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Can Tampa Bay Rays make quantity of picks in MLB draft count?

It is the possibilities that entice. Just the thought of the record number of picks the Rays have in the early rounds of tonight's draft.

Ten selections among the first 60! Twelve in the first 89! The numbers are unprecedented, and the potential is mind-bending.

But the reality is the Rays would be better off with Arizona's draft.

The Diamondbacks might have only four of the first 63 selections, but among them are the Nos. 3 and 7 picks. Tampa Bay's first selection isn't until No. 24.

And when it comes to the baseball draft, more isn't always better. Sometimes, it's just more.

This isn't like the NFL draft where first-round picks are practically guarantees, and second- and third-round selections are typically counted on for production.

In baseball, almost half of the second-round picks fail to make it to the majors, and usually only three or four have any kind of impact.

Even first-round picks are iffy in baseball, but your odds increase substantially if you're selecting one of the first five players in the draft.

Look at it this way:

From 1996 to 2007, the Rays had 19 picks from Nos. 24 to 89. More than half failed to reach the big leagues or made just brief appearances. There was one star in the bunch (Carl Crawford) and two (Wade Davis and Reid Brignac) with some potential.

During that same time, the Rays had six picks from Nos. 1 to 5. Half are All-Stars (Josh Hamilton, Evan Longoria and David Price), and two others (B.J. Upton and Delmon Young) should have long big-league careers.

So even with three times as many picks in the second- and third-round range, the Rays got far more production out of their handful of early picks.

That doesn't mean the Rays aren't in good shape tonight. It just suggests they were in better shape in 2006-08 when they drafted in the top three every season.

"What we have right now is opportunities," Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "That's all this is, is opportunity."

Basically, it is an opportunity to take horrible odds and make them a little more palatable.

If there is roughly a 1-in-10 chance of finding a quality big-leaguer in the second round, the Rays will increase their chances with every extra pick.

So instead of being lucky to get one productive player out of the first few rounds, the Rays might have a chance to get three. And if they draft exceptionally well, perhaps four.

"That would be phenomenal based on historical precedence," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "As we sort of looked at that, it was pretty sobering, so we stopped (looking).

"For us, it's been more about how can we improve our process, how can we potentially shift the odds a little bit more."

Perhaps that means taking more risks. Such as a prep player who is leaning toward college. Or an athlete supposedly more interested in football. Or a problem child.

The Rays have done that in the past with a lot of misses (Doug Johnson, Kenny Kelly, Elijah Dukes, Kenneth Diekroeger) and one tremendous success (Crawford).

It's not like there aren't jewels to be found in the second or third rounds.

Barry Bonds was the 39th pick in the draft. Tony Gwynn was No. 58, Barry Larkin was No. 51, and Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine went in the same draft at Nos. 31 and 47.

But those are the anomalies. The more typical names are Paul Wilder, Doug Johnson, Chris Flinn and Chris Mason. Those are all Tampa Bay picks in the first three rounds that never made it to the majors.

"We're prospectors, when you get right down to it," Harrison said. "What we're really trying to do is find the best prospects. The guys with the best tools, equipment, body types that, if everything goes right, will have the best chance to get to the big leagues.

"But all they are right now is prospects. And the more prospects you have, the better chance you have of getting big-leaguers."

And that explains why the baseball draft lasts 50 rounds. Franchises need to fill their minor-league systems, but they also need that many picks just to find a handful of quality prospects. That, for instance, is how the Rays ended up with Jeremy Hellickson (fourth round), John Jaso (12th round) and James Shields (16th round).

"As we go through this, when we postmortem the draft, if we feel really good about how we approached it, and wouldn't change anything on that front, it's a success. It's a good draft," Friedman said. "So hopefully with that process, a good outcome will result.

"And we won't know that for years to come, but when you look at the draft historically starting at No. 24, it's not great."

No, but by stockpiling picks, the Rays have better odds than any defending division champ in big-league history.

.Fast facts

Rays picks

First round

No. 24 (from Red Sox for Crawford)

No. 31 (from Yankees for Soriano)

No. 32 (original pick)

Compensation round

No. 38 (for Soriano)

No. 41 (for Crawford)

No. 42 (for Balfour, who signed w/A's)

No. 52 (for Hawpe, who signed w/Padres)

No. 56 (for Benoit, who signed w/Tigers)

No. 59 (for Choate, who signed w/Marlins)

No. 60 (for Qualls, who signed w/Padres)

Second round

No. 75 (from A's for Balfour)

No. 89 (original pick)

Can Tampa Bay Rays make quantity of picks in MLB draft count? 06/05/11 [Last modified: Sunday, June 5, 2011 10:29pm]
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