The most likely name to be moved by the Rays over the last year has been 1B Nate Lowe, a prospect blocked at the major league level by Ji-Man Choi. After shopping him aggressively at the trade deadline in 2020, the Rays have used the Winter Meetings to finally find him a new home with a clear path to starting: Texas.
The full trade has the Rays packaging Nate Lowe with unranked prospect Jake Guenther, and nets three prospects in return: OF/C Heriberto Hernandez, Alexander Ovalles, and Osleivis Basabe.
For the Rays, the primary work of this deal is freeing up a roster spot, but diversifying risk and spreading out the prospect value into three pieces far from the majors is an interesting but necessary added wrinkle.
OF/C Heriberto Hernandez
Hernandez is a power-first prospect that has prospect circles divided.
Reported to have plus bat speed, thanks in part to what have been described as short arms, Hernandez has already proven adept at hitting.
If you read FanGraphs, Hernandez is a borderline Top-100 prospect with strong future grades, including a 60 grade hit tool and 65 grade raw power. He is the site’s third ranked prospect in the Texas system, with a 50 FV equal to former Rays prospect traded to Texas UTIL Nick Solak, and ahead of popular 3B Josh Jung.
At Baseball America the story is a little different, with Hernandez ranking only No. 21 for the Rangers despite power that’s already translating in-game at age-19. The risk for them is on defense. BA believes that behind the plate Hernandez might project only to a back up role, which drives him down their Top-30 list.
Either way, he’s a good hitter with an unclear future positionally; in other words, he’s a prospect from Texas.
2019 saw Hernandez bat a .433 OBP and 181 wRC+ with 11 homers in 224 PA at the Rangers rookie league, before a cup of coffee at low-A over three games. Despite being so far off from the majors, Hernandez was a late addition to the Rangers alternative training site on Sept. 9.
There have been 3,006 player-seasons of at least 200 plate appearances dating back to 2006 in Rookie Ball (International).— Max Goldstein (@MaxSportsStudio) December 10, 2020
Heriberto Hernandez’s 2018 campaign is the only one in which a player had a walk rate of at least 20% and a wRC+ of 180 or higher.
Following the 2019 season, Hernandez was named to the Rangers Organizational All-Star Team by MLB.com and to the Rookie-level All-Star Team by Baseball America. He was signed by the Rangers on December 13, 2017 out of the Dominican Republic for $10,000.
SS Osleivis Basabe
Basabe, 20, is currently ranked as the No. 14 prospect in the Rangers system by Baseball America, No. 16 prospect by FanGraphs, and No. 20 by MLB.com. Most notably among them, BA believe his “combination of barrel awareness and athleticism up the middle is promising.”
Over two minor league seasons, he is batting .334/.386/.439 (118-for-353) with 18 doubles, one home run, 66 RBI and 19 stolen bases in 89 games. He spent most of the 2019 season with the Rookie-level AZL Rangers, but played two games with Short-A Spokane following an August 31 promotion. Between the two levels, he hit .323/.352/.398 (52-for-161) with 32 RBI in 37 games. He was signed by the Rangers on December 23, 2017 out of Venezuela for $500,000.
Basabe, like his co-acquisition Ovalles, is a young and toolsy prospect with many paths to adding value to the Rays organization at a later time.
OF Alexander Ovalles
Ovalles, 20, is batting .299/.376/.456 (84-for-281) with 18 doubles, four home runs and 41 RBI in 70 games over two minor league seasons and two organizations. He split the 2019 season between the Rookie-level AZL Rangers and Short-A Spokane, earning a July 27 promotion, and hit .293/.354/.488 (60-for-226) with 14 doubles, four home runs and 33 RBI in 49 games.
Unranked, due to a hitting profile that does not yet match his projection in right field, Baseball America has followed his progress nonetheless, noting high praise from a Rangers higher-up:
“He’s a bat-first guy,” [Rangers] director of minor league operations Paul Kruger said. “He has a knack for finding the barrel and really doing damage when he makes contact. [...] His bat-to-ball skills are up there with anybody in our organization.”
This is the second time Ovalles has been traded, as he was previously acquired by the Rangers on August 14, 2018 as a player to be named in the trade that sent left-handed pitcher Cole Hamels to the Chicago Cubs. He was signed by the Cubs on July 27, 2017 out of the Dominican Republic.
The Rangers Return
Lowe, 25, hit .251/.322/.447 (55-for-219) with 11 home runs and 30 RBI in 71 games (55 starts) over two seasons with the Rays. In 2020, he was recalled from the alternate training site on September 1 and remained with the Rays through season’s end. He hit .224/.316/.433 (15-for-67) in 21 games (19 starts), with all four home runs and 11 RBI coming over a stretch of 11 games (all starts) from September 11-21.
Lowe also started Game 1 of the Wild Card Series against the Toronto Blue Jays at first base but was not on the Rays postseason roster for the Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. He was selected by the Rays in the 13th round of the 2016 June Draft out of Mississippi State University. His younger brother, Josh, was added to the Rays 40-man roster on November 20.
Guenther, 23, was a seventh round college draft choice from 2018 and hit well in his first season at rookie ball, with a .431 OBP and 143 wRC+ over 209 PA with a low 12% strikeout rate. He was unranked among the Rays top-50 prospects, is old for his level, and projects as a first baseman.
A PTBNL or cash will round out this deal at a later time.