Rays hope to change fortunes in draft

The Rays have whiffed lately, for many reasons.

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Published June 5 2013
Updated June 6 2013

Shut out so far

Of the 253 players the Rays have drafted and the 167 they have signed over the past five years, none have played for them in the majors. A look at where their top three picks are from each year:

INF Tim Beckham-hHitting .278 in 3rd season at Durham
LHP Kyle Lobstein-hRule 5 draftee, traded to DET (for minor-league C Curt Casali)
C Jake Jefferies-cTraded to MIA (for Burke Badenhop), now at AAA
2B LeVon Washington-hDid not sign
SS Kenny Diekroeger-hDid not sign
OF Todd Glaesmann-h2012 player of year, now at AA
OF Josh Sale-hSuspended for 2nd time (conduct, performance enhancing drugs)
C Justin O'Conner-hHitting .235 at Bowling Green
OF Drew Vettleson-hHitting .253 at Charlotte
RHP Taylor Guerrieri-h3-2, 3.14 at Bowling Green
OF Mike Mahtook-cHitting .240 at Montgomery
SS Jake Hager-hHitting .284, All-Star at Charlotte
3B Richie Shaffer-cHitting .250 at Charlotte
SS Spencer Edwards-hHit .188 at GCL in 2012
CF Andrew Toles-cHitting .317 at Bowling Green

Key: c — college pick; h — high school; Durham — AAA; Montgomery — AA; Charlotte — advanced Class A; Bowling Green — A; Hudson Valley — short-season A; Princeton — rookie-level; GCL — Gulf Coast League, rookie level


Mocked up

The Rays have their own pick at No. 21 and a compensation pick for the loss of B.J. Upton at No. 29, plus the 60th pick. Here are the latest mock draft projections from the experts:

Jim Callis, Baseball America:

21: OF Phillip Ervin, Samford

29: OF Austin Wilson, Stanford

Jonathan Mayo, mlb.com:

21: C Nick Ciuffo, Lexington (S.C.) HS

29: RHP Phil Bickford, Oaks Christian (Cal.) HS

Keith Law, ESPN:

21: C Nick Ciuffo, Lexington (S.C.) HS

29: SS Hunter Dozier, Stephen F. Austin State


Rays officials are quite open about how vital the annual draft, which gets under way tonight, is to their long-term success. • "The draft," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said, "is everything for us." • But over the past five years, they haven't gotten anything out of it. • None of the 253 players the Rays have drafted since 2008 have made it to the majors to play for them (and only one for another club), and they, amazingly, are the only team without a big-league product from their past five drafts. • "I don't lose sleep over it, but we do keep score," scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "Trust me, we're competitors. Just like scouts are judged by 'Who'd you sign?', your drafts are judged by 'Who are the big-leaguers?' And from '08 through '12, there are no big-leaguers."

While the Rays insist there eventually will be a valuable return, a leading draft expert does not see it that way.

"Their 20011-12 drafts are still very much open books, but looking at 2008-10, there's only a handful of guys you can even think, 'Okay, these guys might be with the Rays some day,' " said Jim Callis, executive editor of Baseball America. "I can kind of look at those drafts and say, 'You know what, those weren't very good.' "

So how did that happen. How did an organization generally revered for its work in scouting and player development come up so empty?

There are, it appears, several reasons:

• They have made some bad decisions, none more prominent than choosing Tim Beckham over 2012 NL MVP Buster Posey with the No. 1 overall pick in 2008.

• They take a more conservative approach than other teams in promoting players through their minor-league system, and draft a significant number of high school players, who take longer anyway, so it takes longer to see results.

• As victims of their own on-field success, they have had fewer top players available to them by picking in the bottom half of the draft since 2009 (though they also have had an extra 13 high-round compensation picks).

• Several picks, such as Beckham and Justin O'Conner, inexplicably did not develop as well as expected, not just by the Rays but by others.

• A few draftees, such as Josh Sale, have had off-field issues and suspensions that slowed their tracks. Some got hurt. Several, including their top two picks in 2009, were not signed. Three, all taken in the third round or higher, have been traded.

"Kind of a little bit of everything," Callis said.

But also a factor is the Rays' philosophy for using their top picks.

Rather than looking to fill a positional need (or to avoid a surplus), which could create a clearer path to majors, and rather than seeking out players who are closer to the majors and can move quickly through the system but have only limited value, the Rays draft looking for big-league stars.

"We stack them up by which guys we think have the chance to have the greatest impact at the major-league level," Harrison said.

It is a strategy, in baseball parlance, akin to always looking for the home run. They may pass on surer bets to get to the majors in lesser roles, which they feel they can get elsewhere, in favor of higher-upside prospects who they hope are future All-Stars.

But that doesn't look to have worked out too well, either.

Beckham is their best prospect from the 2008-10 drafts, and he might be no more than a big-league utility player. From the five-year haul, and acknowledging it's early to judge many of the 2011-12 picks, Callis said right-hander Taylor Guerrieri, their top 2011 pick (and No. 3 on the BA list), is the only potential impact player.

And that, he said, is more concerning than having only the one player in the majors thus far: 2010 pick Derek Dietrich, who — having been traded this past offseason to acquire starting shortstop Yunel Escobar — was recently called up by the stripped-down Marlins.

"The part that is dangerous from the Rays' perspective is that they obviously are a team that has to build from within, they can't go out and sign big free agents, and I look at those five drafts and really outside of Guerrieri, there's nobody who screams at you, this guy is going to be a middle-of-the-order All-Star or an up-the-middle All-Star or is going to pitch in the No. 1 or 2 slot in the rotation," Callis said.

Harrison said he has never been told to make "safer" picks — and to do so would imply taking "lesser" players — but acknowledged they may need to tweak their approach from the fourth round down, "maybe taking a few more guys that are proven college commodities" who can move more quickly to the majors or the trade market.

But overall, Friedman said the Rays remain confident in their process, one which they seek to improve on every year.

"This is far more of an art than a science," he said. "It's incredibly difficult when you're picking 17- to 21-year-old kids, and all that can go on along the way.

"It's a really tough gig."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]