Rays have good opportunity with 3 of top 40 picks in Monday’s draft, but will they take advantage?

Having a bunch of high picks hasn’t always paid off, but they’ve been better of late and could get creative.
Matt Liberatore, shown during spring training, was the Rays top pick last June and is doing well at Class A Bowling Green. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Matt Liberatore, shown during spring training, was the Rays top pick last June and is doing well at Class A Bowling Green. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published June 3, 2019|Updated June 3, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Having three of the top 40 picks in the annual draft that starts Monday night, especially coming off a solid 90-win season, presents the Rays with an important opportunity to add to their burgeoning stack of minor-league talent.

“We know, and history has shown, we need to have a constant pipeline of championship-caliber talent in our organization to be able to continue to compete,’’ senior vice president Chaim Bloom said.

“It’s much harder for us to keep everything rolling if we have gaps in our system. So making sure that we have as many opportunities to add to that every year, that’s critical. Even though some of these opportunities might not pay off until years down the line, when they do, it’s really important for us. It’s a good position to be in. Certainly not something that we take for granted.’’

The Rays have had these opportunities to load up before and have not necessarily taken advantage.

Most notably in 2011, when they had 10 of the top 60 picks (starting at No. 24) and have, essentially, just Blake Snell (and, to be fair, his Cy Young Award) to show for it, with Taylor Guerrieri, Mikie Mahtook and Tyler Goedell the only others to even reach the majors.

There were some others (shown below), which seemed a factor in the post 2015-draft overhaul of some of their scouting/drafting procedures and personnel.

Last year’s class, which is obviously harder to evaluate, included five of the first 71 pick, with pitchers Matt Liberatore and Shane McClanahan doing well at Class A Bowling Green.

This year’s passel of picks was assembled three ways.

No. 22 was the Rays’ original pick. No. 36 came from MLB’s competitive balance program, which awards extra picks after the first and second rounds to smaller market and revenue teams. No. 40 was a competitive balance pick (the only ones that can be traded) acquired from Oakland, with reliever Emilio Pagan (and minor-leaguer Rollie Lacy), in the three-way December deal that sent pitching prospects Brock Burke, Kyle Bird and Yoel Espinal to Texas.

The extra pick was as much a part of the trade as getting Pagan.

“Obviously what Emilio is doing for our major-league club right now is remarkable,’’ Bloom said. “But also having a pick at this point in the draft, the upside of this is great. It gives us one more opportunity to add some impact talent to the organization. … Those chances are precious, and we are very excited to have that extra chance to get an impact player.’’

Scouting director Rob Metzler and staff have been ensconced in meetings at the Vinoy Renaissance hotel all week in building their draft board from a class said to be strong in all quadrants, high school and college, pitchers and position players. Their strategy is to compile and analyze all their information and data, combining everything from old-school scouting and in-house family observations to new-school analytics and personality tests in building a draft board that they can then work off of in order without much emotion, arguments or last-second scrambling.

But having the bunched-up top picks could allow the Rays to get creative within the $10,333,800 bonus pool (10th most) they are allotted to cover selections in the top 10 rounds, plus anything over $125,000 to later picks, with penalties for going over.

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For example, if someone slipped to the Rays at No. 22 who warranted more than the slot value of $3,027,000, they could opt to pay him and take a player who they might have rated lower, and thus willing to take a below-slot deal, at No. 36 ($2,045,400), No. 40 ($1,856,700) or even No. 61 ($1,129,700).

Or, conversely, they could take a player they like just about as much for less money at No. 22 and have more to overpay at Nos. 36, 40 or 61, typically to lure a high schooler away from a college commitment that might have scared off other teams.

“The goal is always to maximize that talent that we bring into the organization,’’ Bloom said. “That’s typically going to come from taking the best available player, in our eyes, every time we pick. But if there’s a chance to use our pool space a bit differently to acquire more talent, we want to be able to take advantage. That’s why our prep work is so important.’’

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

Who are Rays taking at No. 22?

Here are the latest mock draft guesses:

Baseball America: 1B/OF Michael Busch, North Carolina 3B Keoni Cavaco, Eastlake High, Calif.

ESPN’s Keith Law: LHP Zack Thompson, Kentucky SS Gunnar Henderson, Morgan Academy, Selma, Ala.

Picking a pack of prospects

With three of the top 40 picks and four of the first 61, the Rays have an opportunity to load up. That hasn’t always worked out:


Nothing to show from using No. 17 on OF Josh Sale, 31 on C Justin O’Conner and 42 on OF Drew Vettleson (traded to Washington in Nathan Karns deal).


Much discussed failure to take advantage of unprecedented opportunity with 12 of the top 89 picks, with only Blake Snell having impact. The picks: No. 24 RHP Taylor Guerrieri, 31 OF Mikie Mahtook, 32 INF Jake Hager, 38 SS Brandon Martin, 41 INF Tyler Goeddel, 42 RHP Jeff Ames, 52 LHP Snell, 56 OF Kes Carter, 59 LHP Grayson Garvin, 60 OF James Harris, 75 OF Granden Goetzman and 89 RHP Lenny Linsky.


Only one of their three picks in the top 60 has contributed at the big-league level, No. 29 RHP Ryne Stanek. 21 C Nick Ciuffo is still at Triple A and 60 INF Riley Unroe is now a Braves minor-leaguer.


There is still potential for a big hit with No. 72 RHP Brent Honeywell, who is dealing with setbacks in recovery from Tommy John surgery, but they missed on 20 1B Casey Gillaspie and on 60 RHP Cameron Varga.


Tougher to evaluate this soon, they used No. 13 on now-OF Josh Lowe, who is doing well at Double A; 53 on OF Ryan Boldt, out due to Tommy John surgery; and 77 on OF Jake Fraley, traded to Seattle in deal for Mike Zunino, Guillermo Heredia.


No. 4 LHP/DH Brendan McKay is already at Triple A; No. 31 RHP Drew Rasmussen didn’t sign, 40 RHP Michael Mercado was at short-season Hudson Valley last season and 79 INF Taylor Walls is with advanced Class A Stone Crabs.


With five of the top 71 picks, the Rays used No. 16 for LHP Matt Liberatore (at Class A Bowling Green), 31 for LHP Shane McClanahan (Bowling Green), 32 for OF Nick Schnell (extended spring), 56 for INF Tyler Frank (Stone Crabs) and 71 for RHP/OF Tanner Dodson (Charlotte).