ST. PETERSBURG -- Good player development doesn’t always lead to success on the field in the Minor Leagues. The Rays certainly make it seem that way, though.
While Tampa Bay reached the postseason for a fourth straight year, Triple-A Durham (86-64) won the Triple-A National Championship, Double-A Montgomery (70-61) made the Southern League semifinals, High-A Bowling Green (78-52) won a second straight South Atlantic League title, Single-A Charleston (88-44) did the same in the Carolina League and the Rookie-level Florida Complex League Rays (39-16) lost in the final game of their league championship series.
Here’s a brief look at some prospects who emerged amid that success and a few who could be poised for a breakthrough next year.
3 players who forced their way onto the radar
1B Kyle Manzardo: The 2021 second-round Draft pick led the system in average, OBP, slugging percentage and OPS, batting .327/.426/.617 with 22 homers, 26 doubles, 81 RBIs and nearly as many walks (59) as strikeouts (65) between High-A and Double-A. The Rays named their No. 5 prospect the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year, and the 22-year-old cracked MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Team of the Year. Suddenly, he looks like the first baseman of the future.
LHP Mason Montgomery: It’s hard to outshine the team’s top prospect Taj Bradley, but Montgomery earned Tampa Bay’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year award and his place on MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Team of the Year. The club’s No. 6 prospect and a sixth-round pick last year, Montgomery posted a 2.10 ERA with 171 strikeouts over 27 starts for Bowling Green and Montgomery. The 22-year-old led all Minor League left-handers in ERA and ranked third among lefties in opponents’ batting average (.196).
OF Mason Auer: In one season, Auer transformed from a little-known fifth-round pick out of San Jacinto College into the Rays’ No. 12 prospect and a player to watch in the Arizona Fall League. The 21-year-old has some of the loudest tools in Tampa Bay’s system and put them on display while hitting .290/.372/.487 with 15 homers, 12 triples, 21 doubles, 62 RBIs and 48 steals over 115 games for Charleston and Bowling Green.
2 possible breakouts to watch in 2023
INF Junior Caminero: We gave Caminero a spot on the Rays’ preseason Top 30 Prospects list, anticipating a breakout on the horizon from the offseason trade acquisition. He delivered. Now ranked No. 18 in the system, the 19-year-old hit .314/.384/.498 with 11 homers in 62 games between the Florida Complex League and Charleston. Expect Caminero to further establish himself in his first full season out of complex-level ball.
C Dominic Keegan: Catchers who can hit are a rare thing, and the Rays may have found one in Keegan. The 22-year-old, a fourth-round pick from Vanderbilt, has continued to improve defensively while making consistent hard contact with a pretty simple right-handed swing. The early returns were encouraging, as he played six games in the FCL and six for Charleston, batting a combined .325/.413/.575 with six of his 13 hits going for extra bases.
1 big question for next season
Who will make a real impact in The Show?
It was another good year on the farm, but it bore little fruit in the Majors.
Nobody from the preseason Top 30 Prospects list made a significant impact at Tropicana Field this season -- not the injured Shane Baz nor the underperforming Josh Lowe, Vidal Bruján, Tommy Romero (now with the Nationals), Jonathan Aranda and René Pinto. Tampa Bay’s baseball writers wound up voting Trade Deadline acquisition Jose Siri as the winner of the annual Outstanding Rookie award.
It was the polar opposite of 2021, when Randy Arozarena, Wander Franco and Shane McClanahan gave the Rays three of the American League’s top seven rookies from a system that also pushed out contributors like Baz, Taylor Walls and Luis Patiño.
Tampa Bay relies on its system delivering wave after wave of homegrown talent to the big leagues. Can top prospects like Bradley, Curtis Mead and Xavier Edwards be part of the next wave? Who else might join them?