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Best Rays affiliates: New York-Penn League

A look at the best affiliates in Rays history continues with another short-season affiliate.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Prospects are about the future, but I thought I’d take a look back at the past. I looked at every domestic Rays affiliate on Baseball Reference and totaled up the major league wins above replacement (prior to the 2020 season) to try and determine the best affiliates in franchise history. I did my best to filter out rehab appearances and zeroed out negative-WAR players since reaching the majors shouldn’t count against them.

2006 Hudson Valley Renegades — 96.1 WAR (five major leaguers)

3B Evan Longoria (56)
OF Josh Hamilton (28.2)
RHP Jeremy Hellickson (11.7)
RHP Ryan Reid (.2)
RHP Josh Butler (0)

Fishkill, N.Y. was the site of two debuts of sorts in 2006. Evan Longoria started his pro career, and Josh Hamilton returned to baseball for the first time since 2002. They combined to play just 23 games for Hudson Valley that season, but it was enough to make the 2006 Renegades one of the top affiliates in franchise history.

It was actually Hamilton’s second stint with the team. After debuting with Princeton in 1999, he finished the season with Hudson Valley and won a championship. Then, he was a top prospect on the rise. In 2006, he was trying to salvage a career that had been lost to drug and alcohol addiction.

Hamilton was rusty, but Longoria — who would soon become the face of the franchise that Hamilton didn’t — got his pro career off to a great start. In eight games, he slugged four homers and posted a 1.366 OPS. He reached Double A in his debut season and wasn’t out of place, even though he was only 20. Just two years later, he won Rookie of the Year and led the Rays to the World Series.

He wasn’t the only future Rookie of the Year on the Renegades that season. While Longoria came and went quickly, Hellickson spent the entire season there, and he was one of the best pitchers in the league. His 2.43 ERA was ninth among pitchers with 50-plus innings, and he led the league with 96 strikeouts.

Neither Butler nor Reid pitched well that season, and neither pitched in the majors for the Rays. Butler was traded in 2008 for Gabe Gross.

Although the Renegades had two top-10 prospects in the organization at the start of next season and another later in the top 30, they weren’t very good. Only two teams in the 14-team league had a lower winning percentage. Only two teams scored fewer runs per game since Hamilton and Longoria weren’t everyday players all season, and there wasn’t a lot of pitching depth behind Hellickson.

No other Hudson Valley affiliate comes particularly close to matching 2006’s WAR. Hamilton’s first go-around in 1999 is second with just 39.4 WAR, most of which was accumulated by Hamilton. James Shields accounted for 31 of the 2001 team’s 31.2 WAR.

It’s hard to imagine any recent Renegades team can come close either. First-round pick Greg Jones could be a perennial All-Star but would need a breakout from at least one of his 2019 teammates to accumulate that much WAR. Following the 2017 season, that team would’ve been a fair pick. Brendan McKay just made his pro debut, and Vidal Brujan, Austin Franklin, and Drew Strotman looked like ascending players. However, injuries have since sidetracked the three pitchers.