The Tampa Bay Rays have the stigma that they win every trade. They find prospects before they take off. They get MLB studs like Randy Arozarena for next to nothing. Their farm system reflects how the rest of the organization is run. The Tampa Bay Rays’ top prospects are a deep list of talented players. Before we get to the list and write-ups, please read the couple of notes below.
*For consistency’s sake with prospect articles published before the international signing period began, Brailer Guerrero was not included. He would slot in the 11th spot for me.
**Jonathan Aranda graduated based on service time.
Tampa Bay Rays Top Prospects for Fantasy Baseball
1. Kyle Manzardo, 1B
Age: 22/2022 Stats (A+/AA): 324 AB/.327/.426/.617/22 HR/1 SB/71 R/81 RBI
Kyle Manzardo rakes and has raked everywhere he has been. He hit every year at Washington State and proved that it was not a fluke as he has continued his dominance in the minors. Manzardo fell to the Rays in the second round of the 2021 draft and got a small taste of pro ball at the complex. This season he spent time between High-A and Double-A, posting an overall line of .327/.426/.617 with 22 home runs in 397 plate appearances.
Manzardo brings a high-end hit tool to the table with excellent plate discipline. He posted an 87% zone-contact rate last year with just a 21% chase rate. His contact rate was 80%, paired with a 43% hard-hit rate. While he has no speed, the fact that he hits the ball hard with elite contact makes for a solid four-category contributor for fantasy purposes.
2. Curtis Mead, 2B/3B
Age: 22/2022 Stats (AA/AAA): 282 AB/.298/.390/.532/13 HR/7 SB/43 R/50 RBI
Curtis Mead has flown under the radar for too long. I am glad to see him getting the recognition he deserves. Mead returned home to Australia during the 2020 shutdown and played in the Australian Professional League. When he came back, he was a different player. Injuries limited Mead to just 331 plate appearances between Double and Triple-A in 2022, but he still managed to post 13 home runs and seven steals with a .298/.390/.532 slash.
Mead’s exit velocities are high-end (106.3 90th/91 avg), and he posted a 52.8% hard-hit rate. Pair that with solid plate discipline (80% Z-Contact/24% chase), and you have the makings of an excellent hitter. He hits the ball to all fields well but can also get home run power. His defense is the question of how he fits in the Rays’ plans, but regardless the bat will play.
3. Taj Bradley, RHP
Age: 22/2022 Stats (AA/AAA): 133.1 IP/2.57 ERA/1.03 WHIP/141 K
Taj Bradley flew under the radar for some time before people began to realize the upside. It is interesting, considering that before 2022 his highest ERA at any level was 3.18, which was in 2019 at Rookie ball. Bradley worked hard during the shutdown to improve his velocity, which showed when he returned to game action in 2021. He is a heavy strike thrower and locates his fastball extremely well up in the zone. Bradley features a slider that he locates well and plays off his fastball. Bradley does feature a splitter and a curveball, but they are seldom used pitches. His delivery is repeatable and consistent, and he has shown the ability to pitch deep into games. If the Rays allow, he could be a starter we see get to plenty of innings. Bradley is primed to debut in 2023 after pitching 60 innings in Triple-A as a 21-year-old last season.
4. Junior Caminero, SS
Age: 19/2022 Stats (Rk/A): 239 AB/.314/.384/.498/11 HR/12 RB/37 R/51 RBI
The hype around Junior Caminero seems to be taking off, which is no surprise. Caminero posted a strong season in 2022 after he dominated the Complex level and kept it going in Low-A. He turned 19 mid-season, but age did not affect his performance, even being young at Low-A. Combined between levels, he slashed .314/.384/.498 with 11 home runs in 271 plate appearances. The power is legit as Caminero posted a 106.6 mph 90th percentile exit velocity. A near 90 mph average exit velocity and a 44% hard-hit rate are stellar for his age. Even more impressive, despite his power, he still made plenty of contact. The tools are extremely solid, and there is 30-HR upside with the potential for above-average batting averages. Caminero will be a top-20 prospect by mid-season 2023.
