With minor league season’s expected start date rapidly approaching, we’ve reached the last of our minor league roster projections. For the first time since 2004, Charleston is back in the organization as the first stop in full-season ball for many prospects.
With some of these players, I’d normally say they’re too young or too inexperienced for this level, but they’re going to have to just go play with the elimination of most short-season affiliates.
Catcher: Logan Driscoll
Blake Hunt isn’t the first catcher prospect the Rays acquired from San Diego. An offseason before trading Blake Snell to the Padres, they traded Emilio Pagan out west, and Driscoll came to the organization alongside Manuel Margot. The 2019 second-round pick is already 23, but with players like Ford Proctor and Blake Hunt realistically ahead of him, he should probably play every day here to start.
First base: Alexander Ovalles
The Rays got three players back from Texas for Nate Lowe and Jake Guenther, and I expect all three of them will start here. He’s not strictly a first baseman, but he’s here in this projection to squeeze in every player I want to write about. In 2019, he tore up the Arizona League with a 1.059 OPS in 25 games then struggled a bit in 24 Northwest League games.
Second base: Osleivis Basabe
Basabe also played in the Arizona and Northwest Leagues alongside Ovalles in 2019. He offers versatility in the infield and won’t strictly be a second baseman. So far in his career, he’s a .334 hitter with an 11.6% strikeout rate. He’s just 20 years old, and he had a .873 OPS in 91 plate appearances in Venezuela this offseason.
Third base: Abiezel Ramirez
Like Basabe, Ramirez won’t be limited to one position the entire season, and third base is even his least-played position among the three he’s played in his career. His career so far consists of two seasons in the Dominican Summer League and one stateside season split between two short-season leagues. He also spent an offseason an Australia, which should also provide some experience to make him ready for this assignment.
Shortstop: Alejandro Pie
Pie hasn’t even debuted in the U.S. yet, and he’s still only 19. Under the old affiliate structure, I can’t imagine he’d be assigned here. Under the new system, he may be. He signed for $1.4 million, and the Rays may want to give him a chance here. If it’s not working out, he could always go back to the complex league later.
Left field: Shane Sasaki
Sasaki was a third-round pick in 2019. He has 47 plate appearances of affiliated ball and 67 plate appearances in Australia. Like Pie, this would likely not be enough game experience to land him a full-season assignment under the old structure, but the changes made to minor league baseball may give him this opportunity.
Center field: Nick Schnell
This could be a conservative assignment for Schnell. The 2018 first-round pick has been slowed a bit by injuries, but he is now 21 years old. He has 60 plate appearances at this level already, but otherwise, he’s only played in short-season leagues. Sasaki and Schnell would both play center field at times in this projection.
Right field: Heriberto Hernandez
Hernandez is the last of the three players acquired for Lowe on this roster and the most highly regarded. Which position will he play? The media guide lists him as a catcher. and he has experience in right field and first base as well. His bat behind the plate would be impressive, but it may be best to develop him at a different position. He slugged 11 homers and batted .344/.433/.646 in 50 Arizona League games in 2019.
Starters: JJ Goss, Taj Bradley, Hunter Barnhart, Michael Mercado, Graeme Stinson
At instructs, Goss reportedly showed improved stuff, and he should get a chance to show it off in real games to start 2021. He only has 17 pro innings in a rookie league and is still just 20 years old for the entire season, but with his stuff and draft pedigree, this makes sense as a starting point for him.
Bradley doesn’t come with as much hype as Goss, but his stuff is also reportedly better than it was last time it was seen in games. He also didn’t get as much hype as the first two full-time pitchers the Rays drafted in 2018 — Matthew Liberatore and Shane McClanahan — but the Rays made a bet on his projection that could pay off. He had a 3.18 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 51 rookie-league innings in 2019.
Barnhart on a full-season roster is probably the most aggressive projection in the entire series. He was drafted out of high school and hasn’t made his pro debut. It’s certainly not something that would be done in the old structure, but would it be best now with fewer short-season options for a player who was drafted the previous year? He throws strikes and could hold his own here.
It’s been a long time since Mercado pitched. He of course missed 2020 along with everyone else, and he also missed 2019 due to Tommy John surgery. His last game was on Aug. 20, 2018. He’s now 22, and the 2017 second-round pick still hasn’t pitched in a full-season league. It’s time.
Stinson was once considered one of the top prospects in the 2019 draft, but a so-so platform season allowed the Rays to get him in the fourth round. With only two thirds of a pro inning, he really hasn’t had a chance to rebound from that season at Duke. He’ll turn 24 later this season and shouldn’t have a problem with a full-season assignment.