October 2, 2022

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Bradley dominates in Double-A

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Welcome to the Rays prospect update, where you’ll find news, promotions and standout performances, all year long.

Bradley dominates in Montgomery (April 14)
After a season debut in which he allowed a run on four hits across four innings of work, No. 3 prospect Taj Bradley put together another strong performance against Tennessee, again allowing a run on four hits while racking up eight strikeouts.

It’s been an encouraging start for the 21-year-old, who made the jump to Double-A after being near-unhittable in 2021, holding opponents to a .181 batting average, all the while posting a 1.83 ERA and striking out 123 batters in 103 1/3 innings.

Mead making mark with Montgomery (April 13)
After a standout showing in the Arizona Fall League last year, infielder Curtis Mead has carried that moment into his first taste of Double-A action with Montgomery. Mead ripped his first homer of the year against Tennessee, an opposite-field shot in the fifth.

Ranked as Tampa Bay’s No. 6 prospect, Mead also added an RBI double during the Biscuits’ win. Through five contests, the native of Australia has slashed .278/.409/.556 with just one strikeout in 22 plate appearances.

True to the Rays’ mantra, Mead has focused on his defensive flexibility early in the year. The 21-year-old has already made starts at first, second and third base, as well as in the designated hitter slot. — Jesse Borek

Dream set to come true for right-hander Romero (April 11)
Tommy Romero
will not make his next scheduled start for Triple-A Durham. That’s because Bulls manager Brady Williams announced to the club after the last game that the 24-year-old was headed to The Show, making a start for the Rays against the A’s on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field.

“It’s a dream come true,” Romero said in front of a locker with his No. 52 jersey inside. “It’s something I’ve been waiting for my whole life.”

Romero, the Rays’ No. 18 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, was added to the taxi squad before Monday’s game. He will be promoted to the active roster on Tuesday, temporarily filling a spot in Tampa Bay’s rotation that opened up when the Rays placed left-hander Ryan Yarbrough — who had been scheduled to start on Tuesday — on the 10-day injured list due to left groin tightness. Full story »

Relief prospect White undergoes Tommy John surgery (April 6)
Right-hander Colby White, the Rays’ No. 25 prospect, underwent Tommy John surgery on April 4 and will not pitch this season. It’s an extremely tough blow for the 23-year-old relief prospect, who dominated at every level as he soared from Class-A to Triple-A last season and figured to be a midseason call-up option for Tampa Bay’s bullpen this year.

White, whose surgery was performed by Dr. Koco Eaton, shared the news on his Instagram account and wrote, “Although I didn’t want my season to be ended by Tommy John Surgery, I’m extremely thankful for second chances. I’m also thankful for God’s plan in my life and for this valley that will help me get on the mountain one day. I’ll be back.” — Adam Berry

Josh Lowe cracks the Opening Day roster, after all (April 5)
Four days after he was optioned to Minor League camp, and only minutes after the Triple-A Durham Bulls’ flight landed in Nashville for their season opener, Josh Lowe learned he would be breaking camp in the big leagues.The Rays informed their No. 2 prospect he’d be part of their Opening Day roster on Monday night, when they cleared a spot by trading Austin Meadows to the Tigers, and they officially recalled Lowe from Durham on Tuesday morning. He was expected to join the team at Tropicana Field for Wednesday’s Spring Training finale, then be available for Friday’s season opener against the Orioles. — Adam Berry

Spikes comes through in first big league spring game (March 30)
This time a year ago, Rays prospect Ryan Spikes figured, he was probably playing a game with his Parkview High School team in Lilburn, Ga. Maybe he was practicing. He definitely had homework, too. On Wednesday afternoon, Spikes put on a Major League Spring Training uniform with his name and No. 9 on it and pulled an RBI double to left field on the first pitch he saw in the eighth inning of the Rays’ 7-6 loss to the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium.

Spikes, who turned 19 on March 13, was the Rays’ third-round pick in last year’s Draft. He performed well in his professional debut last summer, slashing .250/.362/.400 with four steals in 11 games for the Rookie-level Florida Complex League Rays. After playing on back fields all month, he was thrilled to get the news Tuesday night that he’d be playing in a big league game and called his parents and girlfriend to say, “Hey, big day tomorrow.” He was equally excited to watch and learn from his older teammates on Wednesday and admitted it felt “great” to contribute the way he did. Especially considering where he was this time last year.

