Trying to project what kind of players the 17- to 21-year-olds they draft each year eventually will turn into is a difficult enough experience for executives of the Rays and other teams.
Estimating what their bodies will look like in a few years, how they will adjust to the higher level of competition and speed of the game, how much baseball smarts they have are all factors.
But they also have to guess what kind of people they will be — how they will handle the freedom and the money and the entitlement that comes with being pro ballplayers.
With the draft starting Thursday, the Rays have to look back only to last week, when they sent home and indefinitely suspended their 2010 first pick, outfielder Josh Sale, for his latest transgression — an inappropriate, demeaning Facebook post about a strip club visit. That came after he was just reinstated from a 50-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
The Rays instruct their scouts to put as much emphasis on evaluating a player's character as his tools and skills.
"They know the speech by heart almost — I drill these guys all the time about getting to know players," scouting director R.J. Harrison said.
"But I've always believed … you do everything you can on these kids, but you really don't know what you have until they have to go out there, they go away from home, they get out there and they have to do it every day.
"Some of them are going to make good decisions, and some of them are going to make not-so-good decisions. And that's what you get when you are dealing with young men and in an environment like this. We do a pretty good job."
Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said character evaluation is a key factor.
"It's something that is very important in our process," Friedman said. "We talk about it a lot. We try to break up onfield makeup and off-the-field makeup. I think oftentimes they get lumped together as people will interchange them. It's something that is critical to how we've done things in the past and will continue to be."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]