The MLB draft starts Thursday night, and while the slower development track makes it a less popular event than in other sports, it's an incredibly big deal for the Rays, what executive VP Andrew Friedman often calls the "lifeblood" of their efforts to be successful. The Rays will have two first-round picks, their own at No. 21 and the 29th as compensation for losing B.J. Upton to the Braves.
A ranking of the Rays' first picks in their 17 drafts, based on whom they took, whom (with the benefit of hindsight) they could have had instead and how it worked out:
Year (No.) Player Could've had …
1. 2006 (3) 3B Evan Longoria LHP Clayton Kershaw, RHP Tim Lincecum
Hard to imagine — as long as he's healthy — working out any better, a cornerstone player.
2. 2007 (1) LHP David Price C Matt Wieters, OF Jason Heyward
Obvious choice has obviously been good, though length of Rays career might be shorter.
3. 2002 (2) CF B.J. Upton RHP Zack Greinke, 1B Prince Fielder
Frontline impact player for parts of 9 seasons, and they got a 1st-round pick when he left.
4. 2003 (1) OF Delmon Young 2B Rickie Weeks, OF Nick Markakis
Didn't do much as a Ray, but trade return (Bartlett/Garza, then for them) was significant.
5. 2000 (6) OF Rocco Baldelli 2B Chase Utley, RHP Adam Wainwright
Hard to assign any blame given unforeseen medical issues that derailed All-Star career.
6. 2004 (4) RHP Jeff Niemann RHP Jered Weaver, INF Dustin Pedroia
Injuries a major detriment, and not totally surprising given size, college background.
7. 2011 (24) RHP Taylor Guerrieri OF Jackie Bradley Jr., RHP Robert Stephenson
Early returns have been good up to Class A, future projections tremendous as future ace.
8. 2008 (1) INF Tim Beckham C Buster Posey, INF Brett Lawrie
Eventually will play in majors, but not with close to Posey's impact, and at a key position.
9. 2012 (25) 3B Richie Shaffer RHP Lance McCullers, C Clint Coulter
Hard to assess this so soon, but playing well at advanced Class A Charlotte is a good sign.
10. 2010 (17) OF Josh Sale OF Christian Yelich, RHP Taijuan Walker
Bad play, two suspensions in 1st 3 years raise question if he'll be more than spare change.
11. 2009 (30) OF LeVon Washington OF Jason Kipnis, OF Billy Hamilton
Didn't sign Washington, doesn't look like they got much with comp pick (J. O'Conner).
12. 1998 (132) 1B Josh Pressley 3B Matt Holliday, LHP Javier Lopez
Bigger issue: Losing 1st 3 picks for signing FAs R. Hernandez, W. Alvarez, D. Martinez.
13. 1997 (31) RHP Jason Standridge LHP Randy Wolf, RHP Aaron Cook
At end of round thanks to MLB, went "best athlete" route, got 0-5, 6.38 for it.
14. 1996 (29) OF Paul Wilder SS Jimmy Rollins, OF Jacque Jones
Took a swing at potential big-time power with first ever pick — and missed badly.
15. 2005 (8) RHP Wade Townsend OF Andrew McCutchen, OF Jacoby Ellsbury
Cost-saving decision cost them for years given his play and the quality of impact options.
16. 2001 (3) RHP Dewon Brazelton 1B Mark Teixeira, 3B David Wright
Had a chance at several legit impact players but went cheap and paid heavy price; 8 wins.
17. 1999 (1) OF Josh Hamilton RHP Josh Beckett, LHP Barry Zito
He was the right pick, but drug issues resulted in very wrong outcome.
Current Rays by round
1: David Price* (1st overall, 2007); Evan Longoria (3rd, 2006); Cesar Ramos (35th, 2005, Padres); Jeff Niemann* (4th, 2004); James Loney (19th, 2002, Dodgers); Kelly Johnson (38th, 2000, Braves); Jamey Wright (28th, 1993, Rockies)
2: Yunel Escobar, 2005 (Braves)
3: Sean Rodriguez, 2003 (Angels)
4: Alex Cobb, 2006; Jeremy Hellickson, 2005
5: Chris Archer, 2006 (Indians); Jake McGee, 2004
6: Ben Zobrist, 2004
8: Matt Moore, 2007
9: Luke Scott, 2001 (Indians)
10: Desmond Jennings, 2006; Sam Fuld, 2004 (Cubs)
12: Matt Joyce, 2005 (Tigers)
14: Jose Molina, 1993 (Cubs)
17: Brandon Gomes, 2007 (Padres)
18: Ryan Roberts, 2003 (Blue Jays)
47: Kyle Farnsworth, 1994 (Cubs)
Not subject to draft: Roberto Hernandez, Jose Lobaton, Juan Carlos Oviedo*, Joel Peralta, Fernando Rodney, Alex Torres
* On disabled list
Past as precedent
Here are some of the best previous picks at the 21st and 29th spots:
Hitting on 21
Five of the best No. 21 overall picks:
1974 RHP Rick Sutcliffe, Dodgers
1993 C Jason Varitek, Twins
1969 SS Gorman Thomas, Seattle Pilots
1996 RHP Jake Westbrook, Rockies
2007 C J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays
Familiar face: Jason Tyner, 1998, Mets
The 29 skidoo
Five of the best No. 29 overall picks:
1971 SS George Brett, Royals
2000 RHP Adam Wainwright, Braves
1972 C Ellis Valentine, Expos
2003 OF Carlos Quentin, D'backs
1977 OF Kevin Bass, Brewers
Familiar face: Paul Wilder, 1996, Rays
3B Evan Longoria (right), an admitted foodie and aspiring cook, is thinking of starting a blog on his "eating adventures" around the league cities, providing kind of a personal restaurant guide. … OF Wil Myers dropped from fourth to seventh in Keith Law's espn.com's updated ranking of the game's top 25 prospects and RHP Taylor Guerrieri moved up from 47 to 25. … The Rays did not request any uniform changes for next season by MLB's May 31 deadline, meaning another year without "Tampa Bay" on the road uniforms. … There will be another Bark in the Park event June 16, along with a dog/cat food drive to benefit the Pet Pal Animal Shelter.
Got a minute? Jake McGee
Best meal you can make?
Probably potato pancakes
Band you'd like to be on stage with?
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Dumb and Dumber