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Rays announce 2018 Minor League award winners

The Tampa Bay Rays have announced infielder Nate Lowe as its Minor League Player of the Year and lefthander Brock Burke as its Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Additionally, outfielder Carl Chester 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 Toronto Blue Jays. 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 Tampa Bay Rays have announced infielder Nate Lowe as its Minor League Player of the Year and lefthander Brock Burke as its Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Additionally, outfielder Carl Chester 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 Toronto Blue Jays. 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 Kean Wong (Durham Bulls, Triple-A); infielder Nick Solak (Montgomery Biscuits, Double-A); outfielder Jesús Sánchez (Charlotte Stone Crabs, Class-A); catcher Ronaldo Hernández (Bowling Green Hot Rods, Class-A); catcher Chris Betts (Hudson Valley Renegades, Short-A); infielder Wander Franco (Princeton Rays, Rookie-level); infielder Kaleo Johnson (Gulf Coast League Rays, Rookie-level); right-handed pitcher Matthew Peguero (Dominican Summer League Rays 1, Rookie-level); and infielder Abiezel Ramírez (Dominican Summer League Rays 2, Rookie-level).

Baserunner of the Year honors went to infielder Vidal Bruján, while lefthander Colin Poche was named Reliever of the Year and infielder Taylor Walls was named Defensive Player of the Year.

Lowe, 23, was named the Rays Minor League Player of the Year after batting .330/.416/.568 (159-for-482) with 27 home runs and 102 RBI in 130 games between Charlotte, Montgomery and Durham. Ranked by MLB.com as the No. 13 prospect in the organization, Lowe was named to the Florida State League midseason All-Star Team and was the league's Player of the Month for both April and May. At the time of his June 7 promotion to Montgomery, Lowe led the league with a .356 batting avg. (69-for-194), 44 RBI and 25 extra-base hits. Between the three levels, his 27 home runs and 102 RBI led the organization and his .330 batting avg. ranked third. His 102 RBI were also the most by a Rays minor leaguer since Stephen Vogt (105) in 2011. Lowe represented the Rays in the All-Star Futures Game at Nationals Park, batting cleanup for the U.S. Team.

Burke, 22, was tabbed the Rays Minor League Pitcher of the Year after going 9-6 with a 3.08 ERA (137.1-IP, 47-ER) in 25 appearances (22 starts) between Charlotte and Montgomery. He led Rays minor leaguers with 158 strikeouts, ranked fifth in ERA (min. 100 IP) and tied for fourth in wins. His strikeout total ranked 14th in all of minor league baseball. Burke was named the Southern League's Pitcher of the Week for August 13-19, going 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA (12.2-IP, 2-ER). Following his July 9 promotion, he went 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA (55.1-IP, 12-ER) in nine starts for the Biscuits, including a 4-0 mark with a 1.35 ERA (33.1-IP, 5-ER) in his final five starts of the regular season to help lead the Biscuits to the Southern League postseason.

Chester, 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. Bowling Green's nominee for the award, Chester 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 Chester's name to a charity of his choice.

Bruján, 20, was recognized as the organization's Baserunner of the Year. His 55 stolen bases led the organization by a considerable margin, 24 more than any other Rays minor leaguer. They ranked second in all of minor league baseball, tied for sixth in a single season in organizational history and were the most by a Rays minor leaguer since Andrew Toles (62) in 2013. Ranked by MLB.com as the No. 12 prospect in the organization, he was successful on 55 of his 74 attempts. Following the season, he was ranked by Baseball America as the Best Baserunner in the Midwest League in its Best Tools survey.

Poche, 24, was named Reliever of the Year after going 6-0 with a 0.98 ERA (55-IP, 6-ER) and 87 strikeouts in 31 appearances between Montgomery and Durham. He was acquired by the Rays from the Arizona Diamondbacks on May 1 as one of two players to be named to complete a three-team trade involving Steven Souza Jr. Between the two organizations, he pitched to a 0.82 ERA (66-IP, 6-ER) with a 15.0 strikeouts per nine innings ratio. No minor league pitcher with as many innings recorded a better strikeout-per-nine ratio than Poche. Ranked by MLB.com as the No. 24 prospect in the organization, he struck out 45.6 percent of his batters faced between the two organizations.

Walls, 22, was named Defensive Player of the Year, recording a .961 fielding percentage over 903 innings at shortstop for Bowling Green. His 288 assists led Rays minor leaguers and ranked third among Midwest League shortstops. Following the season, he was ranked by Baseball America as the Best Defensive Shortstop in the Midwest League in its Best Tools survey. Walls was selected by the Rays in the third round of the 2017 June Draft out of Florida State University.

Wong, 23, hit .282/.345/.406 (127-for-451) with nine home runs and 50 RBI in his first full season with Durham. He ranked 10th in the International League in hitting, led the team in hits and total bases (183) and also ranked among team leaders in RBI (third) and doubles (23, fourth). He was named to both the International League midseason and postseason All-Star Teams, and was the International League Top Star in the Triple-A All-Star Game.

