Due to the pandemic and an injury to his oblique, the Rays waited about 18 months before getting to see Xavier Edwards play in their system. But once he got back on the field, the No. 70 overall prospect showed he can be one of the best leadoff hitters in the Minors, batting .302 with a .377 on-base percentage and 19 stolen bases in 79 games for Double-A Montgomery.
The Rays snagged Edwards, who was raised in Wellington, Florida, in a trade that sent Tommy Pham and Jake Cronenworth to San Diego in December 2019.
Edwards looks back on a season full of firsts – being in a new organization at a new level while learning a new position – and recalls the work he put in to get ready for the Rays’ Minor League camp.
MiLB.com: How did everything go this offseason? I know you were able to finish the season healthy.
Edwards: Honestly, I had a really good offseason. A lot of learning and a lot of good work I've done so far. I really can't be more happy with how the offseason has gone. And I feel like I'm ready for a new year.
MiLB.com: Is there anything in particular that you do to get ready for Spring Training now that you've done it a few times? Was there anything you worked on this offseason in particular?
Edwards: You start to learn a couple things -- kind of what to do and what not to do. But for me, it's the same kind of work, it's just as hard. ... You learn each season, each offseason, what to do to get your body ready or your mind ready, and yeah, that's what I've been doing this year. ... Just honing in on certain things in my game, offensive mostly. But other than that, it's been a pretty normal offseason.
MiLB.com: What are the things you're honing in on and how are you doing that work?
Edwards: Without getting too deep into it, basically just how I can effectively drive the baseball. Whether it be getting my bat speed up or hitting the ball ... to the pull side or really anywhere for that matter. That's been a really big focus of mine. Just get bats to the ball to the pull side when I'm hitting and keep doing what I'm doing to be able to use the opposite field too.
MiLB.com: Let's get into your background a little bit -- I see you were born in New York and raised in Florida?
Edwards: I moved to Florida when I was 5. My sister [Jasmine] was an aspiring tennis star. So my parents thought it would be better for her to be down here playing all year round as opposed to trying to play just six months out of the year or when she could. ... And then they knew I would play some sport. It wasn't necessarily baseball at the time. I also grew up playing a lot of tennis, so it seemed like the right move for us and I'm thankful for it.
MiLB.com: Do you still get to play any tennis?
Edwards: I haven't played much tennis. I kind of picked up pickleball instead. A little shorter court, a little easier to pick up the stroke -- when you don't play tennis for a while, it will take a little while to get your feel and your stroke back. In the offseason, I'm not devoting a whole lot of time to tennis, so pickleball is a quick way to have the same kind of fun and still pick up the strokes a lot quicker.
MiLB.com: You were drafted by the Padres and traded to the Rays, who are held in such high regard for the way that they produce and develop players. What was that like finding out you were going to Tampa?
Edwards: It's been a good switch. I didn't really know what to expect going into the trade. I found out from one of my former teammates, Luis Campusano. He actually texted me, and I had no idea. He sent me a screenshot of a tweet that he saw. And it was almost like a trade rumor. But more of like the finalizing side of it. ... So I end up getting a call the next afternoon. ... Both GM's called me and then let me know that the deal was finalized. But it's been good so far, I've had no complaints. I loved my time in San Diego, I loved my time here in Tampa. Both great organizations. Tampa -- it's been a lot of fun to be around the guys here and compete. They're ranked so highly, just like the Padres were because they got a lot of good players. ... So it's been fun to see where you stack up and take the field with a bunch of guys that have the same goal in mind and are supposed to be the same highly touted prospects as they're ranked out to be. It's cool to be around those guys and to have them as teammates too.
MiLB.com: Does it still feel like a homecoming to play in Florida? Has your family been able to see you play more since the trade?
Edwards: Definitely, that's one of the big differences. Spring Training before was like a four-hour flight -- Palm Beach to Georgia to Arizona. ... But here, it's literally a two-and-a-half-hour drive from my house to get to our facility in Port Charlotte. Last spring, I told [my parents] I was playing in the big league game ... so they'd head over there for that day and then head back afterwards. You can't do that when I'm in Arizona. That's not something you can spring on them the day of. ... Our affiliates are close too.
