ST. PETERSBURG — Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said the draft is probably more important to them than most teams because of the division they compete in and the resources they have to work with.
And this year's first-year player draft, which begins tonight, will have a different feel. It's not just because Tampa Bay has one first-day pick (No. 25 overall) after boasting a historic 10 last year.
The "new wrinkle," as Friedman calls it, is a signing bonus system implemented through the new collective bargaining agreement, which limits the bonus money teams can pay based on the value of their top 10 picks.
The Rays' top 10 picks are valued at $3.871 million, with the bonus for the top pick $1.725 million. In previous seasons, the Rays would pay up in the later rounds, giving a player a bonus typically associated with a higher pick so they could sign him.
But under the new rules, paying up can cost Tampa Bay a 75 percent tax and loss of a pick.
"I think with the guys that we're most interested in, it's not going to be a problem at all," Friedman said. "The only challenge is that it's going to limit our flexibility late in the draft. We've basically drafted guys normally through the first six-seven-eight rounds and then taken some guys we have interest in later in the draft and basically continue to scour them through the summer and set aside money to be as aggressive as we could on those guys. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out."
Scouting director R.J. Harrison said as a result of the new bonus system, more high school players will decide to go to college and the draft will go back to its roots, where higher picks will be rewarded for being high picks.
"I think there are some interesting dynamics involved," Friedman said. "And until we understand how certain agents are going to handle it, how certain teams are going to handle it, it's difficult to assess whether it'll be a positive or negative."
Regardless of the new rules, the Rays plan on taking the best player available, not necessarily focusing on need.
"You can never have enough of anything," Harrison said.
Harrison said this year's draft isn't as deep as last year's, though it has strong high school pitching prospects as well as high school position players. He said the biggest thing the draft is lacking is left-handed pitching.
"That's the only real big gap that I see," Harrison said.
Friedman said picking at No. 25 is "really, really difficult" because it's hard to predict what teams will do in front of them. Baseball America's mock draft has Tampa Bay selecting Joey Gallo, a third baseman/right-handed pitcher from Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas.
"The randomness of how certain teams value a player vs. another, it's very difficult," Friedman said. "The good news is, if we get 25 names lined up, we're going to get one of them."
When/where: Today-Wednesday, Secaucus, N.J.
TV: MLB Network
Day 1: Round 1 and compensation round A, 7 p.m.