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Why Sunday could be biggest day of year for Rays

Rays Tales | A spotty history in the draft shows the benefits of hitting big with two of top 34 picks.
Third baseman Evan Longoria was the third overall draft pick in 2006, going to the Rays.
Third baseman Evan Longoria was the third overall draft pick in 2006, going to the Rays. [ Times (2006) ]
Published Jul. 10

ST. PETERSBURG — Sunday is the last game before the All-Star break. It’s also potentially the biggest day of the year for the Rays.

That’s because it’s draft day, a month or so later than usual to try out a new scheduling idea, but as vital as always to the future of an organization that depends immensely on acquiring and developing top young talent.

“It’s very important,” manager Kevin Cash said. “There’s a lot of people that pour a lot into helping the organization and continuing to make sure that we just have talent top to bottom.”

The Rays have two picks — Nos. 28 and 34 (which is a competitive balance round selection) — in Sunday night’s opening of the three-day event.

With months of work by dozens of staffers and more than 100 names on their board, they won’t know for sure who they are getting until San Diego picks 27th, though senior director of amateur scouting Rob Metzler said they are in “good position” due to their processes and continuity to take advantage of whatever opportunity presents itself.

Here’s a look at the opportunity they have, and some of what they have done in the past:

Mock me

What the latest major mock drafts have the Rays doing with the 28th pick:

Keith Law, The Athletic: Jordan Wicks, LHP, Kansas State:

“I’ve heard the Rays on all manner of guys — high school hitters like Wes Kath, college hitters like Ryan Bliss, and college arms.”

Kiley McDaniel, ESPN: Tyler Black, 2B, Wright State

Wright State infielder Tyler Black is a Rays prospect as the draft approaches.
Wright State infielder Tyler Black is a Rays prospect as the draft approaches. [ EMILEE CHINN | Associated Press ]

“This may be Black’s most likely team to land with and he fits the Rays’ style perfectly, as does another rumored target in prep third baseman Cooper Kinney, who I have them taking at their next pick. The Rays are also on Michael Morales, Jay Allen, Wes Kath, Frank Mozzicato and Jacob Walsh.” (Also predicts the Rays at No. 34 to take Kinney, from Baylor (Tennessee) High; and at No. 63 pitcher Michael Morales, East Pennsboro Area (Pa.) High.)

Carlos Collazo, Baseball America: Ryan Cusick, RHP, Wake Forest

“It sounds like Cusick has a number of realistic landing spots in the 20s and the Rays could be one of the teams that’s high on his fastball characteristics and can help him figure out how to take the next step as a pitcher. Tampa Bay every year seems to be linked to every demographic and that’s happening again this year.”

Jonathan Mayo, mlb.com: Ky Bush, LHP, St. Mary’s

“There are college arms like Cusick who might fit here, but Bush’s name keeps coming up in late first-round talk now. Is there an organization you would trust more to develop a college lefty with really good stuff and feel for pitching, but without the resume against top competition of some other college arms?”

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Others: CBS Sports: Max Muncy, SS, Thousand Oaks (Calif.) High; Fangraphs.com: Cusick; Sporting News: Black

These are the 1s

A breakdown of the Rays’ previous 25 first picks, with career stats and baseball-reference.com Wins Above Replacement, where applicable:

Big hits

Rays rookie pitcher David Price, a first-round draft pick the previous year, talks to media after shutting down the Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS.
Rays rookie pitcher David Price, a first-round draft pick the previous year, talks to media after shutting down the Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS. [ Times (2008) ]

2006: 3B Evan Longoria: 3rd overall pick, .267, 313 HRs; 57.3 WAR

2007: LHP David Price, 1st; 154-80, 3.31; 39.8 WAR

1999: OF Josh Hamilton*, 1st; .290, 200 HRs; 28.2 WAR

* did not play for Rays

Good but not great

B.J. Upton, a senior at Greenbrier Christian Academy in Chesapeake, Va., puts on his Tampa Bay Devil Rays cap, with his mother, Yvonne, and his maternal grandfather, William Gordon, by his side, on June 4, 2002.
B.J. Upton, a senior at Greenbrier Christian Academy in Chesapeake, Va., puts on his Tampa Bay Devil Rays cap, with his mother, Yvonne, and his maternal grandfather, William Gordon, by his side, on June 4, 2002. [ GENEVIEVE ROSS | Associated Press (2002) ]

2002: SS B.J. Upton, 2nd, .243, 164 HRs; 16.8 WAR

2000: OF Rocco Baldelli, 6th; .278, 60 HRs; 10.2 WAR

2004: RHP Jeff Niemann, 4th, 40-26, 4.08; 4.3 WAR

2003: OF Delmon Young, 1st; .283. 109 HRs; 3.2 WAR

Big misses

Rays' first round draft pick Dewon Brazelton, second from right, in the dugout along with (from left)  Bryan Rekar, Ryan Rupe, Joe Kennedy and Paul Wilson.
Rays' first round draft pick Dewon Brazelton, second from right, in the dugout along with (from left) Bryan Rekar, Ryan Rupe, Joe Kennedy and Paul Wilson. [ Times (2001) ]

2008: SS Tim Beckham, 1st, .249, 63 HRs; 3.8 WAR

2001: RHP Dewon Brazelton, 3rd, 8-25, 6.38; -3.1 WAR

2012: 3B Richie Shaffer, 25th, 213, 5 HRs; 0.0 WAR

2013: C Nick Ciuffo, 21st, .186, 1 HR; -0.3 WAR

2011: RHP Taylor Guerrieri (2011), 24th, 0-0, 5.50; 0.2 WAR

1997: RHP Jason Standridge, 31st; 3-9, 5.80; -0.7 WAR

Never made it

The Devil Rays signed first-round pick, and eighth overall selection Wade Townsend to a minor-league contract.
The Devil Rays signed first-round pick, and eighth overall selection Wade Townsend to a minor-league contract. [ Times (2005) ]

2005: RHP Wade Townsend, 8th

2010: OF Josh Sale, 17th

2014: 1B Casey Gillaspie, 20th

1996: OF Paul Wilder, 29th

2009: 2B Levon Washington, 30th, didn’t sign

1999: 1B Josh Pressley, 132nd

Check back in a few years

Rays top draft pick Josh Lowe on the field before the start of June 17, 2016, game at Tropicana Field.
Rays top draft pick Josh Lowe on the field before the start of June 17, 2016, game at Tropicana Field. [ Times (2016) ]

2015: OF Garrett Whitley, 13th; playing at Double-A

2016: 3B Josh Lowe: 13th, playing at Triple-A

2017: 1B/LHP Brendan McKay: 4th, 2-4, 5.14; -0.2 WAR

2018: LHP Matt Liberatore, 16th; traded, playing at Triple-A

2019: SS Greg Jones, 22nd, playing at Class A

2020: RHP Nick Bitsko, 24th, rehabbing shoulder surgery

Rays’ best by round picks

Devil Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford makes a diving catch on a sacrifice fly by the Indians' Omar Vizquel during an Aug. 7, 2002 game.
Devil Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford makes a diving catch on a sacrifice fly by the Indians' Omar Vizquel during an Aug. 7, 2002 game. [ MARK DUNCAN | Associated Press (2002) ]

Other 1s: LHP Blake Snell, 2011

2: OF Carl Crawford, 1999

3: RHP Wade Davis, 2004

4: RHP Alex Cobb, 2006

5: INF Aubrey Huff, 1998

6-10: OF Desmond Jennings, 2006, 10th

11-20: RHP James Shields, 2000, 16th

21-on: OF Kevin Kiermaier, 2010, 31st

MLB draft

Sunday: Round 1/competitive balance, 7-10:30 p.m.; TV/streaming: ESPN, MLB Network, mlb.com

Monday: Rounds 2-10, 1-7 p.m.; TV/streaming: Round 2 on MLB Network, remainder on mlb.com

Tuesday: Rounds 11-20, noon-2:30 p.m.; Streaming: mlb.com

Rays’ 2021 picks

(With slot values for top 10 rounds, total bonus pool of $7,955,800):

1-27. $2,493,900

c-34. $2,148,100

2-63. $1,076,300

3-100. $581,600

4-130. $434,300

5-161. $321,100

6-191. $249,000

7-221. $195,700

8-251. $163,400

9-281. $150,100

10-311. $142,100

Rays rumblings

Once the All-Star Game and draft are over, attention will shift quickly to the July 30 trade deadline. Expect the Rays to be linked to lots of pitchers. ... While the full athletic training and traveling support staff is going to the All-Star Game along with the coaches and Cash, first assistant athletic trainer Mark Vinson was one of three from AL teams selected to work the game. … James Shields, one of the Rays’ best draft success stories as a 16th-round pick, will be their representative on the scene for Sunday’s picks. … Outfielder Brett Phillips said he got more attention — and Instagram followers, adding about 20,000 — for his pitching performance and entertaining morning-after media session than his 2020 World Series heroics. Also, he still swears he didn’t know his creative bullpen warmups were on camera. …. The mother of Tyler Zombro, the Triple-A pitcher struck in the head by a line drive June 4, posted on Facebook: “It’s so amazing to see this guy’s smirk again and see his determination and work ethic continuing as he’s getting stronger each day.” … Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez said in an MLN Network segment that infielder Yandy Diaz is one of the majors’ best under-the-radar players. … Yoshi Tsutsugo, whom the Rays ditched in May (but are still paying the bulk of his $7 million salary) was outrighted off the Dodgers roster and agreed, for now, to play at Triple-A. ... A couple fans recognized the group of Randy Arozarena, Diego Castillo, Wander Franco, Manuel Margot and Rodney Linares at Niagara Falls on July 1 and politely asked for a photo.

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