February 24, 2024

Tampa Bay Rays 2024 top 20 prospects: Junior Caminero, Carson Williams lead the way


The Rays have had one of the best farm systems in baseball for years, but their talent pool is running a little drier these days, as after the first four-to-six guys it’s a lot of extra player, platoon bat, fifth starter, or reliever types without the same sort of potential upside plays the Rays have typically had lower in their system.

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Top 100 MLB prospects 2024: Keith Law’s rankings, with Jackson Holliday at No. 1

Rays 2024 top 20 prospects

(Note: Seasonal ages as of July 1, 2024. Scouting grades are on the traditional 20-80 or 2-8 scouting scale.)

1. Junior Caminero, 3B (2024 top 100 ranking: 5)

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 160 | Seasonal age in 2024: 20

Acquired by the Rays in a trade that Guardians fans would prefer I never mention again, Caminero started 2023 in High A and finished it in the majors while getting regular at-bats for a playoff team — and smoking the ball, too. Caminero’s a tremendous hitter, combining feel for the barrel, balance, and brute strength to produce a ton of hard contact, peaking at 112 mph in his brief stint in the majors. His swing is simple but still powerful between that upper body strength and his rapid hand acceleration, while he doesn’t chase much and doesn’t miss many pitches in the zone, with some vulnerability to breaking stuff down and away that’s typical for a lot of young hitters.

Caminero has primarily played third base in the minors and worked himself into an average glove there, with some experience at short, second, and even first, although that last position shouldn’t be necessary given how much progress he’s made at the hot corner. He hit 31 homers in total last year in 117 games across three levels, and this kind of hard-contact skill and feel to hit should produce 30+ homer power in the majors too, with .300ish averages in the best outcomes, enough for him to be the impact bat the Rays have needed for ages.

2. Carson Williams, SS (2024 top 100 ranking: 38)

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 180 | Seasonal age in 2024: 21

Williams was Tampa’s first-round pick in 2021, but at the time there were questions about multiple aspects of his game, including his power and even his running. He’s improved in just about every way since then, changing his gait to become a plus runner, building strength to hit 42 homers over the last two years, and developing into an easy plus defender at shortstop. What he does not do, however, is make enough contact, with a 31.4 percent strikeout rate during the regular season in 2023 and then a 36.5 percent rate in the hitter-friendly (and pitching-starved) Arizona Fall League.

It’s a pitch recognition issue, as he really struggles against offspeed stuff even in the zone, yet doesn’t chase pitches all that often. When he makes contact, it’s generally high quality, so he doesn’t have to make a huge adjustment here to become a star, just to better distinguish non-fastballs — and perhaps to stop swinging so hard at them. If he played on the other end of the defensive spectrum, he wouldn’t be on the top 100. As it is, though, he’s got four tools that are 6s or better, and if the hit tool just gets to 45, he’s going to be a very good big leaguer.

3. Brayden Taylor, 3B (2024 top 100 ranking: 56)

Bats: L | Throws: R | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 180 | Seasonal age in 2024: 22

The Rays took Taylor with the 19th pick in the 2023 draft after a solid year at TCU where he hit a career-high 23 homers but slumped some in the middle of the spring, perhaps pushing him down in a draft loaded with college position players. He has a beautiful left-handed swing with excellent loft in his finish, so he barrels a lot of balls and projects to get to above-average power at his peak. He’s a solid-average defender at third right now and might have a 60 arm, while he’s athletic enough to improve there with work or move to second base. He’s an average runner but a smart base stealer who hasn’t been caught stealing since 2021, going 36 for 36 across college, summer ball, and the minors in the last two calendar years.

His low BABIP last spring in college (.307) seemed very fluky based on his hard contact rates and typical launch angles, so it’s possible, even likely, that the Rays landed a top-10 talent here just because he had an unlucky spring. I see an average regular who gets to the majors pretty quickly, with the potential to be a 55 or more if the defense improves and he reaches his 20-25 homer ceiling.

