs and 45 RBI in his first full season with Durham. He led the International League in batting avg. and on-base pct. and ranked third with a .949 on-base plus slugging pct. He was also used as a two-way player, making seven appearances on the mound, and yielded only two runs, both unearned, in 7.1 innings. He was named to both the International League midseason and postseason All-Star Teams. Following the season, he was ranked by Baseball America as the Best Batting Prospect, Best Infield Arm, Best Defensive Shortstop and Most Exciting Player in the International League in its Best Tools survey.

Fleming, 23, went 11-4 with a 3.31 ERA (127.2-IP, 47-ER) in 21 appearances (17 starts) for the Biscuits, earning a mid-August promotion to Durham. He tied for first among Southern League leaders in wins, tied for first in winning pct., ranked fifth in ERA, fourth in WHIP and sixth in innings pitched. He won his third start after joining the Bulls and his 12 total wins tied for third in the organization, one shy of the co-leaders.

Romero, 22, went 12-4 with a 1.89 ERA (119.1-IP, 25-ER) in 23 appearances (18 starts) with the Stone Crabs and was promoted to Montgomery for his final start of the regular season. He made the Florida State League postseason All-Star Team, leading the league in wins, winning pct., ERA, WHIP (1.02) and opponent’s avg. (.205). He won his only start with the Biscuits to tie for the organizational lead with 13 wins.

Sampen, 23, spent his first season in the Rays organization with Bowling Green after he was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to spring training in exchange for righthander Jaime Shultz. He went 9-4 with a 2.68 ERA (121-IP, 36-ER) in 22 appearances (21 starts). In addition to earning Midwest League midseason and postseason All-Star honors, he ranked among league leaders in wins (tied for third), ERA (second) and WHIP (1.02, second).

Jones, 21, hit .335/.413/.461 (64-for-191) with 13 doubles, four triples, one home run, 24 RBI and 19 stolen bases for Hudson Valley. In his first full month in the organization after being selected in the first round (22nd overall) of the 2019 June Draft out of UNC-Wilmington, Jones earned New York-Penn League midseason All-Star honors and was named the system’s Player of the Month for July. His .335 avg. for Hudson Valley ranked third in the New York-Penn League and led Rays minor leaguers (min. 150 AB), while his .413 on-base pct. ranked second in the league.

Infante, 19, hit .288/.344/.504 (69-for-240) with 14 doubles, 12 home runs and 52 RBI in 61 games with Princeton. He was one of three Princeton Rays selected to the Appalachian League postseason All-Star Team. His 52 RBI were one shy of the league lead and his 12 home runs tied for third in the league. He also ranked second in hits and total bases (121), fourth in extra-base hits (27), sixth in slugging pct. and ninth in on-base plus slugging pct. (.848).

Ramírez, 19, hit .289/.351/.422 (39-for-135) with eight doubles, two triples, two home runs, 24 RBI and seven stolen bases in 37 games with the GCL Rays before finishing the season with 10 games in Princeton. He led the team in hits, total bases (57), RBI and walks (13) and was the only player with multiple home runs. It was the second consecutive season he won a team MVP award, after claiming it for the DSL Rays2 in 2018.

Balbuena, 20, hit .283/.383/.467 (34-for-120) with 10 doubles, four home runs, 18 RBI and six stolen bases in 35 games for the DSL Rays1. He also played in 27 games for the DSL Rays2, and his .326 avg. between the two clubs ranked fifth among Rays minor leaguers (min. 150 AB). With the DSL Rays1, he tied for the team lead in homers and tied for second in doubles, while his .383 on-base pct. and .467 slugging pct. both would have led the team if he recorded enough plate appearances to qualify.

López, 19, hit .357/.445/.548 (45-for-126) with seven doubles, seven triples, one home run, 28 RBI and 24 stolen bases in 30 games for the DSL Rays2 before a July 13 promotion to the GCL Rays. He was named to the Dominican Summer League midseason All-Star Team and ended the season holding the Dominican Summer League lead in both triples and stolen bases.