Baz, Bruján to rep Rays in Futures Game

June 30th, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- , the top prospect from the Rays’ top-ranked farm system, is in the big leagues. But look no further than the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game’s American League roster for proof that Tampa Bay still has a ton of high-end talent waiting in the wings.

Triple-A Durham infielder/outfielder Vidal Bruján and right-hander Shane Baz, a pair of Top 100 Prospects, will represent the Rays in the annual prospect showcase on July 11 at Coors Field as part of the All-Star Game festivities in Denver. Major League Baseball announced the full, prospect-rich rosters on Wednesday morning.

We’ll start this week’s Minor League notebook with a look at Baz, the Rays’ No. 5 prospect and No. 71 overall according to MLB Pipeline.


There’s never been any doubt that Baz has the ability to succeed at the highest level. The Pirates selected the right-hander 12th overall in the 2017 Draft and gave him a $4.1 million bonus, an indication of his pure potential.

He’s only gotten better since joining the Rays in the Chris Archer trade. Now, his command has caught up to his stuff.

Baz started the season with Double-A Montgomery, where he struck out 49 batters and walked two in seven starts. The Rays recognized he was ready for the next step and promoted him to Triple-A, where he has allowed only two runs in 14 innings over three starts while striking out 20 batters and walking three.

Take a look at Baz’s walk rates per nine innings by year, starting with his pro debut in 2017: 5.3, 5.0, 4.1 … and now 1.0. His strikeout-to-walk ratios over the same span? 1.4, 2.0, 2.4 … and now 13.8. What’s been the difference?

“It’s definitely been a major improvement and something he’s really been working on. As he’s matured, he’s understood how his stuff plays and how much better it plays when it’s in the strike zone,” Rays director of Minor League operations Jeff McLerran said. “There’s been some delivery work that he’s been doing with our pitching coaches that has allowed him to be more consistent, but a lot of it is a mindset -- the understanding that taking a couple ticks off in order to throw a strike is often better than lighting up the scoreboard with velocity."

Baz can still run his fastball into triple digits when he needs to, but what McLerran described is the classic evolution of a complete pitcher.

The 22-year-old has cleaned up his delivery, taking a more direct path to the plate than before. He’s trusting his stuff, as the Rays encourage all their pitchers to do. And he’s getting results in the strike zone with his fastball, slider and changeup without trying to chase swinging strikes outside the zone all the time. His stuff is just that good.

Baz earned Triple-A East Pitcher of the Week honors last week. The Rays expected he’d be ready for that level after watching him face talented prospects like Franco, Bruján, Taylor Walls and Josh Lowe at their alternate training site last year. Now, they just need to see how he’ll handle upper-level hitters when facing them multiple times, making adjustments once there’s a scouting report out on him.

But first, Tampa Bay is eager to see the righty with a bright future shine at the Futures Game.

“We do our best to try to prepare guys for the big stage, but something like the Futures Game -- pitching in a Major League stadium with a crowd over 10,000 and being on national television -- those are pressure situations that you can’t create in a normal Minor League setting,” McLerran said. “Really excited to see how he rises to that challenge and have no doubts that he’s going to do well there.”


Triple-A Durham (32-16, first place in the Triple-A East -- Southeast Division)

• Bruján (No. 2 Rays prospect, No. 36 overall) went 3-for-3 with two doubles and two walks on Tuesday. It was an encouraging sign for the versatile switch-hitter, who had been mired in a 1-for-24 slump in the previous six games and has hit just .190/.266/.369 in June. But Bruján is still a deserving candidate for the Futures Game nod, as he showed with a dynamic start for Durham.

is expected to start the Rays' series opener on Friday night in Buffalo, N.Y., and he certainly seems ready for a return to the Majors. Sent down to get built up as a starter, the right-hander struck out 23 over 15 scoreless innings over his last three starts for Durham. Last time out, he struck out 11 -- including nine of the last 11 hitters he faced -- on 72 pitches.

• Two other players performing well for the Bulls: outfielder Nathan Lukes, who has a .999 OPS in 32 games after posting a .613 OPS in 91 games with Durham in 2019; and reliever Phoenix Sanders, who’s displaying his command and fearlessness on the mound with 33 strikeouts and three walks to go along with a 1.46 ERA in 16 outings.

Double-A Montgomery (22-25, third place in the Double-A South -- South Division)

• Infielder Xavier Edwards (No. 4) hasn’t missed a beat despite a late start to the season, going 23-for-66 with more walks (10) than strikeouts (seven) in his first 16 games. The speedster has always had remarkable contact skills, but the Rays have been impressed by the way he’s been driving the ball.

• Right-hander Tommy Romero owns a 2.20 ERA with 48 strikeouts and only eight walks in eight outings for Montgomery. Romero doesn’t have overwhelming velocity, but like No. 11 prospect Joe Ryan in Durham, he succeeds with a fastball with good movement that works well at the top of the strike zone.

High-A Bowling Green (32-15, first place in the High-A East -- South Division)

• Outfielder Niko Hulsizer has been on a tear in June, hitting .338/.449/.811 with 10 homers and 30 RBIs in 21 games. The 24-year-old’s underlying metrics back up his surface-level results, putting him in the conversation for a promotion to Double-A.

• A 23rd-round pick out of Dixie State University who signed for just $3,000 in 2019, right-hander Jayden Murray is 6-0 with a 1.90 ERA and a 0.68 WHIP in nine starts. His fastball can get into the mid-90s, with good location, but his slider is his biggest weapon.

• The Rays knew outfielder Hill Alexander was hitting better than his .213 average in Low-A indicated when they promoted him to Bowling Green. The 25-year-old proved it, going 9-for-24 with three homers and two doubles in his first eight games and earning High-A East Player of the Week honors.

Low-A Charleston (32-15, first place in the Low-A East – South Division)

• Corner infielder Curtis Mead (No. 30) was named Low-A East Player of the Week again. The 20-year-old, who entered Wednesday hitting .341/.395/.539 in 41 games, has been posting impressive exit velocities while driving the ball to all fields without striking out much.

• Two others performing well for Charleston: right-hander Andrew Gross, the lower-slot Low-A East Pitcher of the Week who has a 0.92 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings; and right fielder Diego Infante, who’s hitting .280/.402/.462 with an improved, more selective approach.

• Right-hander Cole Wilcox (No. 8) left his start Sunday with an arm injury that will land him on the injured list. Wilcox, part of the Blake Snell trade, was off to an excellent start with a 2.03 ERA in 10 outings.

• Left-hander Ian Seymour, a second-round pick last year and the club’s No. 22 prospect, joined Charleston’s roster on Tuesday and is scheduled to make his professional debut in a start for the RiverDogs later this week.

Rookie-level FCL Rays (1-1 in the Florida Complex League -- South Division)

• The FCL Rays played their first game Monday in the newly renamed Florida Complex League, formerly known as the Gulf Coast League, and beat the FCL Pirates Gold squad, 7-3.

• There are several notable prospects on the active roster, including shortstop Alejandro Pie (No. 19). Among the others to watch: right-hander Sandy Gaston, who’s drawn rave reviews from inside and outside the organization; outfielder Shane Sasaki, a third-round pick in 2019; and infielder Willy Vasquez, a 19-year-old who posted an .824 OPS in the Dominican Summer League two years ago.

No. 3 prospect Brendan McKay (left shoulder) made his first regular-season appearance since 2019 on Tuesday, allowing one hit and a walk over two innings in a rehab appearance.