MiLB.com: Let's get into last season. You had some oblique issues at the start of the year but seemed to have gotten through that. This seems to be your profile -- .300 hitter, steal some bases -- how did the year go in your view?
Edwards: I wasn't completely satisfied with my year, but I mean, also, in retrospect, it wasn't a bad year. I would say it was a pretty good year. I learned some things, and it was my first time playing with the Rays even though I've been with them for going like a year and a half at the time and I hadn't played an official game yet. So seeing what that was like with a new organization ... [and] being at the Double-A level for the first time. ... It was a learning experience in the end. I got a lot from it.
MiLB.com: You mentioned before that one of the things you wanted to work on coming out of that year was driving the ball a little bit more. How has that work gone for you and what do you do to improve in that area?
Edwards: A lot of focus on contact point. As you know, I didn't drive the ball that much this past year, but I also don't strike out much. I probably have one of the better strikeout rates in all of Minor League Baseball. So with that, I see the ball really well ... out of the hand. I see the ball deep, which allows me to hit balls the other way and to center field really well. But I wasn't getting to that inside pitch the way I wanted to, or a way that would produce more driven baseballs. So that, for me, has been the main focus this offseason -- getting a contact point more out front. But obviously it's a lot easier said than done. ... That little extra space will allow the bat to move faster, which allows the ball to be hit harder and so on. ... Another focus of mine has been pulling the ball efficiently this offseason. ... I know I can hit, I think that's evident in my numbers. So I'm just trying to add a tool to the toolshed, so that's been a part of the work and the process this offseason, and I can't wait to see how it plays out this year.
MiLB.com: Right, so it's not just about hitting the weight room and packing on muscle -- that's there. You're just finding a way to maximize it?
Edwards: Yeah, absolutely. Obviously having a lot of muscle helps, but I wouldn't say it's my lack of strength was why I wasn't doing that. I can do more, and I've been working on that too.
MiLB.com: Is it a challenge to improve at driving the ball and finding more extra-base hits without losing what you're one of the best at in the Minors -- being a skill leadoff hitter who makes contact and gets on base and doesn't strike out? Is there a push and pull?
Edwards: Yes and no, that's a tough question. ... It is something I've definitely thought about and I've talked to hitting coaches about that same thing. If I add this to what I already do, does it take away a little bit from what I do? ... But I think it's kind of the wrong way of looking at it, because if I can add this to my game and not revert back, I'll have what I already do as a default. So, in the event that I'm not in an opportune time to drive the ball -- like an 0-2 count and not a 2-0 count, I wouldn't be thinking the same thing I'd be thinking 2-0. I wouldn't have that same approach. That's the things I've been bouncing off guys all offseason.
MiLB.com: Defensively, you moved away from your natural position of shortstop entirely last season. How are you feeling at third and second base?
Edwards: Funny you ask because I was just talking about this a few days ago. I was telling them about how I didn't play any short this past year, how the Rays put me at third this past spring and I felt completely lost. I was like, 'Man, I haven't played third base since I was 7 years old on the All-Star team.' And yeah, it's been pretty good. At first, I was a little shaken up about it because I wasn't sure what to expect. Different angle off the bat. ... But when you're at third, you realize, like you're at the side of the ball. So the angle of the ball off the bat is completely different. ... Getting my feet moving was the biggest thing because I didn't know what to expect at first, so my feet would get stuck all the time. But then once I got my feet going and got my feet under me ... I even surprised myself with how well I played third base this past year. So I'm getting a lot more comfortable there. I still do work at short when my name's called upon for that or otherwise it's still good for footwork and getting your body in the right position to field the ball. And then second, of course, I've been playing for the last two-plus years now. And I'm very comfortable over there. As for the future, I don't know. That's not really up to me to say, but I think it's good now that I actually played third. So I can say I can play all three -- second, short or third. ... It adds another tool in the shed, and that's a good thing.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.