SEATTLE — The numbers are staggering and unprecedented, and that's just the miles flown, reports filed, videos watched and words spoken over the past year in preparation for the largest top-round haul in the 37-year history of baseball's draft.
Tonight, the Rays actually get down to selecting the players who could shape their franchise for a generation, with 10 of the 60 first- and compensation-round picks that will be made today and, with two more in the second round Tuesday, 12 of the first 89.
The Rays say their preparation, which essentially began with the decision to hang on to their potential free agents going into the 2010 season in exchange for the extra picks, hasn't been much different than previous years.
"The difference is we're just going to get more guys," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said.
The Rays will wait anxiously through the first 23 selections then get incredibly busy in a hurry, with 10 of the remaining 37 picks, including three back-to-back selections.
To prep for such a haul, they eliminated a dozen or so players they are certain will be gone well before their first pick, then locked in 75-100 who were possibilities, scouting them extensively and since whittling and ranking them accordingly.
"There's a lot of guys that fit for us this year," scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "I think we've done a really good job of getting a lot of looks at those."
Harrison and their supervising scouts (called cross-checkers) spent more time traveling so they could see more players more often. They used their usual variety of resources, including personality profiling, on-the-scene eye exams and iPad videos, and additional expertise, adding former big-leaguers Rocco Baldelli and Dave Eiland (who most recently was the Yankees' pitching coach) as extra cross-checkers.
The Rays say they won't stray from their usual philosophy of taking the best player available at each pick. That means not drafting by position to fill specific needs because they are likely to change in the 3-5 years it takes most picks to make the majors and seeking the players who can make the biggest impact, not get there the soonest. And they say they have the money, estimated at $12 million to $15 million, to get them all signed.
But with the extra selections, and what is considered one of the deepest and pitching-rich draft pools in recent years, the Rays could gamble on some higher-risk picks or take some players who might be tougher to sign (especially because they would get a corresponding additional pick in 2012 for any that aren't signed).
"They're all risks," Harrison said. "Every one of these amateur kids is a risk, so you don't want to get wild with it, but you do have the opportunity."
By the time they left Tropicana Field on Sunday, Rays officials had the names lined up on their draft board the way they wanted them. Of course, they're not saying, but some names that have come up repeatedly in media projections include Alonso High School right-hander Jose Fernandez, Hawaii second baseman Kolten Wong and California high school pitcher Henry Owens.
"It's a great opportunity for us," Friedman said.