“Pretty good year,” Spikes said. “Crazy how one year, [what a] difference it can make.” — Adam Berry

Heriberto goes deep late to key Rays’ win (March 27)
Outfielder Heriberto Hernandez, the Rays’ No. 16 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, delivered the game-winning home run in Tampa Bay’s 4-1 win over Atlanta on Sunday afternoon at Charlotte Sports Park. Highly regarded for his hitting ability and immense power at the plate, the 22-year-old Hernandez clubbed a three-run homer out to right field with two outs in the eighth inning to break a 1-1 tie.

Hernandez replaced Austin Meadows in left field in the sixth inning of Sunday’s game, taking the field at the same time Osleivis Basabe — the Rays’ No. 28 prospect, acquired from the Rangers for Nate Lowe in the same trade that brought Hernandez to the Rays — lined up at shortstop.

“He was pumped,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said of Hernandez. “That was pretty cool coming into the dugout.” — Adam Berry

Josh Lowe picks up two hits (March 22)
Outfielder Josh Lowe went 2-for-3 in the Rays’ 4-2 loss to the Red Sox on Tuesday at Charlotte Sports Park, knocking a single to center in the third inning then ripping a line-drive base hit to right-center in the fourth. This figures to be a big opportunity for Lowe, who appears to be an unlikely fit for the Rays’ Opening Day roster due to their existing outfield depth, coming off an outstanding season in Triple-A Durham. Lowe hit .291/.381/.535 with 22 homers and 26 stolen bases in 111 games for Durham last year, but he only made a brief, two-game cameo with the Rays in September.

“I always like being out on the field and playing, no matter when it is,” said Lowe, the Rays’ No. 2 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s 50th-ranked overall prospect. “Any chance I get to go out there in Spring Training and prove myself, and also work on my game early and get everything back just kind of into shape, is always good.” — Adam Berry

Versatile Bruján flashes leather at 3B (March 18)
The importance of being flexible in the field was conveyed to Vidal Bruján at the start of Spring Training. He has already proven to be capable enough at second, where he’s played most of his career games, that he doesn’t need a ton of practice there. His outfield work will mostly come closer to Opening Day. So his focus for now will be at shortstop and third base.

So the way Bruján, ranked No. 77 on MLB Pipeline’s new Top 100 Prospects list, played the left side of the infield in the Rays’ 7-6 loss to the Red Sox on Friday at JetBlue Park had to be encouraging. In the first inning, Bruján — starting at third base, where he only has 13 games of professional experience, but shifted toward shortstop — made a nice backhanded stop going to his right and fired a strong throw from the hole to get Jackie Bradley Jr. for the first out. He pulled off another gem at third in the second inning, running to get a slow roller, then quickly throwing across his body for the second out.

“I felt really comfortable playing third base,” Bruján said, with assistant hitting coach Brady North translating. “I feel like it’s really important to know all three, because you never know when you’re going to be called upon to play one of those three positions and it’s very important to be ready.” — Adam Berry

Proctor shows pop in Grapefruit League debut (March 18)
Perhaps ironically for someone who can capably play catcher and multiple infield positions, Ford Proctor entered the Rays’ Grapefruit League opener on Friday afternoon at JetBlue Park as a pinch-hitter and finished the game as Tampa Bay’s designated hitter. And the Rays’ No. 29 prospect enjoyed a memorable spring debut, launching a three-run homer over Fenway South’s Green Monster in the seventh inning of the Rays’ 7-6 loss to the Red Sox.

“That was awesome,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He can play wherever he wants if he hits like that.”

The Rays are looking at Proctor primarily as a catcher and added him to their 40-man roster as such over the offseason. He showed enough promise behind the plate to make the move he initiated in 2020 into something more permanent, and he’s still an above-average infielder at shortstop and third base. During a conversation early in camp, Cash said Proctor told him, “I’m a catcher, but I’m not giving up my infield glove.” Added Cash: “Watching him the last couple days, he probably shouldn’t.” — Adam Berry

Zombro pitches perfect inning in intrasquad scrimmage (March 14)
Right-hander Tyler Zombro’s remarkable return from emergency brain surgery last June continued at 12:49 p.m. ET on Monday afternoon. It was then that Zombro scaled the mound on Field 4 at Charlotte Sports Park and retired all three batters he faced in the third inning of a Minor League Spring Training intrasquad scrimmage, his first true game action since he was struck in the head by a line drive on June 3.

“Big to be back in a game type of environment. Feel good about it. Feels natural,” Zombro said afterward. “It’s good to be in game situations, two-strike counts, certain pitch you’re trying to execute. So definitely felt good to have that mindset.”

