The Rays say they don't know yet whom they will take with the first overall pick of the June 5-6 draft.
But they do know that after picking in the top eight for 10 straight seasons, and first overall four times (and now twice in a row), they hope not to be in this position, which is based on having the worst record, again any time soon.
"We're certainly looking forward to picking in the 20s," executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "While we're at 1-1, our focus is on adding another premium player to our system. But hopefully this is the last time we have this pick for a long time."
Unlike last year, when LHP David Price was their obvious choice all along, the Rays are keeping open minds. Their list is down to five, though there are more than three weeks for things to change:
• Pedro Alvarez, the Vanderbilt slugger who could play first, third or the corner outfield but is already rumored to be seeking more than $8-million.
• Tim Beckham, the Georgia high school shortstop Baseball America considers the top overall prospect.
• Brian Matusz, a left-handed pitcher from San Diego Baseball America calls "the surest of the sure things."
• Buster Posey, Florida State's hard-hitting catcher.
• Kyle Skipworth, a fast-rising left-handed-hitting high school catcher from Riverside, Calif.
The Rays have scouted all extensively and met with each for in-depth conversations, with character as important as talent. As they get closer, they'll discuss contract parameters to explore a predraft agreement to get their pick playing quickly. (They will also at least keep talking about two others: Missouri RHP Aaron Crow and Fresno State RHP Tanner Scheppers.)
With the abundance of accumulated young talent, there could be a temptation to draft to fill a need at or close to the big-league level (leading to the considerable speculation about Posey).
But Friedman and scouting director R.J. Harrison say that would be exactly the wrong way to approach things. "That's how you get in trouble," Harrison said. "Taking a guy because he can help you real quick is the wrong reason to take a player." (Similarly, they say they won't not take a player because his position is currently filled.)
In theory, they'll take the cliched "best player available." In reality, what they're hoping to do, Harrison said, is take the player "who has an impact on the major-league club sooner than later, and for a long time."
St. Louis is considered one of the best, if not the best, baseball cities in America. With the Rays headed there for the first time this week, we asked TV analyst Joe Magrane, who played for the Cardinals and lived in St. Louis for 10 years, to explain why:
"The thing that immediately comes to mind is the tradition. I was made aware of it very early that if you were going to wear a Cardinal uniform, you better have boned up on their history and knowing the players that have come before you. There are Cardinal fans from 8 to 80, and all interwoven. It really is a love affair between the players, the community and the fans.
"In 1988, I think it was the last three games of the season, we were playing the Cubs in St. Louis and we were both well out of it, and all three games drew 55,000 fans to see a meaningless game. They're all in the sea of red, and the Cub fans travel well. It just really is a sense of community. Players that maybe had difficulty connecting in other cities are warmly embraced.
"That's one of the reasons that most of the players, even the guys from California, live in St. Louis in the offseason, and in the neighborhoods. Some in the same neighborhoods as fans do, almost like the Brooklyn Dodgers used to. It was just accepted that in the middle of the winter you were going to have kids knocking on your door asking for autographs.
"We may draw from Tampa, St. Pete and Orlando, but Cardinal fans are coming from 6-8 hours away. They plan their weekend around making the trip. And much of that has to do with KMOX, that flame-throwing radio station with a signal that reached left and right of the Mississippi, and beyond.
"It's all about sports in St. Louis, and it's Cardinals first. Football has Green Bay, and I think baseball has St. Louis — just communities that have a great love affair with their team."
They've been (almost) everywhere, man
With this week's trip to St. Louis, the Rays will have been to every major-league city but two, Milwaukee and Los Angeles. Where they've been and how they've done:
City Games W-L
New York 92 27-65
Baltimore 88 36-52
Toronto 88 35-53
Boston 87 23-64
Anaheim 48 13-35
Seattle 48 20-28
Arlington 48 16-32
Minneapolis 45 16-29
Oakland 45 10-35
Chicago 40 14-26
Cleveland 32 12-30
Detroit 37 19-18
Kansas City 38 18-20
Miami 29 9-20
Philadelphia 9 6-3
Atlanta 6 4-2
Denver 6 1-5
Montreal 6 2-4
Phoenix 6 4-2
Cincinnati 3 0-3
Houston 3 0-3
Pittsburgh 3 1-2
San Diego 3 3-0
San Francisco 31-2
Washington 3 1-2
Got a minute? | Troy Percival
Best meal you can make?
Just a regular old redneck burrito: ground beef, cheese, beans and onions and a little avocado.
Band you'd like to be on stage with?
I've already done it, George Strait. He was in Arizona, and I was kind of backstage.
Skill you have people don't know about?
I install car stereos and restore old cars.
Actor or actress you can't miss?
Clint Eastwood (left) and Samuel L. Jackson are two of my favorites, and Al Pacino, too.
Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan writes that if the Rays maintain their marked defensive improvement, "it's going to make Andrew Friedman the executive of the year in any book." … Cliff Floyd is back, and Ben Zobrist will be soon (with Andy Cannizaro going). But it's hard to see how INF Willy Aybar fits back in. … C Dioner Navarro on Thursday became the 13th big-leaguer in history to hit a grand slam in the 13th inning of a game. … Troy Percival's first big-league roommate in 1995 was Angels (and former Rays) pitching coach Mike Butcher. … The Rays dropped from sixth to ninth in SI.com's power rankings and to 12th on ESPN. … James Shields is the first American League pitcher since the Blue Jays' Dave Stieb in 1988 to throw two complete games, of fewer than 100 pitches and two or fewer hits allowed, in a season. … ESPN's Buster Olney said Carl Crawford's catch Friday night is already guaranteed to be one of the season's 10 best.
Magrane's hot spots
Mike Shannon's: A great steak place, and you'll often see players from both the Cardinals and the visiting team there.
The Hill: About 10 minutes from downtown, it's all Little Italy, where Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola grew up.
Chesterfield: About a half-hour west of downtown, with a lot of new restaurants, and it's kind of the destination place of St. Louis now.
J. Buck's: Joe Buck's place in Clayton.