Baz ascends to top of Rays' prospect ranks

August 19th, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- There’s a new name at the top of the Rays’ incredibly deep farm system.

MLB Pipeline unveiled its midseason prospect rankings on Wednesday, revealing right-hander Shane Baz as Tampa Bay’s new No. 1. Baz also took a significant jump up MLB Pipeline’s list of Top 100 Prospects, vaulting from No. 90 on the preseason list all the way to No. 20.

The Rays are well represented on the new Top 100 list, with Baz joined by infielder/outfielder Vidal Bruján (No. 22), infielder Xavier Edwards (No. 76), outfielder Josh Lowe (No. 79) and shortstop Greg Jones (No. 92). The rest of Tampa Bay’s updated Top 30 list shows the unparalleled depth in the Rays’ system even after the graduations of Wander Franco, Randy Arozarena, Luis Patiño, Shane McClanahan, Taylor Walls and Josh Fleming, plus the departures of pitching prospects Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman to Minnesota in the trade for Nelson Cruz.

Tampa Bay still has plenty of high-end talent on the horizon, too, starting with Baz.

Baz is baseball's third-ranked right-handed pitching prospect, behind only the Orioles’ Grayson Rodriguez and the Rangers’ Jack Leiter. The 22-year-old has always had that kind of ability, dating back to 2017, when the Pirates made him the 12th overall pick in the MLB Draft, and 2018, when the Rays acquired him at the Trade Deadline.

When the Rays sent Chris Archer to the Pirates for three young players, much of the attention went to Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows. Understandably so, as Glasnow immediately tapped into his top-of-the-rotation talent and Meadows quickly emerged as an All-Star. But Tampa Bay could have another future star on its hands in Baz, listed for two weeks as the “player to be named” in that deal, especially after the strides he’s taken this year.

Baz put together an excellent season for Class A Bowling Green in 2019, recording a 2.99 ERA and 1.23 WHIP with 87 strikeouts in 81 1/3 innings over 17 starts. But the knock against him was his inconsistent command. He averaged 4.1 walks per nine innings in ’19 after walking 43 batters in his first 76 professional innings from 2017-18.

Now he is harnessing his excellent stuff with equally impressive command, and it’s possible (though certainly not guaranteed) that the Rays could call upon him to bolster their pitching staff at some point later this season.

Baz breezed through Double-A, posting a 2.48 ERA with 49 strikeouts and only two walks in seven starts with Montgomery. He earned a promotion to Triple-A Durham, where he is currently 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA, 36 strikeouts and eight walks in six starts -- a stint split up by his time with Team USA at the Olympics in Tokyo.

“I've been working so hard on just my body and my pitches and what I want them to do for so many years now, and now it's kind of the point where I'm getting close and it’s about putting the ball where I want more than anything,” Baz said in July. “So I've just focused on that and challenged hitters and made them earn everything they get.”

Among the players who have risen the most up the Rays’ Top 30 list, according to MLB Pipeline, are Lowe, who’s thriving in Triple-A and seems to be MLB-ready; right-hander Taj Bradley, at No. 6; shortstop Carlos Colmenarez, at No. 7; infielder Curtis Mead, at No. 14; right-hander Tommy Romero, at No. 18; flame-throwing righty Sandy Gaston, at No. 21; and outfielder Ruben Cardenas, at No. 28.

Four of the Rays’ picks from this year’s Draft cracked the Top 30 list as well. First-rounder Carson Williams checks in at No. 10, Cooper Kinney at No. 17, Kyle Manzardo at No. 24 and Ryan Spikes at No. 27.