4. Curtis Mead, 3B (2024 top 100 ranking: 77)

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-0 | Weight: 170 | Seasonal age in 2024: 23

A funny thing happened while Mead was working his way to the majors last year: The guy the Rays traded to acquire him, lefty Cristopher Sánchez, moved into the rotation and threw up a 2.2 WAR season for the Phillies, so now that trade doesn’t look as lopsided as it did when the Phillies dealt a top-100 prospect for a fringy reliever. Mead was hit by a pitch on his wrist at the end of April in Triple A, so while he did debut in the majors later in the year he didn’t show the consistent contact quality he’d shown in previous years, although his exit velocity did still peak at 108 mph in the majors. He looked rough defensively at third and second in the majors but didn’t grade out as badly as you’d expect by defensive metrics; I doubt he’ll ever be more than fringy at third, but if he’s just adequate there — no worse than 2-3 runs below average a year — the bat should play. Expect solid averages with a ton of doubles, low walk and strikeout rates, and probably more complaining about his defense than it actually merits.

5. Xavier Isaac, 1B

Bats: L | Throws: L | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 240 | Seasonal age in 2024: 20

Isaac was a surprise first-round pick in 2022, as just about every other team had him outside the first round (and probably heading to school), but the Rays took him at pick 29 and he had a creditable debut at 19, hitting .285/.395/.521 between both levels of A ball. He doesn’t chase early in counts, supporting that high walk rate, but he does swing and miss even in-zone, especially on offspeed stuff, and expands the zone with two strikes. He also wasn’t challenged with a ton of velocity, so prior concerns about his bat speed are still unanswered, and he doesn’t see lefties well at all. It was a great year for a 19-year-old, to be clear, and the kind of year a 30 defender at first base with his body type has to have; I just don’t think the stat line tells the right story.


Jonny DeLuca came over to the Rays from the Dodgers in the Tyler Glasnow deal. (John Williamson / Four Seam Images via Associated Press)

6. Jonny DeLuca, OF

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-0 | Weight: 200 | Seasonal age in 2024: 25

I probably would have traded one year of Tyler Glasnow straight up for Ryan Pepiot, but getting DeLuca in the deal does give a little insurance to the Rays, in case Pepiot catches the Tampa Elbow Flu or reverts to his poor control of pre-2023. DeLuca’s a 55-60 runner and a strong athlete who should have average power, with questions about his ability to hit offspeed stuff; even in the minors, he feasted on fastballs, and that was still true in his stint in the majors with the Dodgers. He’s probably a strong fourth outfielder/platoon guy who can play center well enough to man it every day and can crush lefties, with the value of being ready to take that role right now, and the hope that he can improve his breaking-ball recognition enough to be an everyday guy.

7. Mason Montgomery, LHP

Bats: L | Throws: L | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 195 | Seasonal age in 2024: 24

Montgomery looked great in spring training, but couldn’t hold his stuff even from start to start, going from 94-96 mph one night to 91-92 the next time out. Then he started trying to work more out of the zone to avoid hard contact — which didn’t even work, as he got tagged for 20 homers in 124 innings between Double A and Triple A. He’s got a potentially plus slider that misses some bats even without a high spin rate, along with a splitter and a so-called “gyro” slider as well, so he has the arsenal to be a fourth starter or more if he’s got the arm strength.

8. Dominic Keegan, C

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-0 | Weight: 210 | Seasonal age in 2024: 23

Keegan looks like a sure backup catcher in the majors, capable on defense, liked by pitchers, with power and some patience but fringy bat speed that’s going to cause his average to drop as he faces harder throwers.

9. Colton Ledbetter, OF

Bats: L | Throws: R | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 205 | Seasonal age in 2024: 22

Ledbetter was Tampa’s second-round pick in 2023 off a solid spring for Mississippi State, although he did a lot of his damage against non-conference opponents. He’s got a smooth left-handed swing and excellent ball/strike recognition. He’s limited to left field, where he’s a 55 defender, so the bat has to play, and it’ll be on the Rays to find a way to improve his contact quality, whether for over-the-fence power or just to boost his average on balls in play enough for him to be a regular.

10. Adrian Santana, SS

Bats: B | Throws: L | Height: 5-11 | Weight: 155 | Seasonal age in 2024: 18

Santana is a plus defender at short and a plus runner, but he’s nowhere near strong enough to hit pro pitching just yet, listed at 5-11, 155, although he didn’t turn 18 until the week after the Rays took him in the 2023 draft with the 31st pick and thus has a little more time to get stronger. He’s got a good foundation, with a long way to go on the strength/power side to be a regular.

