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Rays Tales: Why the draft in the clubhouse is a good thing

Promotions of Brandon Lowe and Nate Lowe a sign Rays are moving right direction, and quickly, with drafted players.
Tampa Bay Rays' Nate Lowe gestures after hitting a double during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Monday, April 29, 2019. It was Lowe's first hit in the major leagues. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Tampa Bay Rays' Nate Lowe gestures after hitting a double during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Monday, April 29, 2019. It was Lowe's first hit in the major leagues. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Published May 4, 2019
Updated May 5, 2019

BALTIMORE — Trades are always going to be big deals for the Rays.

Churning the roster, usually to flip older and more expensive players for younger, cheaper and different ones, has served them well. Getting Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows for Chris Archer is the latest classic example, and has much to do with their success. So, in more of a skills-set swap, was acquiring Yandy Diaz for Jake Bauers from Cleveland.

International signings are another key, though occasionally expensive and often unpredictable, element in assembling their talent pool. Jose Alvarado, Diego Castillo and Yonny Chirinos are good proof of how that can pay off, and Wander Franco may someday (soon?) be the jackpot.

But there’s a third piece to the puzzle the Rays are showing signs of figuring out — drafting, developing and depending upon their own players. Specifically, position players who can make an impact, especially with their bat.

Related: RELATED: How Tyler Glasnow became so good this season

Last August’s promotion of Brandon Lowe and last week’s call-up of Nate Lowe (even if temporary initially) are the start of what they hope will be a steady flow to the majors.

The Rays have done pretty well with pitchers. But going back to the late 2005 launch of the Sternberg regime, the list of homegrown impact position players is pretty much Evan Longoria, Kevin Kiermaier and, maybe, Desmond Jennings. Stephen Vogt, Tim Beckham and Derek Dietrich had some moments after being moved elsewhere.

Otherwise, there’s been a bunch of Mikie Mahtooks, Johnny Fields and Luke Mailes. And those are some of the more productive ones.

The team’s take is that the progress is the product of having better players, that changes made a few years ago in the scouting and drafting process, and better work in player development, on and off the field, has paid off.

“We’re fortunate to have some really talented players that developed nicely,’’ general manager Erik Neander said Friday.

But the players say there seems to be more of a willingness to promote from within, and to be more aggressive in moving them through the system. Both Lowe and Lowe advanced three levels last season, which is definitely an exception to what had been the norm.

Related: ROMANO: If we're going to complain about Rays attendance, let's get the story right

Being taken in the 13th round in 2016 by an organization known for being conservative with promotions, Nate Lowe said being able to hit his way to the majors in less than three years was a pleasant surprise.

“We’ve never won a World Series, so might as well try something different,’’ Lowe, 23, said. “Guys were like, ‘Oh damn, you got picked by the Rays, it’s going to take a while.’ Being able to put it into, 'Well, I can just play better and play my way through it,’ and actually having it work out, was awesome.’’

Even more so coming from where he did.

“For guys who may not be high on prospect list or think highly of themselves, it’s showing the organization is definitely putting more trust into guys playing good baseball rather than just promoting guys based off of prospect or draft status,’’ he said. “So it’s definitely cool for guys that were picked around me or came in my draft class to see that I can do it so they can do it too. Ultimately we’re going to wind up with the best players up here, so it will be ideal.’’

Neander said there has been no major change in philosophy, that “our criteria for promoting players probably isn’t that much different than it’s been historically,’’ that Lowe and Lowe, who were both college players, merited the fast track.

If anything, manager Kevin Cash said, what’s changed is the quality of the players they have to pick from.

“It wasn’t like anybody sat down and said, 'We’re really going to push these guys.’ They pushed themselves,’’ Cash said. “There hasn’t been a change in the mind-set in developing players. …

“Our scouts have recognized good players. Our player development (staff) has done a tremendous job with developing them. And sometimes the pace of that changes dependent on each individual player. We’re fortunate that we feel that we’ve got a lot of good players that are making some decisions for us.’’

Getting drafted players to the majors can have multiple benefits. They’re usually younger, healthier and more athletic. They’re cheaper in those early years, and, besides their signing bonus there is no additional price in trade equity so it’s cost efficient.

