The MLB Draft is tonight and it works out that there’s not even a Rays game so some of us might actually watch. Whether you’ll be watching or you’ll be seeing who the Rays drafted the day after online, here’s what you should expect to see.
The Rays cannot get enough of upside. Drafting for upside means that the Rays place a high emphasis on the raw ability of players compared to their tangible, actualized talent. Especially early in the draft, the Rays go for players with All-Star ability. Especially since the Rays have started contending and drafting towards the end of the first round, you’re not going to find a player who is simply a superstar waiting to happen like an Evan Longoria or a David Price who the Rays have selected in past years. Instead, you have to go for players with either less ability or more risk. The Rays would rather go for more risk. The Rays view is that if you draft enough players with great upside, someone is going to have to pan out at the big league level. The past four drafts, the Rays have selected 11 high school players compared to just 4 college players, all of which were selected in 2011 because the Rays simply had so many picks and could not afford to give above-slot bonuses to any more high school players than they did. The Rays draft upside high school players whenever they can.
The Rays love upside, but they specifically love upside at the up-the-middle positions: shortstop, centerfield, catcher, and you can add in starting pitcher to that. 8 of the 11 high school players the Rays have drafted since 2008 play one of those four positions, three shortstops, two centerfielders, one catcher, and two starting pitchers. You can even add Tyler Goeddel to the group of shortstops because he was a shortstop in high school before the Rays converted him to third base. It may seem crazy to draft so many players at the same positions, but it makes more sense than it seems. The logic behind drafting up-the-middle players is that when you have players at those positions, they can move almost everywhere else- shortstops can and often do move to second and third base, centerfielders can move to left field and right field, catchers can move to first base, and starting pitchers can also move to the bullpen. You can have a team with an infield made up of three players who were drafted as shortstops and one player drafted as a catcher, an outfield of three players drafted as centerfielders, a catcher, five starters, and six converted starters in the bullpen. We know that the Rays love versatility, and drafting players at these positions gives the Rays the most versatility possible to move players to different positions as needed.
So what direction do we expect the Rays to go tonight? It’s a good bet that they will draft an up-the-middle high school player, including a starting pitcher. But specifically, who?
One player who makes a lot of sense for the Rays is catcher Stryker Trahan out of Acadiana (MS) High School. He needs work defensively, but he has nice power and a strong and accurate arm. I talked about Trahan and projected him to be selected by the Rays in my mock draft for Seedlings to Stars.
There doesn’t appear to be a high school shortstop that fits for the Rays in the late first round. Pace (FL) High School SS Addison Russell and Palm Desert (CA) High School SS Tanner Rahier will be available around that range, but they lack the type of upside that the Rays like. I talked about Russell at the link above and Rahier in my previous mock here.
In terms of centerfielders, Stone (MS) High School D.J. Davis is a possible fit thanks to his blazing speed and incredible defense in centerfield. I don’t like his inconsistency at the plate. I talked about him in the first link above.
Pitchers present a variety of options for the Rays. Two that stick out for me are Hagerty (FL) High School right-hander Zach Eflin, who throws in the mid-90’s with a nice changeup and a curve that has flashed plus as well, and Archbishop McCarthy (FL) High School right-hander Nick Travieso, who throws in the low-90’s with a sharp slider. I talked about Eflin in the first link above and Travieso here.
My money is on Trahan if he’s available, with Eflin, Travieso, and Davis being the other possible picks in that order, especially if Trahan is off the board. If the Rays do draft a college player, it would only be a case of a player free-falling in the draft. I could see that happening to a player like Texas A&M right-hander Michael Wacha or Stanford 3B/LF Stephen Piscotty. But even if a player like that free-falls, there’s no guarantee that the Rays would select him.
If Tampa Jesuit High School right-hander Lance McCullers somehow is not selected by the Toronto Blue Jays at pick or 21 or by some other team, the Rays would love to get him. McCullers has big-time stuff, featuring a fastball that hits the triple-digits and a nasty slider but concerns evaluators with a delivery that could leave him susceptible to injury. If Harvard-Westlake right-hander Lucas Giolito somehow fell as well, the Rays would almost assuredly select him as well. I don’t think the Rays would love to sacrifice the rest of their draft to select a player like Giolito, but it would not be surprising if they did should he somehow be around.
Unless crazy things happen, expect the Rays go with a high school up-the-middle player or a pitcher, continuing in the theme of their previous drafts. The Rays have a draft strategy that they’re firmly committed to and that they believe works. It should be fun to see who the Rays select and just how crazy the draft is this season.