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Bradley, Manzardo shine brightest for Rays

Tough All-Star calls abound in Minors' winningest system of '22
Taj Bradley struck out 26.5 percent of the batters he faced between Double-A and Triple-A in 2022. (Paxton Rembis/Durham Bulls)
November 28, 2022

Each offseason, goes position by position across each organization and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in each farm system. Next up in our 2022 Organization All-Stars series are the Tampa Bay Rays. 2022 Organization Summary Triple-A Durham: 86-64

Each offseason, goes position by position across each organization and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in each farm system. Next up in our 2022 Organization All-Stars series are the Tampa Bay Rays.

2022 Organization Summary

Triple-A Durham: 86-64 (Triple-A champions)
Double-A Montgomery: 70-61
High-A Bowling Green: 78-52 (South Atlantic League champions)
Single-A Charleston: 88-44 (Carolina League champions)
FCL Rays: 39-16 (FCL South division winners)
DSL Tampa Bay: 25-31
DSL Rays: 25-34
Overall record: 411-302 (.576 winning percentage, first among MLB organizations)

Rays Organization All-Stars

Catcher: Rene Pinto

This is the third Organization All-Star honor for Pinto, who also featured in 2015 and 2021, and it could be his last -- for the best of reasons. The 26-year-old backstop set full-season career highs with a .521 slugging percentage and .841 OPS over 73 games with Triple-A Durham, and his 116 wRC+ was third-best among the 21 Triple-A catchers with at least 300 plate appearances.

Pinto made his Major League debut in April, and while a high strikeout rate kept him from sticking all summer long, he still has the well-round skillset to compete with Christian Bethancourt and Francisco Mejia as Tampa Bay catching options in 2023.

First base: Kyle Manzardo

Advancing from Bowling Green from Montgomery, the 2021 second-rounder led qualified Rays farmhands in average (.327), OBP (.426), slugging (.617) and OPS (1.043). His 173 wRC+ topped not only his organization but also ranked second among all full-season qualifiers, trailing only Vaun Brown’s 175 in the Giants system.

Manzardo was the Minors' only full-season qualifier to slug at least .600 while striking out less than 17 percent of the time (16.4 percent), clearing the high offensive bar at first base.

“It's a really advanced approach, especially at the lower levels,” said Rays director of Minor League operations Jeff McLerran. “He's often one or two steps ahead of the pitcher and catcher. Beyond his physical gifts, that approach really allowed him to move up levels and be right in step with how teams were trying to attack him and him being able to make adjustments off their plan. When you combine that with some of the bat-to-ball and some of the power that he has, it’s a really dangerous combination.”

Second base: Miles Mastrobuoni

The 27-year-old may have been recently traded to the Cubs in November as a result of Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster crunch, but that had as much to do with his breakout season and ability to become a wanted player on the trade market.

Mastrobuoni hit .300/.377/.469 with 16 homers and 29 steals in 129 games with Durham. He led Rays Minor Leaguers with 152 hits, 51 extra-base hits, 238 total bases and 92 runs scored, earning a spot on the International League All-Star team at second base.

A quick honorable mention goes to Ronny Simon, who was Tampa Bay’s only 20-20 Minor Leaguer with 22 homers and 34 steals in 109 games at High-A and Double-A.

Third base: Jonathan Aranda

The left-handed-hitting infielder built upon his breakout 2021 season with a .318/.394/.521 line and 18 homers in 104 Triple-A games. He trailed only Manzardo among Rays qualifiers in the slugging and OPS (.915) categories, and in true Tampa Bay style, the organization moved Aranda around plenty to increase his versatility but also get his bat into the lineup in any way possible.

“He is really prepared in terms of how he attacks or knowing how he's going to be attacked and being able to match that with what he does well in order to get the most out of those battles,” McLerran said. “I think there was some concern as he climbs the ladder about how he was going to handle bigger stuff from pitchers, and he has been able to meet those challenges all along the way.”

MLB Pipeline's No. 35 overall prospect Curtis Mead had another solid season with a .298/.390/.532 line and 13 homers at Double-A and Triple-A and would have featured here if he hadn’t been limited to 76 games with a forearm/elbow injury.

Shortstop: Carson Williams

This is yet another tough call in a deep system. Osleivis Basabe would have made the cut in many other systems with a .324 average, a measly 11.9 percent K rate and 129 wRC+ in 112 games at High-A and Double-A.

But coming off the heels of winning a Minor League Gold Glove award, Williams might have had the more well-rounded season at the six. The 2021 first-rounder was also more powerful than your typical shortstop prospect with 19 homers (tied for fifth in the org), 51 extra-base hits (tied for third), 213 total bases (fourth) and a .471 slugging percentage (.471) at Single-A Charleston. He was perhaps Basabe’s opposite -- trading contact for power -- but the mix of pop, speed (28 steals) and defense helped give the 19-year-old a slight edge.

