Gene Sapakoff is the oldest, fastest, hardest-hitting sports journalist in S.C. As columnist at The Post and Courier he covers Clemson, South Carolina and other interesting things. He likes food and has won the prestigious Judson Chapman Award 3 times.

ALCS Astros Rays Baseball (copy)

Former Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell is a fitting example of why the Rays, the major league parent club of the Charleston RiverDogs, have such a good minor league system. Snell was a first-round pick who won a Cy Young Award and helped the Rays reach the World Series, then was traded to San Diego for prospects. file/Gregory Bull/AP 

The New York Yankees have won 27 World Series. That’s more than the next best major league team, the Cardinals (11), plus the Dodgers (7), Reds (5) and Braves (3) combined.

Future Fall Classics through Rays-colored glasses: If Tampa Bay remains elite, wins its first World Series in 2021 and stuns the world by winning one World Series every five seasons while the Yankees opt to permanently sign runner-up contestants from “The Voice” instead of baseball players …

The Rays will match The Bronx Bombers in World Series titles sometime around the year 2156.

And yet the Charleston RiverDogs switching major league affiliates from the Yankees to the Rays for 2021 looks like a good thing. At least for fans who care about what happens on the field.

Of course, most minor league baseball fans care more about products at the concession stand and in the beer garden, per my random survey taken over three decades of coverage across the Carolinas for The Post and Courier and Baseball America.

But Baseball America last week named the Rays baseball’s top minor league organization, and the Yankees are No. 18. Just what you want coming off a 2020 World Series appearance.

Wander Franco, a multi-skilled shortstop likely to reach the big leagues this year at age 20, is a consensus No. 1-overall prospect. He’s on the cover of the Baseball America print edition.

It’s not just Baseball America; eight of the top 100 prospects in the rating for 2021 are in the Tampa Bay system.

The group includes lefty pitchers Brendan McKay (No. 72), who was also a feared slugger at Louisville, and Shane McClanahan (No. 84), a first-round pick who pitched at South Florida for Mark Kingston, now the head coach at South Carolina.

“We know our best chance to have success is to have a large quantity of quality,” Erik Neander, the Rays’ 37-year-old general manager, told The Post and Courier. “We feel like that’s where we’re at but it’s not something where we’re going to get complacent. We’re going to try to increase our talent base no matter how it’s perceived.”

Not Josh Hamilton’s Rays

This is the Rays’ second go-round as a RiverDogs’ parent club, the first of which was 1997-2004. The Rays provided Charleston with top-rated prospects back then, too, including Josh Hamilton, Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, Rocco Baldelli and Delmon Young.

The difference is the Rays were usually picking at or near the top of the draft in those years. A few decades and a baseball analytics boom later, they combine shrewd draft decisions and careful international signings with superior development.

It might not show up on May 4 when the RiverDogs open their Low A East season at The Joe against Myrtle Beach. But it’s a good way to stay competitive in a tough AL East neighborhood that includes the big-spending Yankees and Red Sox, surging Toronto and rebuilding Baltimore.

The Rays, after all, are currently 26th among the 30 MLB teams in payroll.

In 2020, they were tied (with Oakland) for 19th in local television revenue.

Sure beats the Brewers

It’s hard to say which highly-regarded Rays prospects will play in Charleston in 2021; the new minor league calendar that pushed start dates back a month to the first week of May makes mid-March roster handicapping harder.


• Right-handed pitcher Nick Bitsko, the Rays’ 2020 first-round draft pick (24th overall) out of Central Bucks East High School in Doylestown, Pa.

• Right-hander Cole Wilcox, a former Georgia Bulldogs pitcher acquired from the Padres in December as part of the trade that sent former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell to San Diego.

• Alejandro Pie, a 19-year-old shortstop who is 6-4 and improving.

RiverDogs fans won’t necessarily see the best of Tampa Bay’s Charleston players in Rays uniforms. Neander and Co. have a good habit of trading and packaging prospects for high-value, low-cost major league help.

Even if they weren’t so inclined, the Rays have so much minor league talent — so many position logjams — that deals are necessary.

The Brewers, Athletics and Nationals (No. 28, 29 and 30 in the Baseball America minor league organization rankings) should have such problems.

“Drafting well, signing well, developing well — those are critical components to our success,” Neander said. “So is trading well. We are a high-volume transaction team and there’s deals that have played out well for us, others have not but that’s another source of talent that fits us well for a myriad of reasons.”

Charleston baseball fans who miss the Yankees can look at it this way: At least some of those shiny Rays prospects sent to Riley Park probably will eventually end up making big money in pinstripes.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff