Speedy Simpson blazing a trail through Rays' Minors

June 18th, 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.

Most of the time, makes it look easy.

Few players in baseball, if any, have Simpson's speed on the bases. He was tied for the Minor League lead with 94 steals in 2023. In 32 games for High-A Bowling Green to start this season, he stole 31 bases while being caught only five times. The Rays challenged Simpson with a promotion to Double-A Montgomery on May 21, and he responded by swiping three bags in his first game at the next level.

Then, on May 22, Simpson led off the game with a double … and got picked off at second. Believe it or not, Rays officials were thrilled.

“I was so happy to see it. Honestly. I was like, ‘This is what he needs to see.’ He needs to get thrown out sometimes, needs to get picked off,” senior director of player development Blake Butera said recently. “It was just so easy for him in A-ball, and the only way for him to learn and get challenged is to move up and see stuff like this.”

Simpson has been up to the challenge, and then some. After slashing .364/.431/.372 for Bowling Green, the Rays’ No. 10 prospect per MLB Pipeline is .374/.402/.485 with 17 steals in 22 games for Montgomery. He easily leads the Minors with 48 stolen bases. Simpson has the same number of walks (21) and strikeouts in 254 plate appearances. His overall .368 average is also the best in the Minors, and he’s tied for the MiLB lead with 84 hits this season.

The scouting report on Simpson hasn’t changed. He’s got elite speed and very little power at the plate, but he puts the ball in play, makes good enough contact and lets his wheels do the rest. If anything, he just keeps getting better.

“He’s been great. The speed plays at any level, and he doesn’t strike out. It’s always line drives, hard ground balls,” Butera said. “Not a ton of extra-base hits, but any time he’s on first base, he turns it into an extra-base hit, because he steals second and sometimes third as well.”

The Rays have been pleased with Simpson's defensive adjustment to center field, especially considering he was a middle infielder in college, and he’s seen a little more time in left since his promotion. What comes next for him?

“Just continuing to do it. We don’t need to change the swing or make him hit the ball in the air or anything like that,” Butera said. “We want him to keep being Chandler Simpson.”

If you want to see it for yourself, tune into MLB Network tonight at 7:15 p.m. ET: No doubt Simpson will shine as Montgomery (wearing Montgomery Gray Sox uniforms in a tribute to the Negro Leagues) takes part in the MiLB at Rickwood Field game at the historic ballpark in Birmingham, Ala.

Elsewhere on the farm ...

Triple-A Durham: The Bulls were no-hit by seven Charlotte pitchers on Sunday, but it’s still been an encouraging stretch for former top prospect Curtis Mead. Demoted from the Majors on May 6, Mead hit just .246 with a .668 OPS in his first 17 games back in Triple-A. Since then, the second/third baseman is slashing .329/.405/.671 with five homers, 16 RBIs, six walks and nine strikeouts in 18 games.

Double-A Montgomery: Midway through May, catcher (Rays’ No. 5 prospect) was batting just .228 with a .766 OPS. Not bad, especially not for a catcher, but not up to his standard. But Keegan has hit just about everything over the past month, slashing .363/.398/.488 with 17 RBIs in 21 games dating back to May 15.

High-A Bowling Green: The Rays’ last two first-round Draft picks are crushing it for the Hot Rods. First baseman (Tampa Bay's No. 3 prospect, No. 45 overall prospect) is slashing .310/.395/.579 with 12 homers and 52 RBIs, plus 13 steals, in 54 games, with a .395/.480/.674 slash line in June. Meanwhile, shortstop/third baseman (Rays' No. 4 prospect, No. 84 overall) is slashing .275/.394/.522 with nine homers, 31 RBIs and 16 steals in 55 games. That’s quite an infield tandem.

Single-A Charleston: Right-hander (Rays' No. 8 prospect) got hit around a little last month, posting a 10.80 ERA with an opponents’ OPS of 1.069 over three starts from May 8-22. Not so much lately, as he’s won each of his last three starts while recording a 1.69 ERA with 22 strikeouts, one walk and an opponents’ slash line of .109/.125/.236. Fellow starter Gary Gill Hill continues to roll, too, racking up nine strikeouts with just one walk and two hits allowed while pitching seven innings of one-run ball in his last start on Friday. Keep an eye on those arms.