The Tampa Bay Rays’ frustrating 2014 season is over, and it is time to look to the future. There is plenty of uncertainty in the air, but there is one positive that stems directly from how badly the Rays’ season went.
The Rays finished 2014 with a 77-84 record, tied for the 12th-worst in baseball with the Miami Marlins and San Diego Padres. For their efforts, they will get the 14th overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, their highest selection since they picked first in 2007 and 2008. Just in the last eight years, players like Jose Fernandez of the Marlins and Jason Heyward of the Atlanta Braves have been selected 14th overall in the MLB Draft. The Rays will hope to find a similarly impactful talent once their pick comes around.
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Picking at the end of the first round for all these years, the Rays have learned to deal with certain limitations on their selections. When a talented player slipped to them, it always seemed to be because of attitude problems (Taylor Guerrieri), injury concerns (Ryne Stanek), or lack of superstar potential (Casey Gillaspie). The Rays hope to overcome those issues and turn those players into excellent major leaguers nonetheless, but for the 2015 Draft, they will have an easier task ahead of them.
The recent history of 14th overall picks tell us that the Rays will have the opportunity to select a high-upside high school player without an obvious concern (like Reese McGuire from 2013) or a college player with more talent than most (like Tyler Beede from last year’s draft). Inevitably, there will be a player or two that slipped from the top 10 and will still be on the board when the Rays pick, and that is an exciting proposition. While there is a major difference between picking 14th and having a top 5 pick like the Devil Rays had so often, this is a clear chance for the Rays to find a star and continue moving past their recent struggles in the Draft.
The Rays would much rather have gone on a playoff run than select 14th overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, but there are far worse things than drafting a little higher and getting the chance to boost your minor league system. If the Rays can find their way back into contention next season, we may be talking about 2014 as the year that allowed the Rays to reload in the draft and set up their next run of sustained success.