Rays' top two prospects among 40-man additions

November 16th, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays stared down their annual dilemma as Tuesday’s reserve list deadline approached, needing to protect a small horde of talented prospects from the Rule 5 Draft but lacking the 40-man roster space to keep them all.

Tampa Bay’s front office worked through the roster crunch by doing a little bit of everything. The Rays traded from their Major League roster, their big league depth and their class of Rule 5-eligible prospects, then designated three players for assignment -- including recent rotation mainstay Ryan Yarbrough -- to make room for the addition of five prospects: notably, right-handed starter Taj Bradley and slugging infielder Curtis Mead alongside Osleivis Basabe, Greg Jones and Colby White.

“The decisions today are always tough, which is a good thing. That means we have a lot of good players,” Rays general manager Peter Bendix said. “We have to have 40 on the roster, and that leads to difficult decisions -- difficult decisions in terms of players that might have to come off the roster, difficult decisions in terms of players that are Rule 5-eligible that we might choose to trade away or not protect.

“But ultimately, that's what we're hoping for. The more difficult these decisions, probably, the better the state of our farm system and our organization.”

Here’s how the Rays cut down their group of Rule 5-eligible prospects and cleared the necessary five spots on their 40-man roster:

• Designated Yarbrough, RHP Javy Guerra and 1B/OF Bligh Madris for assignment. (If not traded by Friday night, Yarbrough and Guerra will be non-tendered.)

• Traded RHP JT Chargois and Rule 5-eligible prospect Xavier Edwards to the Marlins for Minor League RHPs Santiago Suárez and Marcus Johnson

• Traded INF/OF Miles Mastrobuoni to the Cubs for Minor League RHP Alfredo Zárraga

• Traded Rule 5-eligible prospect Brett Wisely to the Giants for Minor League OF Tristan Peters

None of their additions necessarily came as a surprise.

Bradley, 21, is the Rays’ No. 1 prospect and No. 20 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100, with the 22-year-old Mead No. 2 on the organization's list and No. 35 overall. Both appeared in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game and reached Triple-A this season, and they could debut next year.

“Both of them are a huge part of our future. They're both going to come into Spring Training and compete for Major League jobs,” Bendix said. “They're both so young and have a lot of development in front of them, but they're top prospects for a reason. I think we're really excited about them.”

Basabe, one of three prospects acquired for Nathaniel Lowe in December 2020, broke out with High-A Bowling Green and Double-A Montgomery. The athletic shortstop, now the Rays’ No. 12 prospect, hit .324/.385/.462 with 39 doubles and 21 stolen bases in 112 games.

“He opened a lot of eyes,” Bendix said, “and I think he's made us really excited for his future.”

Jones, a first-round Draft pick in 2019, struggled at the plate in Double-A this year. The speedy, switch-hitting shortstop hit .238 with a .710 OPS and a 35.8% strikeout rate in 79 games, and many evaluators still believe the 24-year-old is best suited for the outfield. But the Rays believe their No. 15 prospect has too much talent to risk losing him.

“He still has the tools that made him such a high pick in the first place, and I think we still believe in him,” Bendix said. “Putting him on the roster, I think, is a sign of that.”

After flying through four levels of the Minors and earning the Rays’ Minor League Reliever of the Year award in 2021, White might have been in Tampa Bay’s bullpen this summer if he hadn’t required Tommy John surgery on April 4. White’s rehab is going well, Bendix said, putting him on schedule to pitch in rehab games in April and be back at full strength by May or June.

“His stuff is top tier. Great demeanor on the mound,” Bendix said. “We could always use relievers, and he has a chance to be an elite one.”

The Rays still could lose some players in the Rule 5 Draft, which will be held Dec. 7 at the Winter Meetings. Among their most intriguing unprotected prospects are outfielders Heriberto Hernandez and Kameron Misner, infielders Ronny Simon and Austin Shenton and catcher Blake Hunt.

“You can only protect 40 [players], and you're automatically going to worry about the 41st, 42nd, 43rd,” Bendix said. “We just have to make sure that the 40 that we protect are the right 40, and that's what we're trying to do.”