Tampa Bay Rays: Three Questions Following the Blake Snell Trade

HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 05: Blake Snell #4 of the Tampa Bay Rays wipes his face in the dug out after he was relieved in the fourth inning of Game 2 of the ALDS against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on October 05, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 05: Blake Snell #4 of the Tampa Bay Rays wipes his face in the dug out after he was relieved in the fourth inning of Game 2 of the ALDS against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on October 05, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /
facebooktwitterreddit
Prev
3 of 4
Next
San Diego Padres
(Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images) /

Three questions following the Blake Snell trade

Have the Rays filled their catching void?

Coming into the 2020-21 offseason, the biggest void to fill for the Tampa Bay Rays was their catching. Mike Zunino was a free agent, and the Rays made it clear he was not their catcher of the future. After slashing a lowly .147/.236/.360 in 2020, all signs pointed to the Rays moving on from the 29-year old veteran. His all-or-nothing approach didn’t appear to fit into their future roadmap.

The team declined his $4.5 million option for 2021, making him an unrestricted free agent. However, they were able to get him to agree to a cheaper one-year/$2 million dollar deal, with a $1 million buyout option for 2022, where he can make up to $7 million based on incentives.

The Rays likely retained him because of his defensive prowess and rapport with the current pitching staff. However, the Rays still have a clear long-term void to fill at catcher.

Can Francisco Mejia be that guy?

It appears the Tampa Bay Rays are betting on that, but it will be an uphill battle for the once-top prospect. Mejia started his career with the Cleveland Indians, and quickly established himself as one of the top catching prospects in all of baseball. He was then traded to San Diego as the centerpiece in the deal that sent Brad Hand and Adam Cimber to Cleveland. In San Diego, he was looked at as their catcher of the future.

However, Mejia failed to establish himself as top talent he flashed in the minors. While his switch-hitting bat showed great potential in 2019, his defensive deficiencies became very apparent. Despite that, he was still given the chance to seize control of the catcher position in 2020, but got off to a horrid start, and eventually took the back seat to Austin Hedges, and later Austin Nola and Jason Castro.

As a result, the Padres were content with offloading their once-coveted catching prospect. Despite his slow start to his career, it’s unfair to label Mejia as a bust. He gets a fresh start in Tampa with a chance to see significant at-bats. Mejia still has elite hitting potential, and being a switch hitter makes him very intriguing at the still-young age of 24.

It’s possible Mejia could turn into a great player for the Rays. They do have a knack for squeezing every bit of potential out of their young talent. However, his future might not be at catcher. Through his brief MLB career as a catcher, Mejia has struggled to call games, throw batters out at a high rate, and block balls in the dirt. That is a recipe for disaster, and unless the Rays believe they can fix his catching, they may be better suited to try him at other positions to be able to tap into his elite hitting potential.

The Tampa Bay Rays also acquired Blake Hunt in the Snell trade, another catching prospect, but one who has yet to play at a level higher than Low-A ball. There are still plenty of other veteran free agents on the market, but if the Mejia project doesn’t go as planned, the Rays could still be looking for their catcher of the future for years to come.