Zombro threw 13 pitches, including nine strikes, to produce two groundouts and a strikeout during his outing against fellow Rays Minor League players. He induced a weak roller, struck out the second batter he faced, then got another out on the ground to complete a clean inning with a couple dozen people — including a group of Rays officials — watching. Zombro faced hitters in live batting practice before Monday’s five-inning game, but this was his first time in a game setting with fielders behind him and a little extra energy flowing through him.

“I think that adrenaline boost any time a guy’s in the box is good. Certainly helps you visually with targets as well, where you’re trying to throw a certain pitch, what you’re trying to kind of manipulate there,” Zombro said. “But of course, coming off of just throwing bullpens and being in isolation, it feels really good to have that little kick of adrenaline.”

The 27-year-old right-hander said everything felt good on the mound, and he again credited the Rays’ pitching coaches and analytics department for their work to help keep his pitches and mechanics on point. He’s also grown used to the special cap he now wears, with a Kevlar insert and a protective pad covering his temple, although he admitted it was a little sweaty on this particularly humid Gulf Coast afternoon.

“Incredible is a good word to describe how [he’s recovered] from the day it happened to everything that he has gone through — him and his family and, look, his teammates, too,” said Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash, who caught up with Zombro in the Rays’ weight room on Sunday. “He’s a special guy. It’s good to see him out on the mound, and I know that he’s got the support of the organization behind him.”

At this point, Zombro has checked every box necessary to get back in a regular routine. He’s been medically cleared, thrown bullpen sessions, faced hitters and pitched in a game. Now, he can go about the business of preparing for this season like any other pitcher in camp — which sounds just fine to him.

“I was telling my wife last night, like, ‘I feel normal.’ And we’ve been chasing that normalcy,” he said. “So to be in that routine has been really nice.” — Adam Berry

First workout notes on Aranda, Bruján (March 14)
With a few top prospects interspersed among the big league regulars, the Rays spread out around the main field at Charlotte Sports Park on Monday morning for their first Spring Training workout.

During infield drills, Jonathan Aranda lined up at first base alongside Ji-Man Choi, while versatile infielder Vidal Bruján lined up at second, and slick-fielding Taylor Walls worked at shortstop and third base. Bruján and Walls both spent time in the bigs last season, but this is the 23-year-old Aranda’s first time in Major League Spring Training. Aranda finished last season as the Rays’ No. 30 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and will take a leap up this year’s list after hitting .330/.418/.543 with 14 homers in 100 games between High-A Bowling Green and Double-A Montgomery.

That performance earned Aranda a spot on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster and, thus, a spot in the big league clubhouse at Charlotte Sports Park.

“Excited about him. You’ve got to be excited about all of these guys that are put on the roster,” manager Kevin Cash said. “There’s a reason why they get put on. Our player development and front office feel they’re good enough, and they’ve been right a lot lately. So hopefully he’s another guy that when we leave camp that we’re feeling really high on.”

There were a few other prospect-related highlights from Monday’s quick workout, like Lowe crushing a batting-practice homer out to right field as an example of the athletic outfielder’s collection of loud tools. But perhaps nothing stood out more than Bruján’s … hair. Yes, the switch-hitting super-utility man reported to Spring Training with his hair dyed gray. It caught the attention of Cash, who called Bruján over to talk about it after his briefing with reporters.

“He’s trying to look like me, I guess,” Cash quipped. “I’ve seen blue. I’ve seen gold. I’ve never seen anybody try to do gray.” — Adam Berry

Zombro takes big step forward with first live BP (March 10)
As Tyler Zombro prepared to take the mound around noon on Thursday, players and coaches gathered behind the plate on Field 4 at Charlotte Sports Park.

Among the onlookers were Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder, Tristan Gray, Phoenix Sanders, Miles Mastrobuoni and Aaron Slegers, some of Zombro’s teammates last season. Principal owner Stu Sternberg, roaming from field to field throughout the Minor League Spring Training workout, stepped up to the fence to watch.

It was a big moment for Zombro and, therefore, the entire Rays organization. The 27-year-old right-hander, making a “miraculous” return from emergency brain surgery, faced hitters in live batting practice for the first time since he was struck in the head by a line drive on June 3. Zombro acknowledged it was the biggest step thus far, in his mind, of his remarkable recovery.

“I think a lot of that visual of having somebody in there, knowing a batted-ball outcome is about to happen, I think today was probably the biggest milestone,” Zombro said. “So it’s actually going to feel really natural to get back into games, game scenarios, so I’m really excited for that.”

As for his performance, Zombro said he felt good on the mound and was pleased to pound the zone with strikes. He’s understandably a bit behind where he’d be in a normal spring, as a result of the time it took to be medically cleared for action, but his arm is healthy and his arsenal looks normal from a pitch performance standpoint.

