Rays Tales: A struggle to develop position-player stars

Infielder Richie Shaffer is the 26th position player the Rays have drafted in 20 years to reach the majors.
Infielder Richie Shaffer is the 26th position player the Rays have drafted in 20 years to reach the majors.
Published Aug. 9, 2015

Richie Shaffer last week joined an exclusive club — more exclusive than you'd think — when he became just the 26th position player in 20 years to be drafted, signed and developed by the Rays and debut in the majors with them.

The Rays expect great things, of course, from Shaffer, who was their top pick in the 2012 draft. And if he pans out as projected, he will be part of an even smaller group, as of that 26 the Rays have produced only two homegrown All-Star position players, OF Carl Crawford and 3B Evan Longoria.

Among the other two dozen that made it to the majors, only a few could loosely be considered impact players — Aubrey Huff (as much for what he did after leaving the Rays), B.J. Upton, Rocco Baldelli (in a career shortened by illness).

Add in John Jaso (who also did most of his best work elsewhere), Desmond Jennings and Kevin Kiermaier and those eight are only such Rays with a career wins above replacement — a statistical calculation that assigns a value to all players — of 8.00 or better.

Another way to measure: Only 17 of the 26 played, or thus far have played, more than 100 games in the majors.

The Rays have done better drafting and developing pitchers (though only David Price, James Shields, Jason Hammel and Alex Cobb are above 8.0 in WAR), and that surplus has allowed them to make trades to fill holes.

But given their stated dependence on the draft, and a core philosophy to focus on high-ceiling players who can make an impact, their hit rate on position players is remarkably low and contributes to their need to constantly churn the roster.

There are another eight players, headlined of course by OF Josh Hamilton, whom the Rays drafted and at least started to develop but then either traded, released or otherwise parted ways with and went on to make the majors elsewhere.

And there are the ones who got away, such as OF Jacoby Ellsbury, players the Rays drafted but for various reasons — and not always their fault — they didn't sign. Also in that group: Ike Davis, Ryan Raburn, Luke Scott (whom they had later), Jason Michaels.

The Rays crop

Here are the 26 position players drafted, developed and debuted by the Rays, ranked by career WAR, and with number of games played (through Friday), All-Stars in bold:

Draft (round) Player, pos. WAR* G

2006 (1) Evan Longoria, 3B 42.8 (1067)

1999 (2) Carl Crawford, OF 39.7 (1644)

1998 (5) Aubrey Huff, 1B/3B 20.2 (1681)

2002 (1) B.J. Upton, INF/OF 13.6 (1275)

2006 (10) Desmond Jennings, OF 11.7 (492)

2000 (1) Rocco Baldelli, OF 10.2 (519)

2003 (12) John Jaso, C 9.3 (506)

2010 (31) Kevin Kiermaier, OF 8.2 (214)

1997 (9) Toby Hall, C 4.8 (686)

1999 (17) Matt Diaz, OF 3.7 (736)

2007 (12) Stephen Vogt, C/1B 3.7 (251)

2001 (18) Jonny Gomes, OF 3.3 (1176)

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Want more than just the box score?

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2003 (1) Delmon Young, OF 2.6 (1118)

1996 (16) Jared Sandberg, 3B 2.2 (196)

2001 (32) Joey Gathright, OF 2.2 (452)

2002 (3) Elijah Dukes, OF 1.9 (240)

2008 (1) Tim Beckham, SS 0.4 (57)

2004 (7) Fernando Perez, OF 0.3 (41)

2010 (3) Ryan Brett, INF 0.1 (3)

2011 (1) Mikie Mahtook, OF 0.1 (14)

2012 (1) Richie Shaffer, 1B/3B— (3)

1997(2) Kenny Kelly, OF -0.1 (26)

2000 (24) Shawn Riggans, C -0.1 (64)

2001 (9) Fernando Cortez, INF -0.2 (16)

1997 (23) Paul Hoover, C -0.4 (40)

2004 (2) Reid Brignac, SS -0.4 (356)

Ones that got away

Position players drafted and signed by the Rays but who were traded, released or otherwise debuted elsewhere, also ranked by WAR:

Draft (round) Player, pos WAR* G

1999 (1) Josh Hamilton, OF 27.9 (1010)

1996 (5) Alex Sanchez, OF* 1.1 (427)

2010 (2) Derek Dietrich, INF 0.5 (151)

2002 (2) Jason Pridie, OF 0.5 (127)

2000 (30) Edgar Gonzalez, INF 0.2 (193)

2006 (5) Shawn O'Malley, INF 0.0 (11)

2004 (8) John Rhyne Hughes, 1B -0.1 (14)

2002 (4) Wes Bankston, 1B -0.5 (17)

* Came back to Rays as a free agent

Short stops

• More than a few players were disappointed with their bosses' actions at the trade deadline, both for not adding and for trading away veteran RHP Kevin Jepsen (to the Twins) and OF David DeJesus (to the Angels) for prospects, and especially to teams the Rays might be battling for a playoff spot. Relievers Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee made their point by getting a blowup doll that they dressed in Jepsen's No. 40 uniform, added an image of his face and kept it in the clubhouse in Chicago. Several Rays posed for pictures with the doll and sent them to Jepsen.

• The switch to a more aggressive offensive approach was not a repudiation of the front office's long-standing philosophy of grinding out at-bats to run up pitch counts but a collaborative decision between the field and executive staffs to try something different, spawning from a discussion about Steven Souza Jr.

Rays rumblings

Pitching coach Jim Hickey — who would be a hot commodity as a free agent — is signed for next season, as is most of the staff except for 1B coach Rocco Baldelli, who opted for a one-year deal in his first stint. … TV postgame analyst Orestes Destrade has received some feelers about managing in Japan, where he starred for several seasons, and has hired an agent specifically to explore those options. … RHP Chris Archer is featured on the cover of Baseball America's upcoming Best Tools issue. … LHP David Price described his Rogers Centre Blue Jays debut as "hands down the best atmosphere I've ever pitched in," surpassing, among others, Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS at the Trop. … For what it's worth, just-called-up prospect Richie Shaffer has the same agent (Relativity's Mark Pieper) as Archer, who signed a long-term deal going into his first full season. … The Rays bullpen crew did Shaffer a solid, returning his first hit/homer ball without demanding any "ransom" in return. … Did the Phillies not anticipate the train wreck a Twitter chat with Pat Burrell (also an ex-Ray) would become given a string of questions from fans about his, um, prowess off the field? … Friday was the 16th anniversary of Wade Boggs' 3,000th hit. … The waiver claim on OF Daniel Nava cost the Rays $20,000. … Don't expect the Rays to have much interest in reacquiring LHP Alex Torres, who was designated for assignment last week by the Mets.