The Rays announced that they’ve recalled right-hander Taj Bradley from Triple-A Durham and optioned fellow righty Zack Burdi to Durham in his place. It’s already Bradley’s third recall of the season, but Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the top pitching prospect is expected to be installed in the rotation in a more permanent fashion moving forward. Manager Kevin Cash tells Topkin that the Rays “view him as one of our better options to go forward with.”
The 22-year-old Bradley, one of the most highly regarded pitching prospects in all of baseball, has made three starts in his debut campaign at the MLB level. In that time, he’s tossed 15 1/3 innings and held opponents to six runs (3.52 ERA) on 12 hits and two walks with an impressive 23 punchouts. He’s fanned 38.3% of his opponents against just a 3.3% walk rate in that tiny sample and averaged a hearty 96.4 mph on his heater.
Things haven’t been quite as rosy in the upper minors this season. Bradley made three starts following his most recent demotion and was tagged for an ugly 16 runs in nine innings during that stretch, although the bulk of the damage against him came in one nightmarish outing that saw Bradley yield eight runs in a single inning of work. That sour stretch won’t impact his chance to carve out a long-term spot in the team’s rotation, however.
Even if Bradley remains in the rotation from this point forth, he’ll finish out the season with 146 days of Major League service time, leaving him shy of a full year. A top-two finish in Rookie of the Year voting could still supersede that accrual of service time and award Bradley a full year of service, as agreed upon under the 2022-26 collective bargaining agreement. Failing that, he’s on track to reach Super Two status and be eligible for arbitration four times rather than the standard three — the first of which would fall after the 2024 season. As things currently stand, Bradley would be controllable through the 2029 season (again, pending Rookie of the Year voting or future optional assignments).
The Rays have one of the most talented pitching staffs in all of baseball but have been hit hard by injury, even dating back to the 2022 season, when prized prospect Shane Baz underwent Tommy John surgery. Early in the 2023 season, left-hander Jeffrey Springs looked to be taking his game to an even higher level after a breakout 2022 showing, but he made just three starts before requiring Tommy John surgery as well. The Rays also lost righty Drew Rasmussen to a forearm strain that’ll keep him out for at least two months.
Tyler Glasnow, meanwhile, missed the majority of the 2022 season while rehabbing from a Tommy John procedure and has yet to pitch in 2023 due to an oblique strain. He’s expected to return on May 26, per Topkin. That’d align Glasnow and Bradley in the rotation alongside Shane McClanahan, Zach Eflin and Josh Fleming, provided all can stay healthy.
Right-handers Yonny Chirinos and Cooper Criswell provide some depth beyond that group, but the swath of injuries is putting even the perennially pitching-rich Rays to the test. Another notable injury or two would leave the organization in a tougher spot. Tampa Bay has plenty of intriguing arms on the farm (e.g. Mason Montgomery, Cole Wilcox), but the majority of their most highly regarded pitchers beyond Bradley are a bit further down the ladder. Former top prospect Luis Patino has been moved from the rotation to the bullpen in Durham and struggled in both roles. The Rays have looked into stretching out righty Calvin Faucher, but his longest outing to date was 2 2/3 innings — back on April 15. He hasn’t pitched more than two innings in an appearance since. Of course, the team pioneered the usage of openers and is no stranger to bullpen games; that tactic is always an alternative but does take a toll on the staff over the long term.
For now, the hope will be for Bradley to stabilize one spot on the starting staff and for Glasnow to return in roughly a week’s time. From a bigger-picture standpoint, Bradley will look to follow in McClanahan’s shoes as the next homegrown rotation star from a Rays organization that routinely churns out high-quality pitchers (both draftees and trade acquisitions alike).