Major League Baseball's owners may have locked out the players, triggering the league's first work stoppage since 1994-95 and bringing the offseason to a halt, but that doesn't mean we're letting it derail our typical offseason plans. Indeed, CBS Sports is in the process of highlighting the top three prospects for all 30 teams, as well as naming the top 50 prospects in the minors, regardless of team affiliation. That journey finds us today focusing on the Tampa Bay Rays' farm system.
Do note that these lists are formed after conversations with scouts, analysts, and player development folks from around the league. There is personal bias baked in, as one would expect from subjective exercises, so some disagreement is to be expected.
Now, onto the gasbaggery.
1. Shane Baz, RHP, No. 4 on MLB top 20
Baz is the lone member of the MLB top 20 who has already reached the majors. He appeared in three regular season contests with the Rays in 2021, accruing a 2.03 ERA and a 6.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio in a small sample of 13 innings. Baz demonstrated during his big-league cameo that he has three swing-and-miss pitches, including an upper-90s fastball (with movement and release-point characteristics that rival Gerrit Cole's) and a pair of breaking balls. He's simplified his delivery since being acquired from the Pirates as part of the ill-fated Chris Archer trade, allowing him to tally just 16 walks in 92 combined innings between the majors and minors last season. That would be impressive for anyone, let alone someone who was issuing a walk every other inning prior to the pandemic. Between Baz's pure stuff and his newfound control, he's the favorite to eventually succeed Tyler Glasnow (who also came over in that trade) as the Rays ace.
2. Josh Lowe, OF
Lowe, the Rays' first-round pick in 2016, made his big-league debut last September when he took two plate appearances. (He singled and walked.) Lowe should be in line for more playing time in 2022, having batted .291/.381/.535 with 22 home runs and 26 stolen bases (on 26 attempts) at Triple-A. Lowe still strikes out more than a quarter of the time, but he makes up for it with above-average power and speed, and he has enough experience in center field to suggest the Rays are comfortable with him there. It's possible his bat plays lighter than expected because of his contact woes, yet until that proves to be true he looks like a legitimate starting outfielder from here.
3. Vidal Bruján, UTL
Bruján also made his big-league debut in 2021, going 2 for 26 with eight strikeouts and no walks. No worry; he should get another chance in 2022. Bruján, a burner with a history of walking and making high rates of contact, added a new wrinkle to his game last season, swatting a career-high 12 home runs at Triple-A by doing a better job of lifting the ball.
Whether or not his newfound slugging translates to the majors, his well-rounded game and his defensive versatility (the Rays have played him all over the place, infield and outfield) should soon make him a favorite of Kevin Cash.