Rays' Auer showing off wheels in the desert

October 11th, 2022

SURPRISE, Ariz. – From the words “play ball,” Mason Auer is in go mode. His wheels – both on the basepaths and defensively – have been on display through the first week and a half of the Arizona Fall League with the Mesa Solar Sox, with whom he is looking to claim a third title ring in 2022.

Selected in the fifth round of the 2021 Draft out of San Jacinto College, Auer got his first taste of affiliate ball this year. He began the season with Single-A Charleston, before a late June promotion to High-A Bowling Green; in addition to his top-tier basestealing ability and defensive acumen, he slashed .290/.372/.487 with 48 extra-base hits and 62 RBIs in 115 games. Both clubs he played for would go on to claim their respective league titles.

“In Bowling Green and Charleston, we had a really good dugout,” Auer said. “Ronny Simon in our dugout here, he brings the energy. We have a good group of guys. We haven’t been together that long but we kind of just grow together. It’s been fun.”

Auer and Simon made up the top of the Solar Sox lineup in Tuesday’s 3-2 matinee defeat to the Saguaros at Surprise Stadium. Auer, the Rays’ No. 12 prospect, plated the game’s first run with an RBI double down the left-field line in the third. Simon notched Mesa’s other RBI, a bases-loaded walk in the fifth.

Call it happenstance, but Auer’s impact from atop the Mesa lineup has been felt with immediacy. Through eight games in the Fall League, the same scenario has played out on three occasions: Auer, the game’s first batter, hits an infield grounder and his elite speed forces the defense into committing an error. Later in the frame, he swipes at least one bag.

“Speed is one of my tools, so I like to show it off as much as I can,” Auer said. “I always bust it down the line.”

Last Wednesday, Auer’s version of running hard down the line resulted in a 30.1 ft/sec sprint speed, which ranks as elite, according to Statcast. Only 11 Major Leaguers averaged better than 30 ft/sec during the 2022 season.

Between Charleston and Bowling Green, the 21-year-old swiped 48 bags – 24 at each stop. He has kept on running right into the premier fall prospect destination, tying for the AFL lead with four stolen bases entering play Tuesday night. While Auer’s speed ranks as his second-highest rated tool, it’s not just a matter of quickness; it’s a matter of preparation.

“We watch the film on the pitchers beforehand and we get to see their tendencies and their times to the plate,” Auer said. “I’m pretty confident in myself on the bases, so I try to take as many as I can.”

Those wheels were back in action as soon as the bottom of the first, when Auer came sprinting in to deny Pirates No. 5 prospect Nick Gonzales of a hit. After showing his speed coming in on the ball, Auer put his lateral quickness on display when he robbed Pittsburgh's top-ranked prospect Henry Davis of extra bases just a frame later.

“I think I have a pretty good first step and my speed definitely helps me out there,” Auer said.

The center fielder’s first full season is still a month away from concluding, but on top of learning how to take care of his body for the rigors of a pro year, he has learned how to win, a trait ubiquitous throughout the Rays’ system with all affiliates having made the postseason in 2022.

Mesa starter Mason Miller retired the first seven batters that he faced, flashing an electric fastball that ramped up as high as 102 mph on the gun. The No. 20 A's prospect struck out a pair over three frames and allowed one run on three hits.