Solak, 23, hit .282/.384/.450 (135-for-478) with 19 home runs, 76 RBI and 21 stolen bases in 126 games for Montgomery, his first season in the Rays organization. He led the Southern League in hits, on-base percentage and runs scored (91), ranked second in RBI, third in walks (68) and total bases (215) and fourth in batting avg. In addition, his 19 home runs and 76 RBI both ranked fifth among Rays minor leaguers. Ranked by MLB.com as the No. 11 prospect in the organization, he was named Southern League Player of the Month for August, batting .305 (25-for-82) with five home runs. 

Sánchez, 20, hit .301/.331/.462 (108-for-359) with 10 home runs and 64 RBI in 90 games with Charlotte prior to his promotion to the Double-A level on August 3. He was named to the Florida State League midseason All-Star Team and finished the season ranking among league leaders in batting avg. (fourth), slugging percentage (fourth) and RBI (sixth). Following the season, he was ranked by Baseball America as the Best Batting Prospect in the Florida State League in its Best Tools survey. Sánchez represented the Rays in the All-Star Futures Game at Nationals Park, where he started in right field for the World Team. Ranked by MLB.com as the No. 31 overall prospect in the minors, his 75 RBI between the two levels ranked sixth among Rays minor leaguers. This marks his fourth team MVP honor; he previously won it with the DSL Rays in 2015, the GCL Rays in 2016 and Bowling Green in 2017.

Hernández, 20, spent the entire season with Bowling Green, batting .284/.339/.494 (115-for-405) with 21 home runs and 79 RBI in 109 games. He ranked second in the Midwest League in homers and third in both RBI and slugging percentage. In addition, his 21 home runs and 79 RBI both ranked third among Rays minor leaguers. Ranked by MLB.com as the No. 7 prospect in the organization, Hernández earned both Midwest League midseason and postseason All-Star honors and was the league's Player of the Month for June, batting .366 (30-for-82) with 10 home runs and 25 RBI. Following the season, he was ranked by Baseball America as the Best Power Prospect in the Midwest League in its Best Tools survey.

Betts, 21, hit .248/.333/.456 (51-for-206) with nine home runs and 36 RBI in 56 games for Hudson Valley. His nine home runs tied for third in the New York-Penn League, and his 22.9 AB/HR ratio ranked second in the league. He was named the league's Batter of the Week for June 25-July 1 and was one of five Renegades to earn midseason All-Star Team honors. Prior to the start of the Short-A season, Betts appeared in 16 games with Bowling Green, his first extended action since the 2016 season. Between the two clubs, he recorded 10 home runs and 42 RBI in 262 at-bats.

Franco, 17, hit .351/.418/.587 (85-for-242) with 11 home runs and 57 RBI in 61 games with Princeton, his first professional action. Ranked by MLB.com as the No. 40 overall prospect in the minors, he was named Appalachian League Player of the Year, leading the league in hits and total bases (142) and tying for the league lead in RBI. He also ranked among league leaders in extra-base hits (28, tied for second), triples (7, third), slugging percentage (third) and batting avg. (fourth) while recording more walks (27) than strikeouts (19). Franco hit for the cycle on July 14, recorded a 25-game hitting streak from June 23-July 25 and a 53-game on-base streak from June 23-August 24. Following the season, he was named to Baseball America's Minor League All-Star Team and was the publication's Breakout Prospect of the Year.

Johnson, 22, hit .311/.400/.539 (52-for-167) with seven home runs and 25 RBI in 47 games for the GCL Rays after being selected in the 32nd round of the 2018 June Draft. He was named to the Gulf Coast League postseason All-Star Team, ranking among league leaders in home runs (tied for third), extra-base hits (22, second), slugging percentage (second), total bases (90, second), and runs scored (32, fifth). He was promoted to Hudson Valley on August 23. Between the two levels, his .303 batting avg. (61-for-201) ranked sixth among Rays minor leaguers.

Peguero, 18, went 5-1 with a 2.69 ERA (60.1-IP, 18-ER) and 60 strikeouts in 13 appearances (12 starts) for the DSL Rays1. He led the team in strikeouts, ranked second in innings and tied for second in wins. He recorded a 28-inning scoreless streak from July 13-Aug 13, and went 4-0 with a 0.60 ERA (30-IP, 2-ER) and .168 opponents' batting avg. (17-for-101) over his final six starts of the season. In his second professional season, he went at least five innings in nine of his 13 appearances. 

Ramírez, 18, hit .291/.391/.414 (69-for-237) with nine doubles, seven triples, two home runs and 50 RBI in 66 games for the DSL Rays2. He was named to the Dominican Summer League postseason All-Star Team, leading the DSL Rays2 in hits, triples, RBI and total bases (98) and ranking fourth in the league in RBI. In the month of July, Ramírez hit .338/.426/.506 (26-for-77) with eight extra-base hits and 17 RBI in 22 games.

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