Prospect season in review: Rays’ Edwards
MiLB.com's Prospect Season in Review series spotlights players who shined brightest during the 2021 campaign. Here's a look at third-ranked Rays prospect Xavier Edwards. For more player journeys on The Road to The Show, click here. It was an interesting beginning to Xavier Edwards’ tenure with the Rays. But by
MiLB.com's Prospect Season in Review series spotlights players who shined brightest during the 2021 campaign. Here's a look at third-ranked Rays prospect Xavier Edwards. For more player journeys on The Road to The Show, click here.
It was an interesting beginning to Xavier Edwards’ tenure with the Rays. But by the end of his first season with Double-A Montgomery, it was clear why senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager Erik Neander viewed the speedy infielder as a "potential long-term, building block, impact-type piece."
Edwards had an exceptional season with the Biscuits that resulted in both a selection to the Futures Game in July and a Postseason All-Star nod as the league’s top second baseman. He batted .302/.377/.368 overall with 19 steals, 40 runs scored and a 0.86 walk-to-strikeout ratio. But he had a lot to navigate to get things going with the new organization.
The 22-year-old landed with Tampa Bay not long after being drafted by the Padres, one of his new club’s favorite trade partners, with the No. 38 overall pick in 2018. He unexpectedly first found out through Twitter that he’d be included in the Dec. 2019 deal -- which sent outfielder Tommy Pham to San Diego and drew the ire of some Major League veterans.
Edwards had a very brief opportunity to further endear himself to the organization last spring. He collected hits in each of his two Grapefruit League at-bats, but then the pandemic shut down the rest of camp and the Minor League season. He was able to participate in alternate training site activity and, in August, was added to the player pool before the Rays made a run to the pennant.
Upon his return this year, the No. 70 overall prospect had another terrific spring with six hits in 19 at-bats (.316) and four RBIs. But on the penultimate day of camp, Edwards suffered an oblique injury that pushed his regular season debut with the organization back to June 8.
“It was a frustrating time just being [at Port Charlotte] and not knowing what to expect,” he said in a July interview on the Biscuits Bytes podcast. “But I'm happy that I finally got healthy, and I was just doing what I can.”
What probably should have been expected is that Edwards would do exactly what he’s done throughout his career.
With incredible bat-to-ball skills and 70-grade speed, the Mineola, New York native is an archetypal lead-off hitter. His 162 total hits across two different levels in 2019 were more than all but two other players in the Minors, and he continued to fit that profile in 2021.
“I kind of just take pride in not striking out,” he said on the podcast. “I think the more I put the ball in play, the better chance we have of me getting on base and me scoring runs and our team winning, ultimately. Just a lot of positive things that can happen from something as simple as putting the ball in play.
“I try to just keep it as simple as I can. It's already a hard game in and of itself.”
He was true to form over the first 24 games of the season, batting .347 with 34 hits, 14 walks and four steals in nine tries. Edwards then made a hectic trip to the Futures Game, where he played behind top Rays prospect Shane Baz and went hitless in his lone at-bat following a pretty adventurous excursion to Coors Field.
But he really wasn’t himself after the game in Denver as he hit .223 in the next 41 games through August. His strikeout rate sat at 13.9 percent over that span, which would count as the highest mark in his career over a full season.
Although it doesn’t happen very often, Edwards has a philosophy for breaking out of a slump that he says came from his father, Jovon, a former Minor Leaguer who played in the Dodgers, Mariners and Mets systems in the '80s.
“You're always just one hit away,” he said on the podcast. “I know what kind of player I can be, and as long as I bring that out, nothing else really matters.”
Whatever Edwards was looking for, he found it in September.
The Rays’ third-ranked prospect had 23 hits in 54 at-bats (.426) over the final 14 games of the regular season. He followed that up with an incredible performance in the Double-A South championship against Mississippi, where he batted .450 in 20 at-bats and hit a grand slam in Game 3 -- just his second professional homer.
Montgomery was not able to win the best-of-5 series, which would have resulted in a clean sweep by Rays affiliates across all full-season championships. But Edwards proved to at least be ready for the highest level of the Minors.
There wasn’t much power to speak of for the 5-foot-10, 175-pound infielder this season, although he did tally three triples and 13 doubles. But that clearly isn’t a vital tool for him to develop.
The switch-hitter also produced from both sides of the plate with Montgomery. A natural right-handed batter, he hit .296 from the left side and .328 against southpaws in 175 fewer at-bats. But throughout his career, he’s actually hit for a better average against right-handed pitching.
Edwards is part of a deep pool of incredibly talented middle infielders that have little to no Major League experience, including the former top prospect turned rookie sensation, Wander Franco, and the game’s No. 21 overall prospect in Vidal Brujan. But he has the speed and athleticism to provide some versatility on the infield -- a trait that was put to the test in Montgomery.
For the first time since being drafted, Edwards did not play a single game at shortstop, which had been his natural position coming out of a Florida prep school and in his first year of Rookie ball in 2018. He started to play more second base the following year and seems to have moved to the position full-time while also getting his first professional experience at the hot corner.
Edwards played 55 games at second base and 22 games at third, committing a total of four errors in more than 225 chances.
It’s unlikely that he’ll never line up at shortstop again, but the Rays seem to have other plans for him at the moment. Either way, he’ll likely be part of a spectacularly deep group of ballplayers who will help the club that finished with the best record in the American League this season sustain its success for years to come.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.