TDG’S Triple Play: Tampa Bay Rays!
The Triple Play is back for a fifth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Drew Rasmussen, Age: 26, Position: SP
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
Rasmussen, who was born with the first name Drew, not Andrew, if you were wondering, was one of the few players that was drafted three times; once after high school (39th round in 2014 by Arizona) and then twice while at Oregon State University; in 2017 (1st round, 29th overall, by the Rays) and in 2018 (6th round by the Brewers). Now a part of the Rays rotation to open the 2022 season, the future is bright for the former Beaver.
Back in the Beaver Days
In 2017, Rasmussen was joined by future professionals Adley Rutschman, Nick Madrigal, Trevor Larnach and Steven Kwan on the Oregon State team. Sadly, he only pitched in eight games before injury that led to his second Tommy John surgery; over 27 innings he struck out 26 while walking only five, yielding a clean ERA of one. In his three years playing for the Beavers Rasmussen made 33 appearances, starting 24 games, over 170 innings; compiling an ERA of 2.65, 1.04 WHIP with 150:45 Strikeouts: Walks Ratio. The Rays picked him in the first round, but the two sides could not work out a deal, leaving him available to be drafted in 2018.
Brewing something good
The Brewers felt like they got a steal of a deal taking Rasmussen in the sixth round of the 2018 draft, with the knowledge he would not pitch again until 2019. Interestingly enough, Milwaukee had Rasmussen make his professional debut in Miller Park playing for the Single-A Wisconsin, where, in two innings he struck out three, and was immediately promoted to Single-A+ Carolina. He reached Double-A Biloxi by the end of the 2019 season. In 2019, he compiled a 3.15 ERA over 74.1 innings pitched, making 23 starts, with a strikeout: walk ratio of 96:31. In the shortened 2020 season, he joined the Brewers for 15.1 forgettable innings, and opened the 2021 season as a member of the big-league club’s bullpen.
To Tampa Bay…and Beyond!
While Rasmussen made 15 appearances for the Brewers in 2021, the Brewers made a trade that should help both organizations in the long run, sending him to Tampa (along with JP Feyereisen) for shortstop Willy Adames and Trevor Richards. Always good to see a guy who is popular, especially with an organization like Tampa. They drafted him the first round, and then acquired him from Milwaukee? Yeah, they couldn’t quit him.
A pit stop at Triple-A Durham told the Rays Rasmussen did not need to be there, by giving up no runs in 11 innings pitched and striking out 23. He joined the big-league club on June 19th and was primarily used out of the bullpen, and a few times as an opener. But then on August 12th he began pitching as a starter every five days. In eight starts over 37 innings he had a 1.46 ERA, 2.76 FIP, with a strikeout: walk ratio of 23:6, walking more than one batter per appearance only once.
What the Future Holds
Rasmussen throws a fastball at 97-mph and a slider at 86 mph; he uses both to put guys away. Baseball savant also has him throwing a curveball and changeup, but are used very infrequently. Development of one or the other will be key to Rasmussen becoming a full-fledged starter; lo and behold, a “sweeping slider” has been added this spring, as Rays manager Kevin Cash said, “It’s pretty unique, the action on it, so we’re hoping that really plays for him.”
I made it a point to add Rasmussen where I could at the end of last season, and try to acquire him on the teams I couldn’t this past off-season; as such, he appeared on the Pitchers on My Fantasy Teams – 2022 Edition, that was posted a couple weeks back. His strikeout numbers should rise, while he keeps his walks in check. Rasmussen was a natural choice for my part of this week’s Triple Play, so do your team a favor, and get in on him before he truly blows up.
Harold Ramirez, Age: 27, Position: OF/DH
Analysis by: Aaron Cumming
Harold Ramirez has been nothing more than a part-time player, a forgotten man in multiple organizations. He didn’t make the majors until his eighth professional season, and has been traded twice in the last four months, recently landing with his fifth team. When the Tampa Bay Rays trade for you, though, people take notice. If there is one organization that can maximize his potential, he just joined it.
Hark! The Harold’s Launch Angle Swing!
