Key takeaways for Rays prospects this spring

March 22nd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Adam Berry’s Rays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Opening Day is less than a week away, and the Rays’ focus is on shaping their big league roster after several key injuries changed their plans.

But Spring Training is also a time to look further into the future as prospects fill the clubhouse early in camp and take the field late in games. That was especially true this spring, with the inaugural Spring Breakout exhibition shining a spotlight on each organization’s best young talent.

Before returning our focus to the Major League club, let’s look at four things we learned about the Rays’ Minor League system this spring.

There are catchers on the way
The Rays are still figuring out their plans at catcher behind starter René Pinto, but there appears to be help on the way. Plenty of it.

During the first week of camp, manager Kevin Cash noted that Tampa Bay’s current group of catching prospects might be the “deepest we’ve had, as far as talent, in quite some time.” That specifically applies to the prospect trio of Dominic Keegan (the club’s No. 6 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline), Kenny Piper and Logan Driscoll.

Driscoll, 26, is ticketed for Triple-A after slashing .263/.331/.414 in 104 games between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham last season. Keegan and Piper, meanwhile, are slated to split time in Double-A, providing Montgomery with a potentially dynamic duo behind the plate.

Keegan, a fourth-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2022, is still regarded as a bat-first catcher, but he has made significant strides defensively. Piper, an 18th-round pick in 2021, has perhaps the strongest arm in the organization, but he shed his label as a glove-only guy by hitting 20 homers and posting an .846 OPS in 93 games between High-A Bowling Green and Montgomery last season.

“Both of them, they're so well-balanced, you wouldn't know what part of their game was behind the other,” senior director of player development Blake Butera said. “They're just so well-rounded.”

Don’t sleep on Xavier Isaac
Isaac, the Rays’ No. 4 prospect, stole the show during Spring Breakout by bashing two homers and a double, each of which had a triple-digit exit velocity. He’s expected to begin the season at Bowling Green, so he still has a long way to go. But that performance was a reminder that the first baseman could develop into a special homegrown slugger for the Rays.

Keep an eye on Carson Williams
With the uncertainty surrounding Wander Franco, the Rays had to scramble to find a solution at shortstop over the offseason while Taylor Walls finishes his recovery from offseason right hip surgery. Walls and José Caballero figure to hold down the job this season, but Williams (the club’s No. 2 prospect) looks like the shortstop of the future.

Williams still has to iron out his strikeout issues and further refine his game at the plate, but it speaks volumes about his defensive ability that the Rays -- who value flexibility in the field so much -- haven’t even considered playing him anywhere besides shortstop.

There’s a need for upper-level pitching
Tampa Bay showed off some interesting young arms in camp, specifically out of the bullpen, but the need for impact upper-level pitching depth was further reinforced on Thursday when the club traded former first-round pick Greg Jones to the Rockies for lefty starter Joe Rock, who is expected to begin the season in Triple-A.

The Rays’ top-ranked arm is Mason Montgomery (No. 9 in their system), and for the first time in a decade, they don’t have any pitchers banging on the door of the overall Top 100 list.