So, what did the Tampa Bay Rays do for an encore of their 2020 season that saw them reach the World Series? How about leading the American League in wins, and finishing with the third most in all of baseball?
As the Rays look towards 2022, General Manager Erik Neander will be most likely one of the busiest executives this offseason. With 19 total players eligible for arbitration this winter, you can expect plenty of moves as they won’t be able to bring back each player.
So, who might be the next wave of prospects to come up as the roster sets to turnover? Here’s a look at three of the Rays top prospects that are knocking on the door ready to make an impact at the major league level.
Vidal Brujan already made his major league debut in 2021, a less-than-ideal 26-at bat cup of coffee that saw him hit .077 (2 of 26), with two RBIs and a stolen base.
Little are concerned about the 23-year-old native of the Dominican Republic, as Brujan remains one of the top prospects in the game.
A throw back top-of-the-order hitter, Brujan isn’t going to hit for a lot of power, but he doesn’t strike out and gets on bases, using his elite speed to then be a menace on the basepath. Brujan stole 44 bases in the minors during the 2021 season and has amassed 147 over the last three years.
With triple-A Durham in 2021, the switch-hitting Brujan slashed .262/.345/.440, while hitting 12 home runs and driving in 56 runs.
He’s shown great bat control, striking out only 15.4% of the times he’s come to the plate, compared to a 11.1 BB%.
An interesting comparison he has gotten was to both Ketel Marte and Ozzie Albies, based off their body type and athleticism, as well as their late blooming power potential. While a natural shortstop later turned second baseman, Brujan saw more time in the outfield this past season with Durham (424 1/3 innings in the outfield, 396 1/3 in the infield) and thanks to his speed he could profile well in the outfield.
Another player who could be manning the outfield in 2022 is Josh Lowe, brother of former Tampa Bay first baseman Nate, who is now with the Texas Rangers. The younger Lowe was the 13th overall pick his draft year and later signed for $2.6 million. He was added to the 40-man roster last December and made his major league debut this past season, going 1 for 1 with a walk and stolen base in two games he played.
The biggest question with Lowe is how consistent he’s going to be able to hit at the highest level. He’s shown good power in the minors, as well as the arm and speed to play center field. His power/speed combination allowed him to record a 20-20 season with the Durham Bulls in 2021.
Over the last two minor league seasons Lowe has hit a total of 40 home runs and stolen 56 bases. What it will come down to is if Lowe makes enough contact (26.2 K% in triple-A 2021) to be a starter with plus defense, or a fourth outfielder.
Brujan may not be alone in players expected to make their way to Tampa Bay that fit in the traditional lead off hitter mold, as he could be joined by Xavier Edwards. The 28th overall pick in 2018, it took $2.6 million to lure him away from a commitment to Vanderbilt.
It’s paid off, as Edwards is one of the fastest players in the minors, with FanGraphs giving his speed a max grade of 80. In his first full season, Edwards finished in a tie for the third most hits in all minor league baseball.
There are concerns about his power, has he has only hit one professional home run and registered just six extra base hits in 2021. He did bat over .300 and stole 19 bases and owns an advanced approach to the plate (10.7 BB%, 12.5 K% in 2021).
He is seen more as a Nick Madrigal type, due to his speed and bat control but lack of power.
If you took close notice to who was mentioned and their skillset, you can see a very clear type of player on their way to Tampa Bay. While it’s best to have a balanced blend of power and speed, the fact that some of these players could replace some of the former, we could be looking at a much faster Rays team in 2021.
Baseball is currently more geared towards power, as seven of the top 10 teams when it comes to going deep made the playoffs. On the flip side, only two of the top 10 leaders in stolen bases made the postseason.
Ironically, Tampa Bay was the only team to be on both lists, and they finished with the most wins in the AL.