The devil is in the details. Since dropping the hellish adjective, the Tampa Bay Rays have etched their way into the baseball zeitgeist by being better than anyone else at squeezing every last drop of value out of every single roster spot throughout the entire organization. They’ve made their fair share of mistakes skating at the edges of 40-man roster management, particularly off-loading Nate Lowe and Joe Ryan for little return, but it’s a difficult balance to strike, and I’d rather a team remain aggressive than disappear into their own silo. Tampa initiates a lot of transactions, and most of them work out to their benefit.
On the other hand, they’ve been so good throughout the system that you could make a case for the club to stop trading for a season or two just to see how it looks for them to field a whole team of their own prospects. It’s not an option, of course. When you’re developing as many prospects as this team, you stand to lose them in 40-man waves every winter, so you reshuffle the deck, moving some ready-now players running out of minor league time for some far-away prototypes who’ll comprise another roster-crunch wave a few years down the road.
1. 1B Kyle Manzardo | 22 | AA | 2023
A 6’1” 205 left-handed hitter with excellent plate skills, Kyle Manzardo has scaled the minors in a hurry since being drafted 63rd overall in 2021. Tampa assigned him to High-A to open the 22 season after just 13 games on the complex in 2021. Manzardo rewarded their confidence with 17 home runs in 63 games, slashing .329/.436/.636 with 46 strikeouts and 45 walks. He then replicated that success in 30 games at Double-A, where he slashed .323/.402/.576 with 19 strikeouts, 14 walks, and five home runs. If the tremors on my register are any indication, his prospect stock is soaring this winter. If you don’t have him already, it might be too late. Which is fine. Don’t overpay here. But if you can get in a little cheap, you might be able to flip him for a nice profit in a few months.
2. RHP Taj Bradley | 22 | AAA | 2023
The main worry with Bradley for our purposes is Tampa’s pitching depth. They paid Zack Eflin the Ray-equivalent of one billion dollars, so they’ll want to give that some room to breathe. I’d guess he’s theoretically the number three starter given the money, leaving Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs to fill the four and five spots behind Shane McClanahan, Tyler Glasnow and Eflin. Probably they’ll split up the lefties. Yonny Chirinos and Luis Patiño could factor in somewhere. Shane Baz had Tommy John surgery in September. My main point in rattling through all this is that I think Bradley is a little underrated at the moment. Makes sense. Feels like Tampa can poof a good starter into existence at any given moment, and Bradley wasn’t dominant in 59 innings at Triple-A (1.19 WHIP, 15.4 K-BB%). On the other hand, he’d just posted a 0.91 WHIP and 24.6 percent strikeout minus walk rate in 74.1 innings at Double-A. The Rays make overperformers out of decent athletes all the time. Bradley is a plus athlete. I don’t know if he’ll splash like McClanahan or Rasmussen did, but I am expecting something pretty similar when they deem Bradley ready.
3. RHP Shane Baz | 23 | MLB | 2021
Welp, this might be bad. I know it’s ‘just’ Tommy John surgery, and it’ll probably be fine, but some of them aren’t fine, and even if they are, it’s gonna be a while. September surgery put him out through 2023 but lines up nicely for 2024. Good time to buy if you’re the type. I never like sending offers shortly after the injury, but over the winter when everyone’s trying to compete for the coming year, it makes sense to see if a Walker Buehler or Shane Baz is clogging up someone’s plan. Not that you’d wanna lowball. Nobody likes the lowball.
4. 3B Curtis Mead | 22 | AAA | 2023
The club saw an opportunity to nab Isaac Paredes from Detroit and took it, which is only relevant here as an example to support my introduction. They might be the league’s best organization at skimming value from other clubs, but a marginal cost of that is open runway for a guy like Mead. Paredes was a good fit for them. So was Jose Siri. And Manuel Margot. And Yandy Diaz. And Randy Arozarena. And Christian Bethancourt. And Harold Ramirez off the heap. My underlying thesis would be that skimming roster runoff is a consistent path to contention but cultivating homegrown players is their only path to championships. Mead is ready for the next challenge right now, having posted impressive lines and plate skills at Double-A and Triple-A. He’s not a numbers-forward guy either. He aces scouts-eyes evaluations as well. In a lot of organizations, he’d be expected to inherit the everyday third base job in April or May. In Tampa, he’s mostly an afterthought for 2023.
