ST. PETERSBURG — There only a few absolute truths in the Rays’ unorthodox, innovative and way-outside-the-box way of doing their baseball business, and one is the significance and value of the annual draft.
“It’s always been immensely important for us as a franchise given our major-league payroll,’’ said amateur scouting director Rob Metzler.
The year-long cycle culminates this week, as they’ll have three of the first 40 picks, plus No. 61 on Monday’s first day, then the usual one per the rest of the 40 rounds wrapping up Wednesday.
Since restructuring some scouting/drafting processes, procedures and personnel, including putting Metzler in charge, following the 2015 draft, the Rays seem to have done better in getting top picks right, and more potential help from lower rounds.
“We strive to look at history to help us value every perspective and use past drafts, and the outcomes of those players to help us predict how to value each of our different perspectives within a draft,’’ Metzler said. “But it will always be a work in progress trying to improve that, trying to get better at forecasting the future. So it’s really, really challenging.’’
They’ve already gotten 2016 13th-round pick Nate Lowe to the majors, and are pleased with the progress of several other including 2016 top pick Josh Lowe (Nate’s younger brother) at Double-A, top 2017 pick Brendan McKay now pitching and DH-ing at Triple-A, and 2018 selections Matt Liberatore and Shane McClanahan, who are pitching at Class A Bowling Green, and two-way prospect Tanner Dodson at advanced Class A Charlotte. Others worth tracking include pitchers Riley O’Brien and Josh Fleming from 2017 and Joe Ryan from 2018.
Here’s a bit of a look back, and ahead:
Based on who they drafted and signed, and how they did in the majors:
2006: Evan Longoria was an obvious pick; also got Alex Cobb, Desmond Jennings.
2007: David Price was clear 1-1, Matt Moore, Stephen Vogt proved good, too.
1999: Josh Hamilton had his issues, but he and Carl Crawford were a talented 1-2.
2004: Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Jake McGee were three quality pitchers.
2010: Nine signed picks made majors, though only Kevin Kiermaier had impact.
2000: Rocco Baldelli was good, James Shields as a 16th-rounder even better.
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2008: Feels like we’ve been over this Tim Beckham-Buster Posey thing a bit.
2011: Ten of the top 60 picks, just Blake Snell (and his Cy Young) to show for it.
2005: In one of MLB’s best overall classes, they landed only Jeremy Hellickson.
2009: Didn’t sign top two picks, pretty much got nothing from the rest of ‘em.
2012: Missed with Casey Gillaspie first, and got no one of consequence later.
2001: Spelled out pretty clearly that Dewon Brazelton was wrong choice at No. 3.
Past as precedent
This will be the Rays 24th draft, and here are their top picks each year, with baseball-reference.com career wins above replacement (WAR) when applicable:
1996 (No. 29): Outfielder Paul Wilder, didn’t reach majors
1997 (No. 31): Pitcher Jason Standridge: 3-9, 5.50 ERA; -0.7 WAR
1998 (No. 132): First baseman Josh Pressley: Didn’t reach majors
1999 (No. 1) Outfielder Josh Hamilton: .290, 200 HR; 28.3 WAR
2000 (No. 6) Outfielder Rocco Baldelli: .278, 60 HR; 10.2 WAR
2001 (No. 3) Pitcher Dewon Brazelton: 8-25, 6.38; -3.1 WAR
2002 (No. 2) Shortstop B.J. Upton: .243, 164 HR; 16.5 WAR
2003 (No. 1) Outfielder Delmon Young: .283. 109 HR; 2.4 WAR
2004 (No. 4) Pitcher Jeff Niemann: 40-26, 4.08; 4.2 WAR
2005 (No. 8) Pitcher Wade Townsend: Didn’t reach majors
2006 (No. 3) Third baseman Evan Longoria: .266, 283 HR; 52.7 WAR
2007 (No. 1) Pitcher David Price: 145-77, 3.24; 39.3 WAR
2008 (No. 1) Shortstop Tim Beckham: .253, 59 HR; 6.0 WAR
2009 (No. 30) Second baseman Levon Washington: Didn’t sign
2010 (No. 17) Right fielder Josh Sale: Didn’t reach majors
2011 (No. 24) Pitcher Taylor Guerrieri: 0-0, 4.66; 0.1 WAR
2012 (No. 25) Third baseman Richie Shaffer: .213, 5 HR; 0.2 WAR
2013 (No. 21) Catcher Nick Ciuffo: .186, 1 HR; -0.3 WAR
2014 (No. 20) First baseman Casey Gillaspie: Didn’t reach majors
2015 (No. 13) Outfielder Garrett Whitley: Playing at Class A
2016 (No. 13) Third baseman Josh Lowe: Playing at Double-A
2017 (No. 4) First baseman/pitcher Brendan McKay: Playing at Triple-A
2018 (No. 16) Pitcher Matt Liberatore: Playing at Class A
Who will they take?
