For years, there were no major league franchises in the state of Florida, widely renowned as a baseball hotbed. Now there are two: the Rays and the Marlins. Right now on the Rays’ 40-man roster, they have just two players that they drafted out of the state of Florida: Wade Davis and Alex Cobb. That’s probably just coincidental. But it’s worth investigating how often and how well the Rays have drafted players out of Florida over the years.
Since 1996, the first time the Rays participated in the MLB draft, there have been 2838 players selected out of the state of Florida. 105 of those players have been selected by the Rays, a little more than 1/30 of the total. But where those players have been selected has been interesting. There have been 174 players drafted out of the University of Florida including 35 big leaguers. Just one of those 174 was drafted by the Rays: left-handed pitcher John Kaufman in the 15th round way back in 1996. Kaufman’s pro career stalled at Double-A. 252 major leaguers including 45 major leaguers have come out of the University of Miami. 105 players have been drafted since 1996, 7 by the Rays. That’s exactly double the expected 1/30 margin. But none of the seven were drafted in the first two rounds of the draft. 39 players of the players drafted out of Miami, 37.1% of the total, were first or second round picks. Three of the seven drafted by the Rays were drafted in the top 10 rounds, most notably Aubrey Huff. But the Rays have drafted just one player out of Miami since 1999: second baseman Scott Lawson in the 16th round in 2010. Lawson is already out of baseball. And there have been 109 players drafted out of the University of South Florida in Tampa. Just one of them was drafted by the Rays, and they didn’t get on the board until 2011, when they drafted second baseman Jonathan Koscso in the 29th round. Why have the Rays drafted so few players out of the big Florida colleges?
Well, we know that the Rays draft a ton of guys out of high school, so maybe looking at the colleges isn’t the right way to go about this. In 1996, 21 of the Rays’ 97 picks were out of the state of Florida, including their second through fifth round picks along with their seventh and ninth round picks. They drafted 16 more Floridians in 1997 out of 92 picks, including their second and seventh round picks. They followed that up with7 out of 50 in 1998, around the same ratio (they had less picks because that was their first year as an actual MLB franchise). Their first two picks, which happened in the 4th and 5th round of the draft, were Josh Pressley and Huff out of Florida. Then they drafted 9 more players out of Florida in 1999 including their picks in the 3rd, 4th, and 8th rounds. But then they drafted just 3 Floridians in 2000, none until the 24th round. After drafting 13 Floridians in the first 10 rounds of the draft from 1996 to 1999, the Rays have drafted just 10 in all the years since. Even when they had 13 of the first 89 picks in the 2011 Draft, not a single one of their first round or supplemental picks was a player out of Florida. They did select Granden Goetzman with their first second round pick. The Floridians the Rays have drafted have turned out pretty well: Davis, Cobb, and Elijah Dukes (before he lost his mind), and also Andrew Miller (3rd round 2003) has made the major leagues after not signing and LeVon Washington (1st round 2009) is a promising prospect in the Indians organization. But there have just been so few of them, seemingly. The Rays have 20 combined top 10 round picks from the state of Florida. But the Marlins have drafted just 15 players out of Florida in their entire history, just 9 during the time that the Rays have been around! The Marlins have, however, selected right-handers Chris Volstad (2005) and Jose Fernandez (2011) as first rounders out of Florida while the Rays have never selected a player out of Florida in the first round. They have selected four players from the state of Washington in the first and supplemental rounds over the same timeframe! What in the world is going on? It’s not like Florida has ceased to be an outstanding baseball state- there were 9 first and supplemental rounders from Florida in 2011 after 6 in 2010. There hasn’t been less than 4 players drafted out of Florida in the first round of the MLB Draft since, ironically, 1999. So why have the Rays drafted so few players from there?
As we saw above, the Rays have selected slightly more than their expected share of Florida players, but that hasn’t been the case especially early in the draft since 2000. This tells you something about the way the Rays go about the draft. They don’t have any local bias. Of course the Rays executives based in St. Petersburg will have an easier time seing the Florida players, but the Rays have tons of scouts all across the country and they’re not afraid to select players from anywhere. And when they have selected players from Florida, they’ve selected them because they believed that they were the best players available and we saw that they have turned out quite well. It would be nice for the Rays to grab some local guys in upcoming drafts (Tampa Jesuit right-hander Lance McCullers immediately comes to mind for the 2012 Draft). But more important is getting quality players with the ability to help the major league time someday, and that’s what the Rays are committed to doing.