The Tampa Bay Rays used to be regarded as a team that was among the best in the business in drafting and developing their own players. But, they have gotten away from that reputation lately. Only two players that the Rays have drafted since 2008, Kevin Kiermaier and Tim Beckham, have seen any time in the major leagues. That is a huge blow for a team that generally has relied on growing young, controllable players. But now, things may be looking up for the Rays. They had a strong 2013 draft class, and while of course you never know how prospects are going to pan out, the class provides plenty of reason to be excited. The Rays have another opportunity to add to their minor league system with the quickly approaching 2014 draft, and they have an opportunity to add even more high-end talent to their system. What strategy should the Rays use in this draft to build on their strong 2013 class and turn this system into a formidable one once again?
The best way for the Rays to succeed in the 2014 draft is to choose high school pitchers early and often. This draft class is currently stacked with pitching, both in the prep ranks and the college ranks. Thus, there are going to be some very talented high school pitchers who will still be available later in the 1st round that would not have fallen so far in previous years. The Rays currently hold the 20th pick in the first round. If they can take a high school pitcher that has upside of being a number one or two at that spot, then they should not hesitate. Not only should they take a prep pitcher there, but they should continue drafting them over the course of the entire draft. Prep pitchers come with generally better upside than college pitchers, though they also come with more risk because of less polish. With how deep the draft class is in pitching, if you take enough talented pitchers in the first 10 or so rounds in the draft, you have a decent chance of capitalizing on the upside of one or two of the pitchers. The Rays have done a good job of developing high-upside high school arms in the past, and with how full this class is of that type of pitcher, the Rays could have huge rewards if they play their cards right.
Not only is this class full of pitching, but recent a Tommy John epidemic may lead clubs to shy away from prep arms. College pitchers come with less risk of significant injury if they have proven healthy over their career, and while their upside is generally not as inspiring, the recent plethora of Tommy John surgeries is likely going to scare teams away from flame throwing high schoolers. Thus, these players are going to fall even farther in the draft, giving the Rays even more chances to take players that would usually not be available to them. Just think, a guy that would normally go 10th-12th overall could conceivably fall to the Rays at 20th, and they could take advantage. Teams are going to move away from high school pitching thanks to a fear of Tommy John surgery, and the Rays need to swoop in and take advantage.
Of course, this strategy does come with risk. High school pitchers, especially ones that throw hard, are a big injury risk. Even when you put that aside, and you never know how learning how to live on their own for the first time is going to affect them on the field. They are also less polished when they come into pro ball, and while they have more time to learn how to pitch against pro competition, there is also a great chance that they will never do so. But, when you have the opportunity to add multiple players with front-line talent to your system, you take it, and that is what the Rays have a chance to do.
The Tampa Bay Rays 2014 draft needs to rely heavily on taking pitchers from the prep ranks. For multiple reasons, prep pitchers are likely to fall farther than normal in this years draft. Yes it is risky, but by taking this type of player, the Rays have a lot to gain. The Rays have a great chance to get their minor league system to the top once again; we will have to wait and see if Andrew Friedman and Co. can do just that.