And he couldn’t help but notice all his teammates behind the plate. Or when those same teammates — including Sanders, Gray, Mastrobuoni and Slegers — met him in front of the mound with hugs and handshakes when he completed the successful throwing session.

“It was definitely an emotional moment to get back out there and of course see my teammates who have supported me through everything. Felt really good,” Zombro said. “It’s a blessing in disguise that, honestly, I don’t remember a lot of the event. So getting back out there feels so natural. It’s kind of hard to digest that and realize that’s reality for me. But it is, and it felt great.

“Since I walked into camp, they’ve all been asking, ‘When’s the first live [BP]? When are you back out there?’ They’ve all been waiting for it. They’ve all been so supportive. … They’ve been there for every step along the way. It’s great to have their support, and it means a lot.” — Adam Berry

Colmenarez healthy, hoping to follow in Wander’s footsteps (March 10)
In 2017, the Rays landed one of the top players on the international market by signing a young Dominican shortstop named Wander Franco. Four years later, Tampa Bay again added one of the top players on the international market by coming to terms with young Venezuelan shortstop Carlos Colmenarez.

It was Franco who unknowingly helped Colmenarez decide to sign with the Rays in January 2021. On Thursday, Colmenarez said he had turned down other interested teams and chose Tampa Bay because of the way the organization treated him as well as the club’s recent success developing top prospects into productive big leaguers.

Which particular players did he look up to? Take a guess.

“Wander Franco. Everything he does on the field, I try to copy everything he would do,” Colmenarez, who was the Rays’ No. 7 prospect at the end of last season, said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “He started kind of low on the totem pole, and he’s worked his way up. I always try to copy that. He’s an immense player with amazing talent, and I’ve always just wanted to copy the way he played.”

The Rays certainly wouldn’t complain if Colmenarez turned out like Franco, who debuted as a 20-year-old and earned a record-setting contract extension before his first full season in the Majors. But the 18-year-old shortstop obviously has a long way to go, despite his enormous potential, especially after a frustrating professional debut last season.

Colmenarez, who signed for $3 million, sustained a right hamate bone fracture just before his first season began, waited until August to take the field and then wound up slashing .247/.319/.289 as the injury sapped the left-handed hitter’s power over 26 games in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League. It was not the showing Colmenarez hoped for at the plate, but he is healthy now and ready to play in the United States this season.

“It was definitely a low moment, especially it being my first year. Fortunately now I am at 100 percent, and I’ve been able to come through it,” Colmenarez said. “I feel good, and I just hope I continue to feel better after that.”

Colmenarez said his debut reinforced the idea that he’s a professional, that he can be more confident and relaxed taking the field now, and he’s motivated by the Rays’ remarkable depth at shortstop. Already in this camp, he’s worked alongside Greg Jones and Carson Williams, among others.

He wouldn’t mind lining up with Franco one day, either.

I’ve been able to see all those guys who are tremendous players and the way they play. I’m able to see the way they work so I compare myself to them,” he said. “If they compare me to them or if they just put me in the same conversation with them, I think it’s great. They’re great players, and if I’m in the same conversation as them, I think that’s a good sign.” — Adam Berry

Updates on Zombro, Hess, Moats, Bitsko (March 8)
Rays pitching coordinator Jorge Moncada provided encouraging updates on a few pitchers in Minor League Spring Training who are returning from significant injury or medical issues.

• Right-hander Nick Bitsko, the Rays’ first-round pick in the 2020 Draft and their No. 12 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, threw a bullpen session on Tuesday and is scheduled to pitch in live batting practice on Friday. He has been throwing in the Rays’ indoor pitching “lab,” where Moncada said they made a few adjustments to his arm action after analyzing his movement patterns.

“He’s looking good,” Moncada said. “He’s on a really good path right now, trending in the right direction so far.”

Bitsko has yet to make his professional debut due to the canceled Minor League season in 2020 and surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, but he is on track to pitch this season — albeit possibly on a delay as the Rays ease him into action and monitor his workload. Most likely, the 19-year-old starter will pitch in extended spring games in April before joining Low-A Charleston.

• Right-hander Tyler Zombro, back in camp after a “miraculous” return from brain surgery last year, has thrown two bullpen sessions and will face hitters this weekend in live batting practice. Said Moncada: “Everything’s good. He’s in shape. He’s ready to go. … It’s unbelievable.”

• Right-hander David Hess, who spent the offseason battling a cancerous germ cell tumor in his chest, is playing catch. He threw a touch-and-feel session of about 10 pitches from 50 feet out as part of his progression toward throwing full bullpens.

