Prospects traded by the Rays don’t have the best track record, and they let Jayden Murray go for marginal contributor Jose Siri, which doesn’t inspire a ton of initial confidence. It might have been a minor misfire on Tampa’s part, though, as Murray was Rule 5 eligible and the club didn’t feel comfortable protecting him after an up and down 2022 campaign. The Astros similarly didn’t have room for him on the 40 man and decided to roll the dice, and, somewhat surprisingly, he went unpicked. It’s fair to wonder whether or not the Rays would’ve let him go so easily had they known ahead of time that they could’ve snuck him through.
A Utah native, Murray was signed by the Rays out of Dixie State for $3,000 in the 23rd round of the 2019 draft. It became obvious pretty early on that they had found some serious value- after posting a 3.78 ERA, 92 strikeouts and 18 walks in 83 innings during the college season, he threw 40 more frames across the Appalachian and New York-Penn leagues, totaling 47 strikeouts against just 8 walks en route to a 2.45 ERA. The lost 2020 season interrupted his rise, but he went straight to High-A after the layoff and continued his strong performance, limiting opposing lineups to a 1.72 ERA despite a lower K rate, with 53 in 57.2 innings before a midseason promotion to Double-A, where he was arguably even better with a 2.82 ERA, 43 Ks and just 7 walks in 38 frames.
Returning to Double-A in 2022, Murray’s numbers backslid a bit, as he threw less strikes and missed less bats, though his run prevention ability held up. While not disastrous, his so-so performance moved him down the Rays’ pecking order a bit, leading to the deadline deal. His post-trade performance with Corpus Christi was similar to what he had shown in Montgomery, and as mentioned above he was left off the 40-man ahead of the Rule 5, in which he went unpicked. He was however invited to big league camp, where he has gotten some early action in Grapefruit League play, throwing a pair of two-inning outings in which he has struck out three batters against a single walk with no hits or runs allowed.
In Murray’s pro career to date, he has shown as many as five different pitches, assuming fastball variations qualify- four and two seamers, a changeup, a cutter, and his best weapon, a sweeper with big horizontal break. The fastball velocity is strong - typically between 93-95 historically, and while the changeup is vanilla, Murray has a knack for landing it to right spots, allowing it to play up a bit, particularly to lefties. This spring, Murray’s velocity has been at the top end of his historical range, sitting close to 95 MPH, and, interestingly, he has used the two seam almost exclusively.
His fastball doesn’t have especially whiff-inducing movement characteristics by major league standards, but leaning on the two seam feels like a good choice, as it sports healthy arm side run that plays well with the big glove side movement on his slider. We’re unlikely to see Murray in Houston especially early in the season, but velo gains and a more focused fastball mix could put him on the short list for a call-up as either a bulk reliever or spot starter- his location is consistently excellent, so he makes most sense in a role that highlights that strength rather than one that asks him to sell out for stuff quality at the expense of other traits. With the last few pitcher slots on the 26 man still up in the air as of now, Murray is a name to watch closely in spring and the early minor league season.