Predicting the No. 22 pick in the MLB draft is a job for the experts, and here’s what the latest mock drafts have for the Rays:
Gunnar Henderson, SS, Morgan Academy, Selma, Ala. (MLB.com)
Henderson is one of many shortstops associated with Tampa Bay, a group that also includes Cavaco, Jones, Brooks Lee (San Luis Obispo, Calif., HS), Matthew Lugo (Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy, Florida, P.R.) and Nasim Nunez (Collins Hill HS, Suwanee, Ga.). The Rays look like the floor for Carroll and Hoese, and their affinity for high school arms makes Priester and IMG Academy (Brandenton, Fla.) right-hander Brennan Malone two more possibilities.
Josh Jung, 3B, Texas Tech (Baseball America)
The Rays could go after a college performer at this spot, and a number of college bats should start to go off the board in this range anyways, which works out well. Jung could easily go before this pick, so perhaps Tampa will jump at the opportunity to get a standout hit tool with more power to come in Jung. Hoese also fits the profile of a college performer, and this might be his floor. Still, the Rays haven’t shied away from preps in the past and have a number of pitching options available here.
Zack Thompson, LHP, Kentucky (ESPN’s Keith Law)
Thompson has top-10 stuff with some questions about his durability after a forearm injury his sophomore year. The Rays have zero qualms about taking players with upside who fall for reasons like injury concerns. I’ve also heard them with Espino, who, as a 6-foot high school right-hander, also doesn’t fit the industry mold.
Keoni Cavaco, 3B, Eastlake High, Calif. (Fangraphs.com)
Tampa Bay has several picks (22, 36, 40, 61) and we have them on Cavaco, Campbell Univ. RHP Seth Johnson, Brooks Lee, and prep SS Christian Cairo later on. We think they’re also on the short list of teams most likely to pursue Spencer Jones.
The 22 crew
This has nothing to do with the Rays pick this year, but there have been some pretty good No. 22 overall picks in past drafts. The Rays, by the way, have never had the 22nd pick before. Here are the top five, by baseball-reference.com career WAR:
Year Player, team WAR
1985 Rafael Palmeiro, Cubs 71.9
1987 Craig Biggio, Astros 65.5
1972 Chet Lemon, A’s 55.6
1976 Bruce Hurst, Red Sox 34.1
1997 Jayston Werth, Orioles 29.0
1992 Rick Helling, Rangers 20.2
* Based on past actions, fair to wonder if a coming step in the Rays stadium stalemate could be a public acknowledgement from MLB that relocation is an eventual possibility (though with a lease agreement at the Trop through 2027), which obviously would escalate interest and public overtures from potential options, and animosity locally.
* Meanwhile, the story is going around Montreal media yet again suggesting a “shared custody” plan with the Rays playing 20 “home” games at Olympic Stadium next season. Given that such an arrangement is prohibited by Trop agreement, Rays officials could pretty much laugh it off. “If it’s true, it’s news to me,’’ said team president Matt Silverman, who obviously would know. … Related, lots of comments in French on my tweet about Tuesday’s record low Trop gathering.
Several teams are following the Twins’ lead with flash sales for bargain-priced tickets in a limited-quantity flash sale. Maybe soon the Rays, too? … The need for free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel, whom the Rays have stayed in touch with, is there, and acquisition cost goes down Monday with elimination of draft pick compensation, but the level of competition will go up. Don’t see it happening. … With their record-low “crowd” of 5,786 Tuesday, the Rays were out-drawn by three minor-league teams that night: Triple-A Albuquerque, 6,713; Double-A Richmond, 5,925; Class A Dayton, 7,303. … Meanwhile, Fox Sports Rays reported the game drew a 3.7 HH rating in the Tampa Bay market (about 69,000 households) and was the No. 2 prime-time program. Hmmm. … In 46 games with Class A Bowling Green, 18-year-old Wander Franco is hitting .324 with five homers, 23 RBIs, a .908 OPS and more walks (22) than strikeouts (16). Time soon for a promotion to the Stone Crabs? … One interesting name already being floated in trade rumors is ex-Rays closer Alex Colome, 2-0, 1.59 with 11 saves for the White Sox. … The Mets sure have a 2018 Rays look, with Carlos Gomez, Adeiny Hechavarria and Wilson Ramos all starting recently. … The Rays are No. 3 in SI.com’s weekly power rankings. … Mets 1B Pete Alonso is a big fan of Rays 1B prospect Nate Lowe, having played against him since Florida-Mississippi State games. … Using the major-league ball has changed the game for Durham and other Triple-A teams: Through Memorial Day, homers are up 58.7 percent and nearly one per game from the same point last year. For comparison sake, at Double-A, where they use the minor-league ball, homers are down 11.4 percent. … Ex-Ray Chris Archer’s win for the Pirates Friday was his first since April 7; he is 2-5, 5.66 overall.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.