5. Carson Williams, SS
Age: 19/2022 Stats (A): 452 AB/.252/.347/.471/19 HR/28 SB/81 R/70 RBI
Carson Williams was drafted by the Rays in the first round of 2021 as a talented two-way player. He ditched pitching to focus on the hitting side and had a strong season in 2022, posting 19 home runs and 28 stolen bases. He hits the ball hard for a player his age, so you might expect some of his 32 extra-base hits that were not home runs to turn into them as he progresses. His strikeout rate is a bit concerning at Low-A, considering it checked in at 32.1%. The underlying data also suggests there are contact issues. With swing adjustments, there is potential for him to cover the zone better, but 2023 could be a big year in his development from a contact standpoint. Still, the power and speed make him an intriguing fantasy asset that you should look to roster in a dynasty league.
6. Mason Montgomery, LHP
Age: 22/2022 Stats (A+/AA): 124 IP/2.10 ERA/1.06 ERA/171 K
Mason Montgomery has been a strong success since he debuted in pro ball after being drafted in the sixth round. In 134.2 professional innings, Montgomery has an even 2.00 ERA with 191 strikeouts. You may be asking why he isn’t ranked higher just by looking at those numbers. Montgomery made his way to Double-A this year, where 11 of his 27 starts came, and he still posted a 2.48 ERA. Notably, his strikeout rate dropped from 41.8% in High-A to 24.3% in Double-A. Obviously, the 40% rate was not sustainable, but it was a huge step back.
Montomgery’s delivery is quite deceptive which caused hitters at the lower levels to struggle. My biggest concern is that his fastball sits between 91 and 92 mph. The deceptiveness does cause it to play up a bit and helps it miss bats. He is pretty much a two-pitch arm as he does not throw the changeup often. His slider is his second pitch but it is average at best. The arsenal concerns are what leave Montgomery lower on the list despite good numbers.
7. Mason Auer, OF
Age: 22/2022 Stats (A/A+): 458 AB/.290/.372/.487/15 HR/48 SB/84 R/62 RBI
Mason Auer appears to be another Tampa Bay Rays draft success after a strong 2022 season. He was a fifth-round draft selection in 2021 but has performed much better than even the Rays hoped. He has shown strong contact ability at the plate and finds the barrel often. Auer posted strong exit velocities that suggest he could get to more game power than the 15 home runs we saw this season. He also posts 70 grade clock times which is shown by the 48 stolen bases he had last season. I don’t put much stock in the lower-level stolen base totals, but Auer can fly. Don’t be surprised if Auer continues to rise up the rankings with a strong performance in 2023.
8. Brock Jones, OF
Age: 21/2022 Stats (Rk/A): 68 AB/.265/.407/.529/4 HR/11 SB/15 R/14 RBI
Brock Jones features an impressive power and speed combo as he hit 40 home runs and stole 33 bases at Stanford. Jones has a physically mature body and despite being fairly maxed out, he is tooled up. The concerning thing is his swing-and-miss. It was a small sample, but it was quite concerning that Jones struck out 33.9% of the time in Low-A as a recently drafted college bat. He did still manage a .286/.419/.653 slash with four home runs and nine stolen bases. All that is nice, but there is no way Jones can continue to post strong numbers and a 34% strikeout rate at higher levels of the minors. This seems like a bit of a boom or bust play and we could see Jones vault up this list or fall completely off by mid-season.
9. Willy Vasquez, SS
Age: 21/2022 Stats (A): 449 AB/.256/.313/.410/10 HR/25 SB/78 R/73 RBI
Another Rays shortstop on the list? Absolutely. This system is loaded! Willy Vasquez signed with the Rays as an international free agent in 2019. The lost 2020 season seemingly set him back to where he only played in complex ball in 2021. Vasquez did not let that affect him, however. He had a strong 2022 season with Low-A Charleston, hitting ten home runs and stealing 25 bases. Maybe you have concerns about Vasquez’s slash line as he hit just .256/.313/.410.
Why is Vasquez a breakout prospect? He turned up the heat in the second half, hitting five home runs in his final 140 plate appearances. Over that time, he also slashed .286/.346/.486. Vasquez may be listed as 6’0, but he has grown and is close to 6’3 now. He produced a high-end 90th-percentile exit velocity of 106.5 mph. He also made solid zone-contact rate as well. The chase numbers are north of 30%. Not ideal, but we can live with it. Willy Vasquez will be a top-150 consensus prospect by the season’s end.
