Our next minor league roster projection is Bowling Green, which is now the organization’s Class A-Advanced affiliate.
Catcher: Blake Hunt
In our estimation, Hunt is the team’s top catcher prospect. He was acquired in the Blake Snell trade and has the defensive attributes teams look for in catchers. He spent 2019 playing against Bowling Green when it was still in the Class-A Midwest League, and he was at the Padres’ alternate site in 2020. It could be a competition between Hunt and Ford Proctor to start the season in Double A.
First base: Chris Betts
Betts has never play an out at first base as a professional, but his power potential merits inclusion in the piece, so here he is. He should still get innings behind the plate to continue his development as a catcher, but on this roster, Hunt is the priority at that position. At 24 years old, the Rays might want to see Betts in Double A, but that would be a significant jump.
Second base: Jonathan Aranda
The initial projection did not include Aranda, but the Greg Jones injury required some changes. Throughout his career, he’s made consistent contact and known the strike zone, and that was true in his 2019 season, which was mostly spent in Class A with a brief taste of Class A-Advanced ball. Over the winter, he batted .333 with a .390 on-base percentage in 159 plate appearances in Mexico.
Third base: Connor Hollis
Hollis was a non-drafted free agent from Houston in 2018, and he reached Class A-Advanced in his first full pro season. So far as a professional, he’s made consistent contact and provided versatility.
Shortstop: Alika Williams
This is where I originally had Jones. The first-round pick hasn’t yet made his full-season debut, but he’s 23, played a bit in the alternate site, and played a bit in big league spring training.
Williams hasn’t yet made his pro debut at all. The No. 37 pick in the 2020 draft played at Arizona State and has experience with Team USA and in the Cape Cod League too. Maybe this assignment is too aggressive, but with his experience and plate approach, it could be worth a shot.
Left field: Grant Witherspoon
Witherspoon’s power and speed combo was intriguing as a fourth-round pick in 2019, and he showed those tools off in Class A in 2019, hitting 10 homers among his 39 extra-base hits with 22 steals in 28 attempts. He batted just .248 with a .316 on-base percentage, but he’s worth following as he moves up a level in 2021.
Center field: Tanner Dodson
Dodson didn’t lose a lot when the 2020 minor league season was canceled because he was going to be out following Tommy John surgery in 2019 anyway. If he’s ready to return, the level he was at in 2019 makes sense. He was at Class A-Advanced in his full-season debut after the Rays took him in the second round from Cal. If the Rays are continuing using him as a two-way player, he should play the outfield and pitch in relief.
Right field: Ruben Cardenas
Cardenas only has 30 games in the organization. He was acquired from Cleveland in 2019 when the Rays traded Christian Arroyo and Hunter Wood. He has raw power, but he didn’t really hit for it in games in college. He homered 10 times in 120 collegiate games, but in 2019, he hit 13 Class-A home runs in 114 games with 44 total extra-base hits.
Starters: Cole Wilcox, Seth Johnson, John Doxakis, Ian Seymour, Peyton Battenfield
Wilcox was also added in the Snell trade. Like Williams, he hasn’t made his pro debut. As a draft-eligible sophomore whose second season was cut short due to the pandemic, he doesn’t have the experience of a lot of college picks, but he did pitch in the SEC. The Padres even included him at their alternate site, which is better than nothing.
Johnson has more pro experience than Wilcox, but not much. He was the No. 40 pick in 2019 and pitched 17 innings in short-season ball. He needs all the innings he can get after not pitching full time until the end of his college career. His stuff reportedly impressed briefly at the alternate site and also the instructional league, so he could make his full-season debut in Class A-Advanced.
Drafted 21 picks after Johnson, Doxakis is more likely to be ready for this assignment. With 247 2⁄3 innings for an SEC school, he has plenty of valuable collegiate experience. He was also effective in his pro debut in short-season ball, posting a 1.93 ERA in 32 2⁄3 innings.
As another 2020 draft pick, this could be an aggressive assignment for Seymour. He of course hasn’t made his pro debut yet, and unlike Wilcox, didn’t get the benefit of time at an alternate site. Still, he threw 159 2⁄3 innings at an ACC school, pitched in the Cape Cod League, and struck out 40 batters in 20 1⁄3 innings in his final season at Virginia Tech. Why not assign him here?
Battenfield was one of the players the Rays got from Houston when they traded Austin Pruitt. He’s yet another pitcher who would skip Class A in this projection. He was a ninth round pick in 2019 after three seasons in the Big 12. He has 39 1⁄3 short-season innings to his credit with a 1.60 ERA and 46 strikeouts. He’ll turn 24 later this year.