Draft Preview - Tampa Bay Rays

This is the first in a series where I'll examine the draft tendencies of each Major League front office before the 2009 draft.  With this knowledge, we can hope to gain some insight into which direction each team will take.  First up is the Tampa Bay Rays.

Owner: Stuart Sternberg, gained controlling interest in October 2005
General Manager: Andrew Friedman (Executive VP of Baseball Operations), first season was 2006
Scouting Director: R.J. Harrison, first draft in 2006

Looking Back

2006 Draft: $5.6 Million Budget

1. Evan Longoria, 3B, Long Beach St., #3 overall:
Longoria was the first bat off the board in a class that was full of big-time college arms.  All signs point to the fact that the Rays went with the best player available in Andrew Friedman and RJ Harrison's first draft.  Picks coming directly after Longoria include Brad Lincoln, Brandon Morrow, and Andrew Miller.  Signing bonus: $3.0 million.
2. Josh Butler, RHP, San Diego, #47 overall: Butler was considered a safe pick, but hasn't panned out.  The second round of this draft was very unpredictable, and some are reminded of this class when looking at the 2009 class.  Money might have been an issue here, but Harrison seems to have preferred a college arm.  The following three picks were Mike Felix, Chris Tillman, and Ronnie Bourquin.  Signing bonus: $725,000.
3. Nick Fuller, RHP, Kell HS (GA), #79 overall: Oops.  It's got to scare you when your first prep pick ever as a scouting director goes on to not sign with your club, then gets kicked out of South Carolina for burglary.  Funny story though, as the other Gamecock to get arrested was 2008 first rounder Lonnie Chisenhall.  The picks directly after Fuller were Shelby Ford, Tony Butler, and Brennan Boesch.  DID NOT SIGN.
4. Alex Cobb, RHP, Vero Beach HS (FL), #109 overall: Cobb was considered a safer high school pick, more polished with less upside.  He's proven to be just that.  As you can see, there's a trend going on here in terms of risk-taking and positions taken.  Players taken directly after Cobb were Jared Hughes, Ricky Orta, and Ryan Strieby.  Signing bonus: $400,000.
5. Shawn O'Malley, SS, South Ridge HS (WA), #139 overall: O'Malley was a bit of a surprise this high, and he's proven he didn't deserve being picked this high.  He's never really hit, but it's interesting that Harrison went into the state of Washington for a lesser prospect this early.  Players going directly after O'Malley were Pat Bresnehan, Nathan Adcock, and Scott Sizemore.  Signing bonus: $200,000.
Other Notable Picks: OF Desmond Jennings (10th), Itawamba CC (MS), $150K bonus (overslot); RHP Heath Rollins (11th), Winthrop; OF KD Kang (15th), Parkview HS (GA)


2007 Draft: $8.0 Million Budget

1. David Price, LHP, Vanderbilt, #1 overall: This was a no-brainer, even with Matt Wieters available.  You can tell there's definite picking done by the front office as a whole here, not just the scouting director.  This is true for almost all teams, but it's at least worth noting.  Players chosen directly after Price include Mike Moustakas, Josh Vitters, and Dan Moskos.  Signing bonus: $5.6 million, MLB contract.
2. Will Kline, RHP, Ole Miss, #65 overall: Kline was considered a reach this high, though it seems to me this pick was made for monetary reasons.  Harrison and company knew how much it would cost to sign Price, and other picks were affected.  Players chosen directly after Kline were Sam Runion, Jordan Zimmermann, and Duke Welker.  Signing bonus: $513,000.
3. Nick Barnese, RHP, Simi Valley HS (CA), #95 overall: Seeing a year-to-year trend here?  Barnese also had some character issues attached to him before the draft, having been suspended his junior year of high school.  However, he's turned out to be a solid pick so far, and looks to be a breakout candidate this year.  Picks right after Barnese were Danny Duffy, Tony Thomas, and Brian Friday.  Signing bonus: $366,000.
4. David Newmann, LHP, Texas A&M, #125 overall: Newmann was a 22 year old junior with an bad injury history, and while he wasn't considered necessarily a reach, he was definitely a slot pick.  He had been drafted before on talent alone, and the Rays were simply happy to add a college arm.  Players picked after Newmann were Peter Hodge, Darwin Barney, and Quincy Latimore.  Signing bonus: $250,000.
5. Dustin Biell, OF, Inglemoor HS (WA), #155 overall: Hmm...we might be onto something.  Biell was another Washington prep prospect, this time an outfielder.  He was a slot pick, like Shawn O'Malley, who has struggled to hit in the pros.  However, it's odd that both prospects were popped in the same round in back-to-back years.  Players picked after Biell include Adrian Ortiz, Brandon Guyer, and Andrew Walker.  Signing bonus: $150,000.
Other Notable Picks: LHP Matt Moore (8th), Moriarty HS (NM), $115K bonus; OF DJ Jones (11th), Gulf Shores HS (AL), $335K bonus (overslot); RHP Joseph Cruz (30th), East Los Angeles JC (CA), $100K bonus (overslot)