“He made a conscious effort over the course of the time with us to work on some mechanics in his swing to allow for him to elevate the ball a little bit better than he had,” McLerran said. “He also has gotten a lot stronger. I think going into that first offseason there was an understanding that he could spend a little bit more time in the weight room, get a little strong to handle the grind of the season. I think that was probably as impressive as any of the numbers.”

Outfield: Mason Auer

The 2021 fifth-rounder was known for his strong arm and speed coming out of the Texas junior-college ranks, but he showed he has some power and overall hitting ability in his bag as well.

The 21-year-old outfielder hit .290/.372/.487 with 15 homers in 115 games at Single-A and High-A in his first full season. He combined his power and speed to lead all Minor Leaguers with 12 triples and also ranked among the top three Rays Minor Leaguers with 48 steals (first), 223 total bases (second) and 133 hits (third).

“We knew that he had pretty special tools,” McLerran said. “That was pretty evident. The question had always been, ‘Can you put it all together?’ Once he got one time through the league in [Single-A], we realized he was making adjustments off them, or teams just weren’t able to adjust to him. This was more than a hot streak, and the skills were starting to kind of match the tools.”

Shane Sasaki

The 2019 third-rounder won the Carolina League batting title with a .324 average and also topped the circuit with a .410 on-base percentage and .907 OPS. His 47 steals trailed only Auer’s 48 among Rays Minor Leaguers and helped solidify the Hawaii native’s first Organization All-Star appearance.

Heriberto Hernandez

Acquired from the Rangers in December 2020 in the Nathaniel Lowe trade, Hernandez has continued to develop his reputation as an absolute thumper through two years as a Ray.

In 2022, his 24 homers for Bowling Green were second-most in both the South Atlantic League and the entire Tampa Bay system, while his .499 slugging percentage and 136 wRC+ over 494 plate appearances placed third and fourth in the organization, respectively.

Hernandez turns 23 this month and was left unprotected from the Rule 5 Draft when eligible, likely because he’s yet to see the upper Minors. But another season of plus power proves why he still has a high ceiling, should he make enough contact in 2023 and beyond.

Right-handed starter: Taj Bradley

How do you follow a 2021 campaign in which you led the Minors with a 1.83 ERA? How about posting a 1.70 mark in 16 Double-A starts to begin 2022?

The 21-year-old right-hander added to that stellar ERA in Montgomery with a 0.91 WHIP, 88 strikeouts and only 18 walks in 74 1/3 innings. Those numbers helped him earn Pitcher of the Year and Top MLB Prospect honors in the Southern League, despite the fact he left for Triple-A in late July. Bradley’s numbers in Durham were more solid than spectacular (3.66 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 53 K in 59 innings), but even that was a building block ahead of a potential 2023 MLB debut.

“The biggest step forward for him was the utilization of the third pitch,” McLerran said. “The changeup is behind the fastball and the slider, but it's something that he knows as he climbs the ladder is going to be needed more and more. As good as those two pitches are, to be a three-times-through-the-order starter, you need that third pitch, and I think the strides that he was able to make with that, especially facing Triple-A hitters, was really impressive.”

Left-handed starter: Mason Montgomery

The 2021 sixth-rounder ranked sixth among all Minor Leaguers with 171 strikeouts in 124 innings between High-A and Double-A. His 34.2 percent K rate was tops among the 110 MiLB pitchers with at least 120 frames. As one can expect, the other numbers followed as well -- 2.10 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, .196 average against.

The 6-foot-2 southpaw has three pitches that grade as at least average in his fastball, slider and changeup and was especially dangerous against his fellow lefties, who hit only .146 with two extra-base hits in 135 plate appearances against him.

“He was one that we recognized early on in Spring Training where he was facing some more advanced lineups, and he was overmatching guys in early spring at-bats with the awkward swings that he got or the awkward takes,” McLerran said. “You just knew the guys weren't seeing the ball really well from him, and they weren't able to do anything with it. The work that he did over the offseason, some of the stuff he did strength-and-conditioning-wise, some of the mechanical things that he cleaned up, it really allowed all the stuff take a step forward.”

Reliever: Joe LaSorsa

The 24-year-old left-hander's 0.82 WHIP in 73 1/3 frames led Rays farmhands (min. 60 IP), while his 2.33 ERA, 31.4 percent K rate, 3.6 percent BB rate and .191 average-against all sat among the top three in their respective categories. The 6-foot-5 hurler has a reputation as a quick worker, and that combined with his decent fastball and slider kept South Atlantic and Southern League batters from ever getting comfortable.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.