11. Santiago Suarez, RHP

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 175 | Seasonal age in 2024: 19

Acquired from Miami before the 2023 season in the deal that sent J.T. Chargois and Xavier Edwards to the Marlins, Suarez might end up the steal of the whole exchange, as he’s been 94-96 mph with good carry and above-average spin on the curveball. He’s 6-2 without a ton of room left to fill out, even though he only turned 19 this January. He has a clean delivery that he repeats for unusual command for his age and experience level. He was dominant in the Florida Complex League last summer and then bounced up to Low A, where he missed fewer bats but still threw strikes, ending up with a 4.6 percent walk rate on the year. Suarez looks the part of a starter, has the three weapons of a starter, the command and control of a starter … he just needs to stay healthy and work on some of the finer things like sequencing to be a mid-rotation guy.

12. Cole Wilcox, RHP

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 232 | Seasonal age in 2024: 24

Wilcox’s stuff didn’t come all the way back post-Tommy John surgery, so while he pitched a full season in 2023, his results were well below expectations and there’s more pressure on him to ratchet up his command. The good news is that he’s sinking the ball much more now that he’s 94-96 mph rather than touching 100 up top of the zone, with a groundball rate over 50 percent in Double A, and right-handed hitters don’t square him up very often between the fastball and slider. He needs something for lefties, as they were all over his fastball last year, and he needs to throw better quality strikes — his walk rate is fine, but he has to locate better within the zone, avoiding fastballs in or just over the heart, for example. We’re all prey to the idea that pitchers come right back from Tommy John surgery, other than the workload they can handle, but that’s not true in every case, or even the majority. If he can cut down the hard contact he’s allowing to lefties, he could be a back-end starter.

13. Ian Seymour, LHP

Bats: L | Throws: L | Height: 6-0 | Weight: 210 | Seasonal age in 2024: 25

Seymour returned in July from 2022 Tommy John surgery, slowly working his way up to finish the year with one outing in Triple A. He’s a finesse lefty with a changeup as his primary out pitch, so he’s more effective against right-handed batters but gets some natural advantage against lefties from his handedness. The command and control were above-average before the injury, and his rehab outings showed promise on that end, so he could be a back-end starter option at some point this year.

14. Trevor Martin, RHP

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 238 | Seasonal age in 2024: 23

Martin is a big, physical right-hander with four pitches, although he doesn’t have great feel yet for the changeup as his tendency is to throw everything hard. His curve and slider are both above-average pitches and his 90-94 mph fastball has good characteristics, more so when it’s up to 97. He dominated Low A as a 22-year-old from the Big 12 (Oklahoma State), and really shouldn’t have been at that level for more than a month or so, rather than spending the entire year toying with younger hitters. He showed a wide reverse platoon split last year, but his arsenal makes me think that’s going to flip when he’s at a higher level. It’s a starter profile but the Rays need to challenge these college guys.

15. Jose Urbina, RHP

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 180 | Seasonal age in 2024: 18

Urbina really looks the part of a starter, and his stuff was so good the Rays brought him directly to the U.S. rather than sending the Venezuelan righty to the Dominican Summer League. He sits 94 mph already and touches 98 with a power overhand curve at 80-81 and good feel for his changeup, with a really loose arm; he might need to get his lower half more involved in the delivery to maintain that velocity, but otherwise it’s as much of a starter package as you’ll find in a 18-year-old, with all of the typical risks in someone this young who already throws this hard.

16. Jose Monzon, SS

Bats: L | Throws: R | Height: 6-0 | Weight: 160 | Seasonal age in 2024: 18

Monzon is a Venezuelan shortstop who had a strong debut in the DSL and offers projection on his 6-foot frame to come into a little power as he fills out. He showed some feel for the strike zone in the DSL, walking more than he struck out, and it sounds like the Rays might try to have him switch-hit to boost his value. He played three infield spots but projects to stay at short.