And the team knows them the best, with relationships often going back years to area scouts who’ve watch them for years, know their family background, what kind of person they are.

“There’s always a benefit to familiarity with the player,’’ Neander said. “The longer you have a player in the organization the more you get to know them and what’s best for them in their development.’’

Also, the players are more familiar with each other, having been together from the start of their careers, and with the organization’s culture, and given the Rays’ recent run in the minors, a winning mindset.

Getting a drafted and developed player is a cause for congratulations, and some celebration, throughout the organization given how many staffers touch a player along the way, and had a hand in it. Nate Lowe is the first to the big leagues for Rob Metzler since he took over as scouting director after the 2015 draft.

“The players you draft, the players you sign, typically those are the players that the most staff in your organization have touched and influenced somehow, someway,’’ Neander said.

“Across the organization you want to feel like you’re making a difference, you want to feel like you’re contributing toward winning and developing good major league players. Those are the guys that touch the most of our staff and they are able to develop some connection with, and that only increases the amount of pride we have in our team and what they’re doing out there on the field.’’

Rays infielder Brandon Lowe was named American League Rookie of the Month for April.  He's batting .311 with seven home runs and 19 RBI. [Associated Press]
Rays infielder Brandon Lowe was named American League Rookie of the Month for April. He's batting .311 with seven home runs and 19 RBI. [Associated Press]

Brandon Lowe, a 2015 draftee, said there is a kinship that develops among the homegrown players as well.

“Every time we were in the minor leagues and we saw one of our guys get called up , we’re like 'Okay, man, show ‘em what we can do,’ ‘’ said Lowe, 24. “I think that’s something that we take a lot of pride in, to really show that we have a good system.

“We have good players up and down that can come in and make a difference. We don’t need to go and find players from other systems and stuff like that. We can trust what we have. That’s something a lot of us, we want to prove we can be a homegrown player and really produce. …

“You bond pretty quickly in this game, and we’re all really close with Glasnow and Meadows and all the guys that get traded over. But that idea of having been here from the start, that’s pretty cool.’’

Who could be next? Injuries have slowed outfielder Joe McCarthy and pitchers Brent Honeywell and Ian Gibaut. Catcher Nick Ciuffo has been up a couple times and will be back. Outfielder Josh Lowe (Nate’s brother) and pitcher/DH Brendan McKay are tracking well, and infielders Jake Cronenworth and Kean Wong are possibilities.

Short stops

* Starting Thursday, the Rays have three off days in an eight-day stretch and four in 12. After that, two in 48, with a doubleheader along the way. Buckle up.

* The combined success of Glasnow and Meadows with Archer being out again (thumb injury) and a 4-5, 4.31 record overall as a Pirate is making the trade look pretty bad in Pittsburgh right now. Similar in Cleveland with Diaz’s success and Bauers hitting .231 with a .673 OPS.

Rays rumblings

Odds on the Rays winning the World Series improved from 33-1 pre-opening day to 14-1 per betonline.ag; several teams are better, with the Astros 5-1 favorites. … Nate Lowe was the sixth position player from the 2016 draft to reach the majors, with Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, of Tampa, thus far the most successful. … Outfielder Tommy Pham toured the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum during the trip to Kansas City. … It’s not only the first visit by the Yankees this coming weekend, but there’s Game of Thrones events also. ... MLB.com expert Jim Callis’ first mock of the June draft draft has the Rays using the 22nd pick on right-hander Brennan Malone, of the nearby IMG Academy. ... Ex-Rays outfielder Mallex Smith was demoted to Triple-A by the Mariners after hitting .165 with a .502 OPS and a few fielding blunders in 27 games in what manager Scott Servais told reporters was a chance to “restart or reboot his season.’’ … Double-A Montgomery turned the first triple play in the franchise’s 15-year history Kevin Padlo, Tristan Gray and Dalton Kelly going around the horn. … Former Rays minor-league catcher Mike Marjama unexpectedly retired last year at age 28 after being demoted to Seattle’s Triple-A team to spend time helping people with eating disorders like he had, applied recently for reinstatement and was suspended 80 games for using a PED. … ESPN gave the Rays an A+ for April.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.