Major League Baseball's offseason is in full swing, and that means everyone is thinking about the future. In most cities, that means next season; in some, though, it means the bigger picture, the next three to five years. You're either selling wins or you're selling hope, the old saying goes. We here at CBS Sports like to provide as much hope as we can around this time of the winter by evaluating each team's farm system.
Of course, that doesn't mean every team has an equally good farm system -- some, as you'll find out throughout this process, are lacking in that respect. It does mean, nevertheless, that CBS Sports will be spending the next few weeks examining the top three prospects in each organization. We define "prospects" as retaining their rookie eligibility for the 2023 season, so if a young player is missing that's likely why.
These lists and evaluations are formed following conversations with scouts, analysts, and player development types. There's also firsthand evaluation and bias thrown into the mix. Keep in mind that player evaluation is a hard task, and it's fine if you disagree with the rankings. These are opinions, and they have no real bearing on the future. You can check out our winter top 20 list by clicking here.
With that in mind, let's get to it by dissecting the Tampa Bay Rays.
1. Curtis Mead, INF (2023 seasonal age: 22)
Mead, who originally signed with the Phillies out of Australia, was acquired in exchange for lefty reliever Cristopher Sanchez in November 2019. He's since ascended thanks to an above-average offensive projection. Mead split last season between Double- and Triple-A, batting .298/.390/.532 with 13 home runs in 76 games. He hits the ball hard and often, and he walked more frequently in 2022 than he had in past years. Mead's best defensive position is in the batter's box, since he lacks the arm to be good at third base and the range to excel at second. The Rays may try to play him all over the place anyway, but make no mistake: his bat is the selling point.
2. Taj Bradley, RHP (2023 seasonal age: 22)
Bradley, a fifth-round pick in 2018, hails from the same Georgia high school (Redan) as former big-league hitters Brandon Phillips and Domonic Brown. He has a chance to become the school's most accomplished pitcher thanks to above-average control of two good pitches. Bradley's fastball can touch into the upper-90s and he complements it with a cutter. He'll need to continue to work on developing a third pitch, but the ever-changing demands of the position make that less pivotal than it would've been a decade or two ago. Bradley is likely to debut sometime in 2023 with a future as a mid-rotation starter within reach.
3. Kyle Manzardo, 1B (2023 seasonal age: 22)
All Manzardo has done since being selected in the second round of the 2021 draft is hit and then hit some more. Last season, he batted .327/.426/.617 with 22 home runs and nearly as many walks (59) as strikeouts (65) in 93 games between High- and Double-A. Although there's no questioning his feel for making contact or for controlling the zone, some evaluators have concerns about his likely power output. His exit velocity figures aren't as good as you'd assume based on the above line, and there's a chance his power plays around average. Given the offensive demands placed on first baseman, that puts even more onus on him hitting for a high average and walking. Manzardo too could be in line to debut sometime during the 2023 season.