5. 2B Jonathan Aranda | 24 | MLB | 2022
At 6’0” 210 lbs, Aranda is not some light-hitting middle-infielder who needs to fully connect to generate any pop. Last year, he played 13 games at second base, 11 games at first base, six games at third base and one in left field. He’s a left-handed hitter, so he’ll be on the favorable side of like seventeen platoons, which should allow his plus hit tool to acclimate to the league. He slashed .318/.394/.521 with 18 home runs and four stolen bases in 104 Triple-A games, and it’s within his realm of outcomes to blow the doors off his pre-season projections, which are pretty favorable for a rookie as is. He won’t have to hit much to be useful to our game as a multi-position-eligible bat in a good lineup.
6. 3B Junior Caminero | 19 | A | 2026
Pilfered from Cleveland when Tobias Myers ran out of 40-man runway, Caminero is clibming the winter lists only a little less quickly than Manzardo. He’s raking in the Australian league, but that’s not the reason so much as just the general echo chamber catch-up that happens over the off-season. Listed at 5’11” 157, Caminero is a bit thicker now, and it’s easy to see the burgeoning power coming off him in waves when he swings. He popped 11 home runs and stole 12 bases in 62 games across two levels last season and figures to double those if he stays healthy this season.
7. OF Mason Auer | 22 | A + | 2024
Another season like 2022 would land Auer well inside most top 100 Prospects lists.
The 161st overall pick in 2021, Auer is a 6’1” 210 lb outfielder who is average or better at everything a person needs to do well on a baseball field. He’s jumped some more well-known names for me by swiping 48 bases in 115 games across two levels this year. Got caught just seven times. But it wasn’t just that. He was every bit as good in 55 games at High-A (133 wRC+) as he was in 60 games at Low-A (135 wRC+). Snagged 24 bags at each level but hit 11 home runs in High-A compared to four in Low-A. If the trends continue, we’re looking at a 20/30 type season from a 22-year-old across Double-A and Triple-A.
8. 1B Xavier Isaac | 19 | CPX | 2027
Pure upside play here as a bet on the Rays developmental team that liked Isaac enough to take him 29th overall this year. While a pick at the back of the first round wouldn’t always inspire this kind of confidence, Isaac is really just a hitter. He’s already 6’4” 240 lbs and will have surpassed expectations if he can become an average defender at first base. What he can do is find the barrel and smash the baseball. Fun target in First Year Player Drafts this year.
9. OF Chandler Simpson | 22 | CPX | 2026
Just try to stop Tampa from stockpiling 80-grade runners. You can’t do it! And I love them for it. A Dr. Moreau style cross between Chandler Bing and Homer Simpson, this 6’2” 170 lb left-handed hitter can do it all, from head-rattling double-takes to son-choking spit-takes to stand-up triples and stolen bases. He’s only played eight games on the complex, so we can’t say much about his pro game so far, but signs of his plus hit tool are already showing in his six walks, four strikeouts and 167 wRC+. Eight steals in eight games would’ve put him on pace for . . . checks notes . . . a whole lotta steals. Simpson’s a guy you just casually slide back down the lists if the hit tool doesn’t click right away in full-season ball. It’ll help his profile a whole lot if he can establish positional versatility or plus defense in center.
10. SS Osleivis Basabe | 22 | AA | 2023
Could give this spot to about a hundred players, but Basabe posted such an interesting 2022 he made the list. You don’t have to squint to find a Luis Arraez-plus-speed sort of profile. Basabe plays passable defense all over the infield, too, so he should survive the post-shift reshuffle. In 112 games spread across two levels, Basabe stole 21 bases and hit four home runs. He struck out just 25 times and drew 24 walks in 57 games at Double-A. The dream is that he could add enough thump to let his .333 batting average really sing someday, but even if he doesn’t, he should be an intriguing option for Tampa.
Thanks for reading!