Rays top prospect Bradley filling his big league plate

April 23rd, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays top prospect  didn’t have to think long about his answer Sunday morning. Two starts in, what’s been his favorite thing about being a big leaguer?

“For me, it’s the spreads,” Bradley said with a smile. “It’s like grocery shopping when I come out of there.”

There are only occasional reminders like that confirming Bradley is, in fact, still a rookie experiencing his first weeks as a big leaguer. There just haven’t been any such reminders on the mound, where the 22-year-old right-hander -- who will start Monday’s series opener against the Astros -- has looked every bit the part of a Major League starter.

“The big leagues are tough, and the more that we can provide comfort and he can be comfortable with himself, that matters,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I think we're seeing a guy that is coming into his own. He's going to continue to get better. He's certainly not a finished product, but how can we not be excited about what he's shown in two starts?”

Bradley held the Red Sox to three runs over five innings while striking out eight in his MLB debut on April 12. He was even better in Cincinnati last week, permitting only three hits and a walk while striking out nine over 5 1/3 scoreless innings.

That made Bradley the fourth pitcher in the modern era, and the first in American League history, to strike out at least eight batters and earn a win in each of his first two career starts. (The others since 1901, all in the National League: Dinelson Lamet with the 2017 Padres, Stephen Strasburg with the '10 Nationals and Karl Spooner with the 1954 Brooklyn Dodgers.)

Bradley said he’s enjoyed the Rays’ “rowdy, excited” celebrations in the dugout, inside the clubhouse and on the field amid their scorching start to the season. He is still developing, but he’s shown control of his entire four-pitch arsenal and a willingness to pound the zone. The aspect of his performance he’s been most pleased with, he said, is his strike-throwing.

“Not giving hitters too much credit. Still trying to beat people in the zone and expand when I need to,” he said. “That's pretty much everything I've come to find out in the Minor Leagues, from Low-A up to this season, so just keep doing it.”

With Bradley thriving in the big leagues, let’s look at one Rays prospect doing the same at each level of the Minors.

Triple-A Durham: Manzardo raking for Bulls
Assigning Kyle Manzardo to Triple-A initially seemed a little aggressive, considering Tampa Bay’s No. 4 prospect only played 30 games at the Double-A level during his full-season debut last year. He’s making it clear he belongs, however.

The lefty-hitting first baseman has gotten off to a .304/.385/.643 start with five homers and 11 RBIs in his first 16 games, including Saturday’s two-homer performance highlighted by a projected 455-foot no-doubter. The underlying metrics are just as impressive: Four of the five hardest-hit balls of his young career have come in the past three weeks.

Double-A Montgomery: Wilcox returning to form
Good health is the most important thing for Cole Wilcox, the Rays’ No. 9 prospect, as he entered this season having only pitched 17 games in the Minors since the Padres selected him in the third round of the 2020 MLB Draft and sent him to Tampa Bay. But good performance certainly doesn’t hurt, and the right-hander is checking that box in his return from Tommy John surgery. He allowed only three runs (two earned) on seven hits and three walks while striking out 16 over 12 innings in his first three starts for the Biscuits.

High-A Bowling Green: A Top 100 prospect, indeed
Junior Caminero burst onto the scene last year, and he might be due for another climb up the top prospect lists this year. Having recently joined MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects, the Rays’ No. 5 prospect is crushing his South Atlantic League competition. While spending most of his time at third base, with a couple of starts at shortstop, Caminero entered Sunday batting .404 (19-for-47) with a 1.164 OPS, four homers and 14 RBIs in his first 11 games. Not bad for a 19-year-old.

Single-A Charleston: Keegan keeps on hitting
Dominic Keegan proved he could hit during his years at Vanderbilt. The Rays’ No. 25 prospect is doing nothing to shake that reputation in his full-season debut, going 16-for-36 (.444) with two homers, nine RBIs and six walks in his first 11 games. Tampa Bay also believes in his ability to improve defensively behind the plate, where he’s made seven starts.