10. Cole Wilcox, RHP
Age: 23/2022 Stats (Rk/A): 16 IP/3.94 ERA/1.18 WHIP/24 K
I have been a fan of Cole Wilcox dating back to his days at the University of Georgia. Originally drafted by San Diego, Wilcox made his way to Tampa’s org as part of the Blake Snell trade. Tommy John surgery ended Wilcox’s 2021 season early and only allowed him to pitch 16 innings in games in 2022. His velocity was down upon return in 2022, so follow that closely. When healthy, Wilcox has a plus fastball that sits in the mid-90s. His slider sits in the mid-80s, generating plenty of swings and misses. He throws strikes and limits walks, giving off vibes of good control. But he does not always hit his spots with his pitches, which can get in him trouble. Still, Wilcox is an intriguing arm that the Ryas could continue to develop in 2023.
11. Osleivis Basabe, INF
Age: 22/2022 Stats (A+/AA): 444 AB/.324/.385/.462/4 HR/21 SB/80 R/47 RBI
Osleivis Basabe does not have a true position but is capable of playing across the infield. Basabe may never light up the stat line for fantasy purposes, but he does bring an impressive bat to the box. He is one of few Minor League hitters to post a zone contact rate over 90% that had at least 450 plate appearances. He does not have much power but he is capable of stealing some bags. Basabe could resemble a Luis Arraez stat line with a few more stolen bases.
12. Carlos Colmenarez, SS
Age: 19/2022 Stats (Rk): 126 AB/254/.379/.381/1 HR/13 SB/36 R/19 RBI
Carlos Colmenarez was one of the top international signees in the 2021 international class. His performances in both the DSL in 2021 and at the complex level in 2022 could both be considered disappointments considering the hype. But when you consider a hamate injury in 2021 you can better see why his performance was impacted. There are concerns with his hit tool and contact skills despite a beautiful swing. Colmenarez is a good athlete and it is especially evident in the field. If he can make improved contact, there is infringing power potential with good speed as well.
13. Kameron Misner, OF
Age: 25/2022 Stats (AA): 415 AB/.251/.384/.431/16 HR/32 SB/80 R/62 RBI
Kameron Misner is a physical presence at the plate standing at 6’4/220 from the left side. Misner brings a huge power presence and surprising speed despite his frame. Despite posting solid exit velocities and hard-hit rates, Misner managed just 16 home runs. He did steal 32 bases, which is impressive. The contact skills are the issue with Misner. His zone contact rate hovered around 73% and his overall contact rate was exactly ten percent lower. As a 24-year-old college bat in Double-A, he should be mashing. It is possible that Misner ends up being a platoon bat.
14. Nick Bitsko, RHP
Age: 20/2022 Stats (Rk/A): 26 IP/6.23 ERA/1.88 WHIP/20 K
Nick Bitsko was one of my favorite prep arms in the 2020 MLB Draft class. He was actually young for the draft class as he reclassified out of the 2021 class. Despite being drafted in the first round, Bitsko did not pitch in 2020 due to the COVID shutdown, then missed all of 2021 with a torn labrum. Not only did it cost him 2021, but Bitsko missed most of 2022 as well. He did muster 26 innings between the complex and Low-A. His fastball velocity was not back, but the curveball was very sharp. It is possible that Bistko could shake the rust off and give us close to 100 innings in 2023 which would go a long way for his value. I still like Bitsko to be a starter with some upside if he can get back fully healthy.
15. Cooper Kinney, 3B
Age: 20/2022 Stats: Did Not Play
What is it with torn labrums and the Rays? Much like Bitsko, the Rays’ 2021 first-rounder Cooper Kinney also tore his labrum which caused him to miss all of 2022. Kinney is a big presence from the left side of the plate. While we have little on Kinney as a pro he has shown a good feel to hit with solid strike zone recognition. Kinney should grow into more game power if he recovers fully from his labrum surgery. The swing is short but his hands are explosive through the zone which has generated some big power in batting practice. 2023 will give us a better idea about who Cooper Kinney can be as a hitter.
Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)