Tre’ Morgan helped LSU win a national championship. (Steven Branscombe / USA Today)

17. Tre’ Morgan, 1B

Bats: L | Throws: L | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 215 | Seasonal age in 2024: 21

Morgan is an elite defender at first base, and if you’re wondering what that’s worth, look at where he’s ranked. He’s a slap hitter with high contact rates but below-average power, although he’s big enough that you would think there’d be some sock in there. Maybe a swing change helps him develop enough bat for the position, and then the elite defense becomes a lot more of a factor.

18. Yoniel Curet, RHP

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 190 | Seasonal age in 2024: 21

Curet has an electric fastball and 35 command; half the batters he faced last year struck out or walked, so maybe they should just stand in the box and hope for the best? He’s 92-96 mph with life, but without much idea of where it’s going, and his only other pitch is a slider that’s effective because it’s not his fastball. He’s already on the 40-man roster, so the Rays may have to make him a reliever before the clock runs out.

19. Chandler Simpson, OF

Bats: L | Throws: R | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 170 | Seasonal age in 2024: 23

Simpson is an 80 runner with 20 power; he hit one home run in college, none in summer ball, and has none so far in 123 minor-league games, slugging .345 last year as a 22-year-old in Low A and High A. It’s a simple swing that puts the bat on the ball and then he runs like hell, which does translate into big range in center field. He stole 94 bags in 109 attempts last year, one behind pro leader Victor Scott II. I think he sees the big leagues, but in a very limited role — think Terrence Gore but with value on defense.

20. Jonathan Russell, RHP

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 180 | Seasonal age in 2024: 19

Russell was a shortstop who moved to the mound in 2022 and signed with Tampa last January, which looks like a good move on both ends, as he was up to 96 mph with good spin on a breaking ball in his DSL debut, where he posted a 1.00 ERA. He’s 6-1 and put together to hold up as a starter.

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MLB 2024 farm system rankings: Keith Law ranks all 30 teams, Orioles are new No. 1

Others of note

Brailer Guerrero underwent shoulder surgery but should be ready to go for spring training; the 18-year-old outfielder took home a $3.7 million bonus but barely played before he got hurt. It’s huge bat speed and very hard contact, at least in non-game looks.

• Right-hander Marcus Johnson, acquired with Suarez in the Chargois/Edwards deal, has a bucket of averages in his four-pitch mix, throwing a ton of strikes last year (3.9 percent), but he was a 22-year-old Duke product pitching in Low A against inferior competition and doesn’t miss enough bats. When they traded for him, though, he was a stuff guy, 6-6 with a 55 or better slider and maybe a 60 changeup, albeit with just average velo on his four-seamer. Maybe there’s a way to put those two versions together, but regardless, he has to move up to High A or even Double A and show he can get hitters out to have a future in any role.

Engert Garcia was the senior citizen of the DSL, pitching there at age 23 because of visa issues, but the right-hander was 94-97 mph with a good slider and threw a ton of strikes.

Andrew Lindsey came over from Miami in a trade this winter, shortly after the Marlins drafted him. He’s 24 but a great story — he gave up baseball in 2021, went to coach a youth team, then decided to give playing one more shot as a fifth-year senior at Tennessee. He was 93-95 mph, touching 98, with a solid-average slider, coming with a very slingy arm action that puts him in the bullpen but that’ll make him an uncomfortable look for right-handed batters.

• Outfielder Ryan Cermak missed most of the season due to injury and didn’t hit well enough for a 22-year-old in Low A when he was available, although he has plenty of tools to become a prospect again if he performs.

Willy Vasquez has been on these top 20s before, but the third baseman hit just .233/.310/.393 in High A last year, and he has got to start doing more damage to be a prospect again. I expected a lot more from him in 2023.

2024 impact

Caminero has a job in Tampa and might be the early Rookie of the Year favorite. Mead could spend the majority of the year in the majors as well. Seymour or even Montgomery could make some spot starts.

The fallen

Greg Jones was Tampa’s first-round pick in 2019, an 80 runner who played shortstop in college but was a poor defender with a bad approach. He punched out 39 percent of the time between Double A and Triple A last year before a hamstring strain ended his season on July 20. On the plus side, the Rays are finally playing him some in center field.

Sleeper

Suarez seems poised for a leap, and I’ll pick him over Urbina just on age and the lower likelihood of injury (not that any of us really knows in that department).

(Top photo of Junior Caminero: Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)





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