'Our organization knows how to win': Auer swats Double-A Montgomery to playoffs

September 17th, 2023

BILOXI, Miss. -- Mason Auer knows a thing or two about playing for a Minor League championship. He helped lead High-A Bowling Green to a 2022 South Atlantic League title and deserves credit for his contributions to Carolina League champ Single-A Charleston in the first half of the same campaign.

On Saturday, he got another Rays affiliate one step closer to a ring of its own.

Tampa Bay’s No. 13 prospect provided all of Double-A Montgomery’s offense with a two-run homer in the Biscuits’ 2-1 win over Biloxi at MGM Park in the MLB Pipeline Game of the Month. With the victory, Montgomery clinched the Southern League South Division second-half title with a 43-25 record and punched its ticket to the postseason for the eighth consecutive season, a stretch dating back to 2015.

“I just think our organization knows how to win,” Auer said. “We’re going to keep the same mentality we’ve had the whole season and go out and compete.”

The right-handed slugger’s heroics in the fourth inning of Thursday’s win were more than just well-timed for the team; they helped him end the season on an even brighter note. After a breakout 2022 in which he slashed .290/.372/.487 with 15 homers and 48 steals across the two A-ball levels, Auer hit roadblocks in his introduction to the upper Minors this summer, particularly when it came to making contact. He entered September with just a .195/.284/.322 line over 111 games with Montgomery and had struck out 35.7 percent of the time in that span.

Known as a tooled-up center fielder with decent power, a plus-plus arm and 60-grade speed, Auer has the profile to provide value in other ways, but he knew he still had to improve his chase and contact rates to give himself a shot at a turnaround.

“Really focusing on getting my pitch and not swinging at balls has been huge,” he said. “I’ve been getting in the cage, practicing different pitches at different speeds to help get better.”

In the fourth frame, Auer worked a 2-1 count against Biloxi right-hander starter TJ Shook and got a 91 mph heater down the middle and directly in his hot zone coming from his open right-handed stance. After connecting, the ball -- traveling at a 109 mph exit velocity according to MGM Park tracking data -- landed a projected 412 feet away in left-center.

“I was looking for a fastball,” he said. “And when I got it, I let it fly.”

Following his 2-for-4 showing Saturday in the win, Auer is now slashing .295/.367/.591 over 13 games in September. Six of his 13 hits have gone for extra bases, so while his K rate remains too high at 38.8 percent, his improved swing decisions are giving him an improved opportunity to hit for damage, as he did Saturday.

Auer wasn’t the only ranked Rays prospect to contribute to Montgomery’s postseason-punching victory Saturday.

Cole Wilcox (No. 12) allowed just one earned run, three hits and two walks over five innings as the Biscuits' starting pitcher -- all the more impressive considering he gave up a homer to Isaac Collins on the first pitch of the game for Biloxi’s only run of the night.

Carson Williams (No. 2, MLB No. 19) scored on Auer’s homer after being hit by a pitch and stealing second, and the 20-year-old shortstop added a nifty, turning play in the fifth from the premium position.

The Rays' farm is known for both top talent -- it claims four Top 100 overall prospects, including Junior Caminero (No. 6), who went 0-for-5 for Montgomery but has been red-hot in recent weeks -- and depth, and that’s reflected in the fact that the organization ranks fourth among the 30 farm systems with a collective .542 winning percentage as of Saturday.

Triple-A Durham sits atop the International League second-half standings. Charleston has already clinched its spot in the Carolina League Finals. And on Tuesday, Montgomery will square off against Pensacola (Marlins) in the playoffs, chasing what no Biscuits team since 2007 (when Auer was only six) has captured -- a Southern League title.

Just another year in the Tampa Bay system.

“I think the development in this organization,” Auer said, “is above and beyond.”