Top prospects, intriguing former Rays 1st-rounder head NRIs

January 30th, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays have invited 32 players on Minor League contracts to Spring Training, a group headlined by a handful of current top prospects and one former top prospect working his way back to the Majors.

The most notable additions to the Rays’ Spring Training roster revealed on Tuesday were top prospects Carson Williams, Dominic Keegan, Mason Montgomery and Kameron Misner, plus former first-round Draft pick , who last pitched in the Majors in 2019 and hasn’t appeared in the Minors since '22.

Tampa Bay had already announced a number of Spring Training non-roster invitees, with many of them having signed Minor League deals this offseason. Here is the full list, broken down by position.

Right-handed pitchers (14): Trevor Brigden, Carlos Garcia, Michael Gomez, Zac Houston, Enmanuel Mejia, Erasmo Ramírez, Joe Record, Burch Smith, Justin Sterner, Edwin Uceta, Naoyuki Uwasawa, Jacob Waguespack, Nathan Wiles, Logan Workman

Left-handed pitchers (3): Antonio Jimenez, Brendan McKay, Mason Montgomery

Catchers (6): Rob Brantly, Logan Driscoll, Alex Jackson, Dominic Keegan, Nick Meyer, Kenny Piper

Infielders (4): C.J. Hinojosa, Tanner Murray, Ronny Simon, Carson Williams

Outfielders (5): Ruben Cardenas, Niko Hulsizer, Jake Mangum, Kameron Misner, Tristan Peters

Seven of those non-roster invitees already have Major League service time: McKay, Ramírez, Smith, Uceta, Waguespack, Brantly and Jackson.

Barring another move, Jackson -- re-signed to a Minor League deal earlier this offseason -- is the leading candidate to be the Rays’ backup catcher behind René Pinto on Opening Day. Uwasawa brings a wealth of experience from Japan and an intriguing ability to cover innings. Ramírez returned to the Rays and pitched in multiple roles last season.

Then there’s McKay, the fourth overall pick in the 2017 Draft. Returning to the Majors would complete a long, frustrating journey for the left-hander.

McKay was a two-way top prospect out of Louisville and debuted as such, at age 23, for the Rays in 2019. Now 28, McKay has since been through left shoulder surgery (August 2020), thoracic outlet syndrome surgery (after the 2021 season) and Tommy John surgery (September 2022).

After the second operation, McKay dropped hitting to focus on pitching. Amid all those procedures, he missed the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and appeared in only 14 Minor League games combined in ’21 and ’22, most recently taking the mound for Triple-A Durham on Aug. 18, 2022. The Rays released him in November 2022 and re-signed him to a two-year Minor League deal about a month later, allowing him to return this year after spending last season on the injured list while rehabbing.

Meanwhile, Williams -- the Rays’ first-round pick in 2021 -- will get his first real taste of big league Spring Training. The 20-year-old shortstop, MLB Pipeline’s No. 20 overall prospect, came up from Minor League camp to play in two Grapefruit League games last year. He lined up in those exhibitions alongside fellow top prospect Junior Caminero, only to be reminded six months later that their future wasn’t as far off as it might have seemed.

“It just goes to show you that dreams are possible, and you can make it,” Williams said at Tropicana Field in September, shortly after Caminero was called up straight from Double-A. “It just gives you that -- I don’t want to call it hope, but it gives you more drive to be like, ‘All right, I need to work on my stuff to get to that next level.’”

Williams spent most of last season with High-A Bowling Green, though he made a brief cameo in Triple-A and finished the season with Double-A Montgomery. He has acknowledged a need to cut down on his strikeouts, as he whiffed in 158 of his 503 plate appearances last season. But Williams has flown up prospect rankings for a reason; he’s a slick, strong-armed defender who hit .257/.356/.497 with 23 homers, 81 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 115 games last year.

Among the other prospects to watch in camp: Keegan, who could be developing into the Rays’ catcher of the future; Montgomery, who struggled last season but was ranked among their top 10 prospects; Misner, who has been held back by his strikeouts but had 21 homers and 21 steals for Durham last year; and Simon, a sparkplug infielder who was recently named MVP of the Dominican Winter League.

Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla., on Feb. 13. Position players will report on Feb. 18, with the first full-squad workout taking place on Feb. 19.