For the fourth time in two years, Jon Daniels and Erik Neander agree to make a trade. This time Tampa is sending Nate Lowe, Jake Guenther, and a PTBNL to Texas for prospects Heirberto Hernandez, Oslevis Basabe, and Alexander Ovalles.
Not a splashy move by any stretch of the imagination, but one that makes sense for both sides. Currently, the Rays have depth at first base and left-handed depth at that. For those assuming this means Ji Man Choi is slated for a bulk of the action, that was a safe assessment after the Rays tendered him a contract a little over a week ago. Besides Choi, the Rays have Mike Brosseau, Yandy Diaz, Brandon Lowe, Kevin Padlo, and have even mentioned Yoshi Tsutsugo and Austin Meadows as potential candidates to play first. All of the above are already on the 40 man roster, which made Nate Lowe expendable. The Rays experimented with Nate Lowe playing third base when the team was in a pinch after multiple injuries. After losing 20 lbs in the 2019-2020 offseason he proved to be serviceable, but it was inconsistencies in his bat that seemed to LOWEr him on the totem pole (sorry, I couldn’t help myself there).
Down below you can see @RaysMetrics on Twitter break down those very inconsistencies. Pitchers seemingly figured him out quickly, pitching him up and in where he couldn’t seem to lay off or make solid contact. What he does have going for him is a proven track record in the minor leagues, as well as the fact that a team like Texas, who has struggled at the first base position with a glove-first player like Ronald Guzman, is the perfect fit to give Nate Lowe a legitimate shot at consistent playing time. Reunited with former minor league teammate Nick Solak, the right side of the infield has the ability to do some damage.
A major component of this trade for Tampa, in my eyes, is freeing up a spot on the 40 man roster. Tampa is forced to carry three pitchers on the 40-man until the 60 day IL designation returns (Why MLB doesn’t have an offseason 60 Day IL specifically for Tommy John surgery recipients is beyond me). Those pitchers are Yonny Chirinos, Jalen Beeks, and Colin Poche – not to mention Brendan McKay had labrum surgery and is likely out for most of 2021. With holes on the roster in the starting rotation, catcher, a bench bat, and bullpen help, freeing up room on the 40-man roster was and is a priority. With the Rule 5 draft wrapping up, the limited roster space (and loaded farm system) hurt, as the Rays saw 8 guys nabbed from them.
As for the return for Tampa, the farm system adds another crop of young talented players. Hernandez, who is listed as a C/OF/1B, is the key piece coming back. The 20-year-old was at one point the Rangers number 3 prospect. In two minor league seasons, he’s hit .320 with 23 home runs and 98 RBI’s in 113 games. He’s still likely a few years away from reaching the majors, but if the bat plays, I wouldn’t be surprised if they move him away from catching to speed up his development. Currently, the Rays are in dire need of catching help, but this move, much like many of the Rays’ moves, prioritizes the future. Hernandez was a standout hitter in the 2019 AFL and called “the breakout hitter of the year” in the Rangers farm system. Paired with the Rays’ own Ronaldo Hernandez, they could potentially have two good to great hitting catchers in upcoming seasons.
Basabe is the next most valuable commodity in this trade; he’s shown good bat to ball skills but not much power. Only 20 years old, he joins a plethora of middle infield depth in the Rays farm system, making it potentially hard to stand out. Ovalles is an athletic outfielder, also 20 years old, but he only has a total of 281 minor league plate appearances.
This trade could start a domino effect of other moves for Tampa. With future moves needing to happen (2-3 catchers, perhaps a veteran starter, etc.), Neander could be stockpiling young talent to bolster future trades. Perhaps a trade for Wilson Contreras or Christian Vazquez is in store – your guess is as good as mine.
Expect this to be the first of many trades for Tampa Bay this offseason.
In other Rays news, the team announced it’s Low-A affiliate will no longer be the Charlotte Stone Crabs. Port Charlotte will still be home for the Rays spring training and will host player development camps until the lease ends in 2028. The Florida State League was delegated from Advanced-A to Low-A ball with MLB’s new minor league realignment. Both Florida based MLB teams will no longer have any affiliation with the Florida State League, which seems odd. Tampa will now be partnered with the Charleston Riverdogs for the class A affiliation; they were Tampa’s affiliate team from 1997-2004. With MLB limiting teams to 4 minor league levels, Tampa has also lost Princeton and Hudson Valley as minor league teams.
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