Ramirez hasn’t gotten regular playing time in the majors, but when he gets a chance, he hits the ball HARD. He isn’t quite a Statcast “darling,” but he’s definitely whatever is one step below that (Statcast sweetie?). In 2019 and 2021, the two seasons when he received more than 350 plate appearances in the majors, he was in the 89th and 94th percentiles in max exit velocity, respectively. This past season saw him maintain an average exit velocity in the 85th percentile and a hard hit rate in the 81st percentile. It would be easy to be around him when he’s hitting and think that the scouting trope of having “loud” tools is meant to be a literal description. That ability to turn on pitches hasn’t translated to power, though, as he has just a 6.1% barrel rate for his career, well below league average. The culprit: a minuscule five-degree launch angle.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: the Rays trade for a former Cleveland hitter who can hit the ball hard, but needs to add more loft to his swing. Add in that he’s a right-handed hitter who is defensively limited to the corners and they acquired him before his age-27 season, and it would be hard to distinguish this move from when the Rays traded for Yandy Díaz. By many measures, the Yandy experiment has worked out. He has held a respectable .266 batting average in three seasons with Tampa Bay, and averaged about 17 home runs per 600 plate appearances during that stretch. Considering that Ramirez has shown more power prior to his arrival than Yandy did, perhaps he can attain an even higher level of success.
The Meadows Are Always Greener On The Other Side
There have been several recent changes that portend increased playing time for Ramirez to showcase what he can do. The Rays just traded away lineup stalwart Austin Meadows, opening up about 600 plate appearances in one of the league’s premier lineups. There has been a lot of chatter that Harold would be deployed as the small side of a platoon, but with this news, I think he is primed to be given a significantly longer leash. Yes, he has a very good .275 career batting average against lefty pitching, but he also has a .270 batting average against righties. The Rays also recently started him at first base, hinting that he could eat into Ji-Man Choi’s playing time against righties, who only hit .245 with the platoon advantage last season.
Ramirez has an extremely wide range of outcomes as a result of uncertain performance and playing for a team that makes it impossible to predict his playing time. If he is able to get the ball in the air more while maintaining his batting average and lack of platoon splits, then he will force the Rays to keep him in the lineup. It’s far from a certainty, but a .270 average with 22-25 home runs while rotating between DH, first base, and left field across 550 plate appearances is well within his range of outcomes. Even if he only sticks as a small side part-time player, that’s the price of admission anyway, so you can use him with the same strategy as Tampa Bay and get a .280 average with 13-15 home runs in 350 plate appearances. Either way, he will add value as a reliable reserve player in almost any scoring format.
Taj Bradley, Age: 21, Position: SP, Level: AA
Analysis by: Sam Wirsching
With so many good prospects in Tampa Bay’s farm system to write about, I picked someone who will be a household name by the end of the season, but is not yet. Up and comers like Vidal Brujan, Shane Baz, and Josh Lowe have all had a lot of press written about them and so I wanted to highlight a different prospect. In an organization that has more “next guy up” players than anyone else in the MLB I wanted to talk about Taj Bradley.
What Taj did during his Covid Vacation
Physically Taj does not stand out. He isn’t too big/tall and he isn’t too short/small coming in at 6’2” & 200 pounds. However, look closer. What this doesn’t tell you is that Bradley thinks he weighed around 230 pounds coming into the 2020 season. And while he lost precious instruction as a prospect that year, he did not lose development. He felt like he wasn’t in the shape he needed to be so he got to work. Doing what he could at home until players were cleared to continue playing, he made sure that he stayed in shape and kept a routine… and his body responded. Once he got back into team activities he continued to work as coaches remarked how well he responded to instruction. It didn’t hurt that the extra work added a few mph to his low 90’s fastball heading into 2021.
Last year, best year
Taj had a couple of rookie ball years under his belt, but few expected him to take the steps forward that he did in 2021. His line for the whole season over two levels: 12-3 win-loss record, a 1.83 ERA, 0.93 WHIP with 123:31 K:BB in 103 innings pitched. That line gets you noticed as evidenced by the recognition he received. He was named the Rays pitching prospect of the the year by MLB pipeline and was the Top Starting pitcher in the 2021 MiLBy awards. For Taj the future is bright.
Next Rays Ace?
As a starter he has steadily developed for the Rays. He already had a fastball and a cutter but struggled to get lefties out in Low-A this past year. A coach suggested he work on developing his changeup. Taj practiced it everywhere and by the end of the season he had shaved over 100 points off his batting average against left-handed hitters. This is echoed not only all over his profile, but also by those that follow Rays prospects. Taj just keeps getting better as he goes. Stronger, more athletic, faster… he just seems to not accept mentally that he is supposed to stay where he is.
When looking at why someone is performing better we look for real signs. Tangible differences that we can hang our hats on. With Taj it is very clear why things are they way they are. Better conditioning? Check. Better pitch mix? Check. Better velocity on his fastball? Check. Dynasty Target? No doubt. My advice? Get him before he is untouchable (like fellow Rays Shane Baz and Shane McClanahan).