The Rays have a lot of decisions to make over the next few weeks — whom to play more or less, get rid of, call up — that could shape the rest of this season.
But they have a very big one coming up in about a month that, done right, could significantly impact their team for the next dozen years — with the No. 4 pick in the June 12 draft.
The Rays earned the right with last year's dismal season to be in such prime position, their highest pick since taking, yep, Tim Beckham first overall in 2008. And they are doing everything they can to maximize what they hope is a rare opportunity.
"Complete honesty — we're excited, and we're anxious," scouting director Rob Metzler said. "A lot of preparation has gone into it. June 12 will be the culmination of two to three years' work on most of the players."
Given the voluminous reports, you might think with just four weeks to go the Rays would be ready to start winnowing their list considerably, focusing on just a top half-dozen or so and go into babysitting mode given that high schoolers are headed to playoffs and college kids winding down regular-season play.
Actually, Metzler said, they are determined to not yet do so.
"At this stage we've done everything we can to try not to jump to conclusions to say these are our four guys we're trying to decide between," Metzler said, "because I think we're much more likely to make a mistake where we pull off a guy and say he's not a candidate too early as opposed to staying open-minded, keeping our guys out there evaluating, keeping them looking at the players from all perspectives and then dialing it back at the end and saying, Okay, these are the guys we think are the best bets."
The footwork is done by 17 area scouts and four regional supervisors, with national cross-checker Chuck Ricci, senior adviser (and former scouting director) R.J. Harrison, special assistant Bobby Heck and Metzler filtering it. Top officials, including senior vice presidents Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander and baseball operations president Matt Silverman, also take looks.
But there is more involved than just watching them play.
The Rays do extensive background work on the players (including friends and family), have their analytics departments make assessments, conduct psychological profiles and, as they trim the list, arrange old-fashioned face-to-face meetings to get a better sense.
The analytical work, especially on the high school kids, tends to be comparative rather than projecting pro performance, Metzler said: "It's more, these are a similar pod of players with these tools grades and this type of ability and how did that group pan out."
That data, and the results of the psychological profiles, which most teams do in some form, provide what Metzler called "completely unbiased" reference points.
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Noting the extensive resources they get from ownership and management, Metzler said they need to know everything they can about the final candidates, especially since they will be in line for a $6.15 million bonus.
"I don't like surprises," he said. "And I don't think I'm unique."
Realistically, Metzler said they will probably lock in on their top choices once they get within two weeks, knowing ultimately it will depend on what the Twins, Reds and Padres do ahead of them.
One thing they won't do, Metzler said, is draft for major-league need, no matter what temptation there could be to, oh, say, take a college pitcher who could jump right into their bullpen.
"What we're looking for is the most impactful major-league player over the course of a career," he said. "Whether that player has the opportunity to come up and help us within two-three years or it's a younger player and it's four-five-six years, when we look back at the draft 10 years from now we wanted to have selected who was the most meaningful big-league player."
While the focus is on the first pick, the Rays have additional opportunity with Nos. 31 and 40 as well. So there's lots of work still to do.
The top 10 prospects
(Per Baseball America)
|1. RHP/SS Hunter Greene||Calif. HS|
|2. LHP/1B Brendan McKay||Louisville|
|3. RHP Kyle Wright||Vanderbilt|
|4. LHP MacKenzie Gore||N.C. HS|
|5. SS/OF Royce Lewis||Calif. HS|
|6. RHP JB Bukauskas||North Carolina|
|7. 1B Pavin Smith||Virginia|
|8. OF Jordon Adell||Ky. HS|
|9. OF Austin Beck||N.C. HS|
|10. RHP Alex Faedo||Florida|
What the experts say
• John Manuel, Baseball America: "Draft is very cloudy at the top" due to rumors of below-slot deals, so Rays "may have a chance" at top talents such as Hunter Greene, Brendan McKay, Kyle Wright. … No evidence Rays will depart from "tendency" toward prep players, cites links to LHP MacKenzie Gore, OF Austin Beck, SS Royce Lewis. … Given Rays' history and industry trends, says college players, specifically hitters, "have provided more value at the top of the draft," wonders if Rays will go along.
• Jim Callis, MLB Pipeline: Says with "a clear top four or five prospects" Rays are positioned to get one. … Expects McKay and Greene to "definitely" be gone, leaving Rays "probably" picking from among Wright, Gore, Lewis. … Says "one of the pitchers would make the most sense," with Wright quickest to majors but Gore "the best talent in the draft."
Some things we think we know
• With SS Matt Duffy potentially returning during the next homestand, the Rays might look to keep both Tim Beckham and Daniel Robertson. They could use one (whoever is better) at first base vs. lefties and ditch Rickie Weeks, or put Beckham in left vs. lefties and dump Peter Bourjos, easier to do now that they have Colby Rasmus as centerfield depth.
• The bullpen shuffle continued Saturday with hard-throwing RHP Ryne Stanek, who hasn't allowed a walk or a run in his past eight outings, getting promoted from Triple A.
CF Kevin Kiermaier might return immediately to being Kevin Kiermaier, but the question might be if he already has lost the chance for another Gold Glove after making three errors, and a couple of other misplays, on the last homestand. … There's a new pingpong table in the Rays clubhouse courtesy of the Killerspin company, a top-of-the-line all-white Revolution Bianco model that, by the way, retails for $4,499. … Interesting plan by the A's, selling a $19.99 pass that allows fans to go to all games in a month, seats assigned upon entry. Would that work for the Rays? … RHP Chris Archer obviously was not suspended for throwing behind Toronto's Jose Bautista on April 30, but MLB, per policy, wouldn't announce if he was fined. … Best wishes to world traveler Nate Leet, who resigned last week in his 14th season as team massage therapist. … Trading Class A RHP Bryan Bonnell to Seattle for $321,100 in international bonus-pool money was a hedge against exceeding their limit with a few minor signings before the new July 2 period. … The Braves are moving closer to finalizing a deal for a new spring facility in North Port, near the Rays' Port Charlotte base. … Total attendance for the four games vs. the Royals was 41,407. Wednesday's 9,320 was the smallest gathering at the Trop since Sept. 29, 2015, and indicates the season ticket base is in the 8,000s, if not lower. … Trading Archer to the Cubs topped a foxsports.com list of deals "that should happen immediately." … Former Rays (and nine other teams) reliever Jamey Wright was at the Trop last week, joining the Excel agency that repped him.