Top Rays pitching prospect Cole Wilcox underwent Tommy John surgery on Wednesday this week, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter link). That’ll quite likely wipe out his entire 2022 campaign.
Wilcox, 22, came to the Rays as one of the key young pieces in the trade that sent lefty Blake Snell to San Diego. He was a third-round pick, selected No. 80 overall, just last summer — although that draft placement is somewhat misleading. Wilcox, a draft-eligible sophomore last summer, was widely viewed as a first-round talent but slipped down the draft board due to signability concerns. The Friars gave him a $3.3MM signing bonus — a record number for a third-round selection.
The Padres added Wilcox to their 60-man player pool last year and let him work out with at their alternate site over the course of the summer, but last year’s nixed minor league season meant that the former Georgia Bulldogs righty didn’t make his professional debut until this year with the Rays’ Class-A affiliate. Wilcox looked every bit like a first-round talent when cruising through A-ball lineups. In 44 1/3 innings, he pitched to a 2.03 ERA with an impressive 29.9 percent strikeout rate and an incredibly low 2.9 percent walk rate.
Wilcox only recently turned 22, so he’ll still be just 23 years of age when he returns to the mound — presumably early in the 2023 campaign. Obviously, it’s not ideal for a promising young pitcher to effectively lose two seasons of development (2020 and 2022, in this case), but Wilcox has age on his side. Assuming he’s able to pitch a mostly full season in 2023, he’ll likely be added to Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster in the 2023-24 offseason, as he’d otherwise be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft that winter.
Even with Wilcox sidelined next season, the Rays have an impressive crop of rising young arms to tap into both in 2022 and in 2023. Luis Patino (also acquired in the Snell deal) and Shane McClanahan have already made an impact at the MLB level, and top prospect Shane Baz likely isn’t too far behind. Right-hander Seth Johnson, like Wilcox, has yet to pitch beyond Class-A, but the 2019 No. 40 overall selection has upped his prospect stock with an outstanding showing in A-ball this season.
Tampa Bay did trade away a pair of nearly MLB-ready arms — Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman — in order to acquire Nelson Cruz, but it seems we can scarcely go a year without a pop-up pitching prospect or two in the Rays’ perennially deep farm system garnering national attention. Recent trades and the loss of Wilcox notwithstanding, the Rays still boast a deep farm system that’ll continue to be ranked among the game’s best.