2008 Draft: $9.9 Million Budget

1. Tim Beckham, SS, Griffin HS (GA), #1 overall: Beckham was essentially the best player available in the 2008 draft, even though more tempting college hitters were available.  However, the Rays seem consistent about picking the best player and being patient in development, so Beckham was the right choice.  Players chosen after Beckham were Pedro Alvarez, Eric Hosmer, and Brian Matusz.  Signing bonus: $6.15 million.
2. Kyle Lobstein, LHP, Coconino HS (AZ), #47 overall: Lobstein had a disappointing senior season, and he was holding out for a seven figure bonus.  However, even knowing that Beckham would cost a large amount, the Rays tabbed him with their second pick.  This seems like a move that would have to be approved by upper management, so I'm not sure this is all RJ Harrison's choice.  Players picked after Lobstein were Tanner Scheppers, Johnny Giavotella, and Xavier Avery.  Signing bonus: $1.5 million.
3. Jake Jefferies, C, UC Davis, #78 overall: Jefferies is the definition of a safe pick, as his average toolset, but nice polish, made him a definite top five round choice.  I'm sure slot had something to do with it after two expensive picks, but this was clearly an RJ Harrison move.  Players chosen after Jefferies were Jordy Mercer, Tyler Sample, and LJ Hoes.  Signing bonus: $515,000.
4. Ty Morrison, OF, Tigard HS (OR), #113 overall: Another move into the Pacific Northwest for RJ Harrison.  He obviously trusts his area scout and crosschecker that cover that region.  This trend is not to be ignored.  Morrison was an overslot pick, which is a bit different, but remember this come June.  Players chosen after Morrison include Chase D'Arnaud, Tim Melville, and Kyle Hudson.  Signing bonus: $500,000 (overslot).
5. Mike Sheridan, 1B, William & Mary, #143 overall: Sheridan follows in the Jake Jefferies mold in that he was considered a safe college bat.  Both Jefferies and Sheridan proved hard to strike out in college.  That's an interesting trend, considering they're from different regions of the country, but fit one mold in terms of draft philosophy.  Players picked after Sheridan were Justin Wilson, John Lamb, and Greg Miclat.
Other Notable Picks: RHP Brad Furdal (11th), Ancaster HS (ON), $140K bonus (overslot); RHP Matt Gorgen (16th), California, $125K bonus (overslot)


Well, there's a quick wrap-up of the first three drafts done by the duo of Andrew Friedman and RJ Harrison.  Obvious trends include a strong penchant for taking the best player available in the first round, regardless of position or location.  They've gone college hitter, college pitcher, and prep hitter, all with solid players on the board to take if they wanted specific positions.  However, they went with the best player available each time, and I'm sure we'll see more of the same this year.  Other trends include picking very safe college arms and bats when going the college route.  They don't seem to go for the toolsy college types with less polish, meaning guys like Kentrail Davis, Brett Jackson, etc. don't exactly fit their philosophy, though if they're the best players available, I'm sure that the Rays front office will be interested.  One final trend that's interesting in terms of who they pick is their penchant for the Pacific Northwest in the 4-5 round range.  Each player picked there was also a hitter, meaning that they trust their evaluator's eye for prep position players.  None has panned out too well, but that never stopped teams from being stubborn before.

As for money, the upward trend in bonuses must be encouraging to Rays fans.  Since the new ownership has come in, there's been significant investment, even beyond the first pick.  Their first pick has accounted for about 54, 70, and 62 percent of bonuses year to year from 2006 to 2008, so I'd expect more than half of their budget to be sitting on their first round pick, the 30th overall pick.  Being farther down than usual, it's harder to predict which direction they'll go, but I have faith that we'll see an overslot guy at that pick.  As usual, they don't have any supplemental picks, so I expect to see an expensive player at #30, an overslot prep pitcher in the second round, maybe a prep hitter, followed by one more overslot selection in the first five rounds.  There will be a temptation to overpay for players who don't deserve as much money just to sign them away from a scholarship, so we'll see how that pans out.  It's an unpredictable year, so if the Rays think they've found hidden talent somewhere, I'm sure they'll pay handsomely for it.  Also, watch out for the Pacific Northwest.  I expect one of C Chase Anselment or OF Kyrell Hudson from the state of Washington, or maybe even SS Quaid Morris from Idaho to be tabbed in the 4-6 round range.  Anselment's a Washington signee and Hudson's going to Oregon State.  They're obviously highly-regarded.

My second round mock comes out tomorrow, with some significant changes from a week ago, though I can't change the slotting due to Luke Bailey's injury until next week.  Hope this was helpful.  All bonus information came from BA, and writeups on draft status going into the draft were a mixture of BA and PG.  Go to their sites for draft coverage.  They're awesome.

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