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In celebration of Black History Month, throughout February, teams across Minor League Baseball are taking a look back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club.
While some of these standout performers went onto long and illustrious Major League careers, others simply had great Minor League careers or, in some cases, just one incredible season that went down as “a year for the ages.”
Here is a look at five of the best Black baseball players ever to suit up for the Bowling Green Hot Rods.
The first overall selection of the 2008 MLB Draft, Tim Beckham joined the Hot Rods in 2009, as part of the inaugural team. In his first full season, the 19 year old held his own.
Not only the holder of the Hot Rods’ first hit, but also the first home run, Beckham batted .275 with 33 doubles, four triples, five home runs and 63 RBI in 125 games for Bowling Green and quickly worked his way up to making his Major League debut with the Rays in 2013. In his Major League career, Beckham batted .249 with 75 doubles, 63 home runs, 198 RBI and 402 hits in 472 games for the Rays, Orioles, and Mariners.
Beckham was a South Atlantic League Mid-and-Post-Season All-Star with the Hot Rods in 2009 while also representing the Rays as part of Team USA in 2011 during the Futures Game at MLB All-Star Weekend.
Andrew Toles joined the Rays organization after being taken in the third round of the 2012 MLB Draft.
After getting his feet wet in affiliated baseball that season, Toles joined the Hot Rods for his first full-season of baseball in 2013. All he did was hit. In 121 games that season, Toles hit .326 with 169 hits, 35 doubles, 16 triples, two home runs, and 57 RBI, while also adding 62 stolen bases. Toles made his Major League debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016, and played with the team for parts of three season before stepping away from baseball. In his Major League career, Toles hit .286 with 66 hits, 14 doubles, one triple, eight home runs, and 35 RBI.
Toles’ name is all over the record books here in Bowling Green, where his .326 batting average in 2013 is the best for a batter with 300+ plate appearances in team history, as are his 169 hits during that season. His 62 stolen bases are the most in Hot Rods history, 19 more than second (Vidal Brujan). Toles also has the single-season mark in total bases with 242, at-bats (519), and triples (16). He also ranks in the top-10 in doubles (35), plate appearances (552), Runs (79), and slugging percentage (.466). Due to his tremendous 2013 campaign, Toles was named a Midwest League Mid-and-Post-Season All-Star, a Topps Class-A All-Star, a MiLB.com Organization All-Star, and the Rays’ Minor League Player of the Year.
Steve Roberts/Bowling Green Hot Rods
The Rays acquired Williams in a 2014 trade that sent Jeremy Hellickson to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The following season, Williams joined the Hot Rods, manning right field.
Even though he only spent two-thirds of the season with the Hot Rods, Williams quickly proved why the Rays acquired him. Williams hit .284 with 25 doubles, two triples, seven home runs, and 42 RBI in 99 games before being promoted to High-A Port Charlotte.
Williams made his Major League debut with the Rays in 2018, before being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. Across parts of three seasons with the two clubs, Williams has hit .160 with four home runs and 11 RBI in 55 career games.
Steve Roberts/Bowling Green Hot Rods
Selected 22nd overall out of UNC-Wilmington in the 2019 MLB Draft, Greg Jones wowed during his 2021 season with the Hot Rods.
The speedy switch-hitter only played 56 games with the club, but it was 56 games of highlights and energy. Jones hit .291 with seven doubles, four triples, 13 home runs, and 38 RBI, while also swiping 27 bases. Despite his August 10th promotion, Jones finished the season tied for the third most steals in the High-A East. Perhaps the most memorable moment of his Hot Rods career, Jones hit an 11th inning, walk-off grand slam to beat the Asheville Tourists 7-3, a home run that was capitalized by an emphatic bat flip.
Jones was promoted to Montgomery midway through the 2021 season, but the future is bright for the young phenom. MLB Pipeline has Jones as the Rays 5th overall prospect, whereas Baseball America has him as the Rays 6th overall prospect, Jones has the talent to be a bonafide Major League Baseball player for years to come.
During his 2021 season, Jones was an MiLB.com Organizational All-Star, as well as being named the Tampa Bay Rays Minor League Baserunner of the year.
Gunnar Word/Bowling Green Hot Rods
One of the youngest players in the 2018 MLB Draft, the Rays selected Bradley in the 5th round out of Redan High School in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
Even though he was promoted from Charleston to the Hot Rods on August 3rd of 2021, the 20-year-old right hander was dominant. With the Hot Rods, Bradley posted a 1.96 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings, picking up three wins in his eight starts with the club.
But it’s what Bradley did across both levels that is even more impressive. Posting a 1.83 overall ERA with 123 strikeouts in 103 1/3 total innings for Charleston and Bowling Green. His ERA was the lowest among all Minor Leaguers to complete at least 100 innings in 2021, while his .180 opponent’s batting average ranked sixth among all pitchers in that group.
Taj Bradley is the ace of the Minors.
The Rays prospect wins the Top Starting Pitcher MiLBY!
— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) November 9, 2021
MLB Pipeline has Bradley as the Rays 6th overall prospect, whereas Baseball America has him as the ranked 56 on their list of Top 100 Prospects, in addition to listing him as the Rays 4th overall prospect. Bradley has proven with his arsenal of pitches that he is a force to be reckoned with.
After the 2021 season, Bradley was named a Baseball America Minor League All-Star, an MiLB.com Organizational All-Star, and won a MiLBY for Top Starting Pitcher.