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New blood hopes to change Rays' fortunes in draft

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 23: Blake Snell #4 of the Tampa Bay Rays delivers a pitch in the second inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on April 23, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. Blake Snell #4 of the Tampa Bay Rays made his Major League debut today. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) 607676249
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 23: Blake Snell #4 of the Tampa Bay Rays delivers a pitch in the second inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on April 23, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. Blake Snell #4 of the Tampa Bay Rays made his Major League debut today. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) 607676249
Published Jun. 8, 2016

PHOENIX — The importance of the annual draft is obvious looking around the Chase Field visitors' clubhouse, as only seven of the current 25 active players were selected and signed by the Rays, and two of those are replacing injured players acquired from elsewhere.

Similarly, in perusing a list of their top prospects, where five of mlb.com's current top 13 were acquired in trades.

Like Andrew Friedman before him, baseball operations president Matt Silverman says the draft is vital to the Rays' success, perhaps more so than for any other team.

There just are times when they haven't been very good at it.

"We've been able through some trades to stock the system, and we've also been able to generate some really good players through the draft," Silverman said. "But there are those years when we have misses at the top end, and those are very costly. For us to maintain success, we need to be able to have a number of picks at the top of the draft and then to be successful with those picks."

They will try again starting Thursday, with the No. 13 pick then three more in the top 90.

Silverman's reference to having "a number of picks at the top end" is a not-so-veiled shot at the draft process, of which the Rays have been open critics. They would like to see lower-revenue/smaller-market teams be awarded more high-round picks and are hoping the new collective bargaining agreement is more accommodating.

But no matter what the rules are, the Rays have to do better.

In the eight drafts starting with their selection of Tim Beckham first overall in 2008, they have had very little, thus far anyway, to show, apart from 2010 31st-round surprise Kevin Kiermaier, a couple trade residuals and the promise of some young arms led by Blake Snell.

Their process, anyway, will be different this year as the draft is now in the hands of Rob Metzler. He took over in July as director of amateur scouting, replacing R.J. Harrison, who, after leading the previous 10 drafts, was bumped up to senior adviser.

Metzler, who turns 36 on Thursday, had been the assistant the previous four years after working his way up from intern. He played at Bowdoin College and spent one year as a college assistant coach but has more of a front office background, including a degree in physics and a Master's in business and sports management.

While he would seem to lean more to the data and video side than Harrison, who came from a scouting background, Metzler said he is striving for a balanced, inclusive approach in their discussions and evaluations.

"I've had experience in all those areas," he said. "I've been in the office poring through spreadsheets with the guys, and I've had the opportunity to spend a lot of time at all of our (scouting) events with our people.

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"Would I consider myself elite in any of those? No. But I think I'm versed in them and can converse and challenge and bring ideas to both and hopefully bring them together to something that really fills a very, very strong board."

Similarly, Metzler said they will try to strike a balance between the high-upside/high-risk approach that had been previously employed, where they sought the player who had the chance to be the best big-leaguer, and a more recent consideration of selecting players with more certainty.

Picking 13th for the second straight year, the Rays don't have much control over who will be available. But since they, like other teams, don't typically draft for need given the lengthy gap until the prep and college players are ready, they can have some good ideas.

"We believe that bringing the best out of all the different parts of the department and all the different perspectives is going to give us the most accurate list," Metzler said.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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