• Left-hander Dalton Moats, who fractured his leg while fielding a bunt for Double-A Montgomery last July, is throwing in live batting practice. He’s “good to go” now, Moncada said, adding: “He’s another guy that came here with a great attitude, great energy, and he’s pumped about all the stuff that’s going on on the field.” — Adam Berry

Colby White, Mayor of Charlotte Sports Park? (March 7)
This time a year ago, Colby White reported to Minor League camp and didn’t really know anybody. And, he said, “Nobody knew me, really.” Before making his quick ascent through the Minors last season, the right-hander’s time with the Rays consisted of only 15 outings with their former Class A Short-Season Hudson Valley affiliate and a few weeks of camp in 2020 before it was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, White might be one of the most easily recognized players in camp. How could he not be? Just about everyone here was his teammate at some point last year. That’s what happens when you play for all four of your team’s full-season affiliates and dominate at each stop.

“Now, it’s just like I played with everybody and had four different managers, four different pitching coaches,” White said. “I’m speaking to everybody walking through the hall as I go through. Yeah, it’s funny. It’s crazy what a year can do in this game.”

Especially a year like the one the 23-year-old reliever had, with a 1.44 ERA, a 0.66 WHIP and a 45 percent strikeout rate in 62 1/3 innings over 43 appearances. He drove all over the southeastern U.S. last summer, hauling it from one affiliate to the next, and finished the season at the Rays’ alternate training site — where they stashed a handful of high-level players, including pitchers under consideration for late-season callups or the postseason roster.

“I tried not to really think about it too much,” White said. “In years past, like even in college, I would get so far thinking ahead that I would lose sight of what’s in front of me. So for me, the alternate site — yeah, I had that thought. But I tried to just kick it out and tried to learn from the guys that have been up and down from the big leagues and hear what their failures were. And I try to learn from that, too, and then pick up stuff from them.

“Because my goal obviously — and I’m sure it’s everybody’s goal — is when you get there, make an immediate impact and stay there. It was cool for me on that side to just talk with the guys that’d been there. You see guys pitch on TV, and then two days later, you’re playing catch with him.”

If White starts the season at Triple-A Durham anything like the way he pitched last year, he could be up sooner than later. He said his goal entering this season is just to stay healthy and stay true to what he does best: challenge hitters with his fastball, then mix in his slider and splitter. What can he do to accomplish his bigger-picture goal of making it to the Majors and staying there?

“Come in and, for one, just smother the strike zone,” White said. “The biggest thing is I have three different weapons I can throw in the zone and I feel like it’s a guessing game for them. And then just not question myself.” — Adam Berry

Mazza ‘ready to go’ in Minors camp (March 2)
Chris Mazza is not a prospect. Unlike nearly all of the 150-plus players in Rays’ Minor League Spring Training, the 32-year-old right-hander has plenty of Major League experience — 32 games over the last three years. He and only a handful of other players in camp, including fellow reliever Aaron Slegers, have reached the level everyone else is climbing toward as they work out on the back fields of Charlotte Sports Park.

“It is definitely a little different. I think the biggest thing is you’re here. You get to get your work in and get ready for a season kind of just like you would be doing up there,” Mazza said after a recent workout. “It’s just a little different atmosphere. Over here, I really feel like the old guy. I’d never seen so many kids born in 2000 — and I think me and the coaches are the only ones that are ’80s and below that.”

Mazza returned to the Rays on a Minor League contract this offseason. While Major League players and prospects on 40-man rosters are unable to participate in any activities due to the ongoing lockout, non-roster players and prospects can report to Minor League camp. That includes Mazza, who pitched 27 1/3 innings over 14 appearances for the Rays while bouncing between Triple-A and the Majors last season.

If not for the lockout, more than a dozen players like Mazza would be in big league camp as non-roster invitees. This isn’t quite the same, obviously, but it’s still a potentially valuable opportunity. While the Major League coaches have kept a low profile when they’re around, Mazza can work with pitching coach Kyle Snyder, show the staff what he’s capable of and, ideally, be an example to the younger pitchers around him.

“It’s good for me. It’s good for them. Hopefully, the stuff that I do out there shows the younger guys, ‘This is your mentality, what you have to do to be a big leaguer,’” Mazza said. “But being here and being able to still work with Snyder and [Triple-A pitching coach Brian] Reith, all those guys, being able to get my face [time] here and show them, ‘Hey, I’m ready to go. Whenever the word gets called, I’m ready to go.’ So I’m excited.” — Adam Berry

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