Over time, the Tampa Bay Rays have frequently dipped into the International Signing Pool of players, often being among the highest spending teams in baseball.
For the Tampa Bay Rays, accumulating money to spend on international talent is critical. Almost required to stay competitive among baseball’s best teams. They’ve succeeded with some, failed with a few, and wait for several to move up the ranks. But, one that they didn’t sign and ended up trading for might be one of the best.
Shortstop Lucius Fox came to the Rays in the trade that also brought Matt Duffy from the San Francisco Giants for Matt Moore. Fox was a 2015 International elite prospect out of the Bahamas. The Giants spent a whopping $6 million to ink the 18 year old. According to bleacherreport.com, the Giants scouting report had him assessed this way:
"One of the most intriguing prospects on the market, Fox is an interesting combination of speed, athleticism, a projectable body and age. …Some consider [him] a five-tool player and the best overall athlete in the class. He’s advanced. On defense, Fox is a sure-handed fielder with quick actions, and he has a strong enough arm to keep him at shortstop."
If you circle back to the Matt Moore and Matt Duffy trade, Fox appears to be the Willy Adames of the trade. Just turning 21 last month, Fox has made his way to the Montgomery Biscuits, currently battling with a .238/.290/.286 slash line. While his bat hasn’t lived up to the first promise, his speed has been there, swiping 81 bases in his young career.
The Rest of the 2015 International Pool
I mention Lucius Fox and his track to the Rays and their farm system only to compare his signing and progress to a few of the other names in that same pool. If you look at the rankings of this class, as displayed by mlb.com, there are some elite names. First on the eye-popping list for me is Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto. In 2015, mlb.com had him listed as the 25th best signing, costing the Nationals $1.5 in pool money. Three years later, he has exploded on to the scene with 15 home runs and a .290 batting average, making some in Washington feel not so bad that Bryce Harper is in his walk season.
After Soto, the 2015 class doesn’t fall off. Perhaps baseball’s best prospect today is Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Then, he was the 7th ranked prospect, also behind Fox. He has quickly ascended the Toronto Blue Jays’ minor league system, priming himself for a possible September callup this season. At 19, he would match Juan Soto as among the youngest players in baseball.
We can’t stop there. Also part of this class was Fernando Tatis Jr, another player with great baseball bloodlines. There are some who place him ahead of even Guerrero in talent, but his season was cut short with a thumb injury.
The Tampa Bay Rays didn’t play a big part in this particular season’s international signings. While they wait and see on Lucius Fox, they may have their own elite signing on the way with 2017 prospect Wander Franco. But, at 17, we will need to wait for two more years to reach Soto and Guerrero status.