Commentary

Rays have so many choices to make

Tampa Bay will reload its system, thanks to having 10 of the first 60 picks in the draft

Updated: June 2, 2011, 12:45 PM ET
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

The conventional wisdom: With 10 of the first 60 picks in Monday's first-year player draft and a record 12 selections among the first 89, the Tampa Bay Rays have a chance to hit the mother lode and position themselves to be a powerhouse for years to come.

The historical reality: Not so fast.

Yes, the Rays will be choosing early and often in the draft, but history shows that a surplus of picks doesn't necessarily translate into an influx of prime-time talent. Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay's executive vice president of baseball operations, made that discovery while doing some draft-related research in the offseason.

"The odds are pretty sobering,'' Friedman said. "We spent some time during the winter looking at some things and trying to get a sense of what our expectations should be. But we stopped halfway through and said, 'You know what -- let's not focus on the historical precedents. Let's shore up our process and know we've put ourselves in the best position to have a successful draft.' Then we'll see from an outcome-based perspective how things transpire.''

The Rays are awash in picks because they decided to hang onto Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano and their other pending free agents last summer and make a run at a playoff berth rather than throw up a white flag at the trade deadline. The plan worked when the Rays went 96-66 and won the AL East title before getting bounced by Texas in the Division Series. When Friedman offered salary arbitration to most of his free agents (with Carlos Pena and Dan Wheeler the most notable exceptions) and those players fled St. Petersburg en masse, it was Draft Pick Compensation City.

"We made a conscious decision before the 2010 season to not trade players who had one year left on their contracts, and try to win a World Series and know at the very least we had the ability to get some draft picks,'' Friedman said. "We're not delusional. We know what our resources are, and we knew for the most part we wouldn't be able to retain a lot of our guys.''

When all is said and done, the Rays expect to spend somewhere between $10 million on $12 million on their 2011 draft crop. With all those extra picks, they have the luxury of going in multiple directions. They could choose a fast-track college reliever such as Kent State's Andrew Chafin or Louisville's Tony Zych in hopes of giving their bullpen a second-half boost. Or they could take a run at Texas Christian pitcher Matt Purke or South Carolina outfielder Jack Bradley Jr., highly-regarded players whose stock has slipped because of injuries and subpar performance this spring.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Friedman and Joe Maddon
AP Photo/Steven SenneAndrew Friedman and the Rays know history might not be on their side, even with all the picks they have coming in this draft.
Scouting director R.J. Harrison, the man in charge of Tampa's all-you-can-draft buffet, knows from experience that a lot of things can take place in a draft "war room'' that defy expectations.

"If you look at the history of the draft, you see how unpredictable it can be,'' Harrison said. "We look at this as an opportunity to add a quantity of what we think are good resources, and put them into our system and see what happens. Some of the guys are going to get hurt. Some won't be as good as we think they are. And some will be better than we think they are.''

"Sure things'' in the draft are generally confined to the first handful of picks, and Tampa Bay's first choice won't come until No. 24 in the first round. Scan the list of 24th picks over the past two decades, and right-handed pitchers Chad Billingsley and Joe Blanton are the best of the bunch. After that, you'll find some marginal big leaguers (Brian Buchanan and Macay McBride, to name two) followed by a lot of guys named Eddie Pearson, Corey Jenkins, Sam Marsonek and Andy Brown.

ESPN's Keith Law predicts the Rays will take Oregon State catcher Andrew Susac with the 24th pick. Baseball America's Jim Callis has them selecting Tampa high school pitcher Jose Fernandez, and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com has them taking Alhambra, Calif., high school pitcher Robert Stephenson, so there's no telling how Harrison will christen the proceedings.

Now for that sobering history lesson: According to the Rays' media relations department, only 12 teams in draft history have had eight or more picks among the first 100 selections. And the track record of teams with draft "bonanzas'' isn't all that impressive.

When all is said and done, the Rays expect to spend somewhere between $10 million on $12 million on their 2011 draft crop. With all those extra picks, they have the luxury of going in multiple directions.

• In the 2002 "Moneyball'' draft, the Oakland A's picked Nick Swisher, Blanton and Mark Teahen. They also selected John McCurdy, Ben Fritz, Steve Stanley and Steve Obenchain.

• The 1991 Houston Astros made eight of the first 79 picks. Only one of the eight, pitcher John Burke, made it to the majors -- and he got there with the Colorado Rockies.

• The 1990 Montreal Expos, who had 11 of the first 84 picks, landed seven future big leaguers in Rondell White, Shane Andrews, Chris Haney, Gabe White, Stan Spencer, Ben VanRyn and Tavo Alvarez. But Rondell White was the only player in that group to make an All-Star team.

Harrison harbors no illusions that the 2011 Rays staff is going to reinvent the process. All his scouts can do is log the miles, watch the games and trust their judgment and instincts on players. In the end, scouting character is every bit as important as scouting skills.

"There are a lot of kids that want to be drafted and like seeing their names in all these articles and 'mock' drafts,'' Harrison said. "But the reality is, you need some tough kids who want to go out and do this. Because it's not glamorous -- especially at the lower levels.

"We want kids who really want to be big leaguers. I understand there's a lot of money involved. But if money is the No. 1 motivation for a young man to start his career, we'd probably rather have another guy.''

Jerry Crasnick is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to purchase a copy of his book, "License to Deal," published by Rodale. Crasnick can be reached via email.

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ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer