Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, Tim Beckham, Josh Sale, and Taylor Guerrieri are six Tampa Bay Rays first round picks who became known for issues with character and/or drugs. The second and third rounds lead us to a few more problem cases like Elijah Dukes, James Houser, Lenny Linsky, and Ryan Brett.
Not everyone saw his career derailed–Upton had several solid years with the team while Brett has moved past his suspension as well as anyone could have hoped. However, once a player tests positive for a substance or gains a reputation for a bad attitude, all bets are off.
Two commonly asked questions are why the Rays’ recent drafts have failed to yield their expected results and why their system is no longer among the best in baseball. Two parts of the answer are all of the players that have fallen apart between drugs and attitudes and the 16 drug suspensions in the organization since 2012. Number 16 is yet another early pick, 2012 second rounder Spencer Edwards.
The peak of Edwards’ career was probably 2014 spring training, when he showed off his blazing speed by stealing a base and was described by Rays broadcaster Brian Anderson as a possible September call-up. During the regular season, though, Edwards has shown little reason for optimism. While he has stolen 33 bases in 43 tries, he has hit to just a .210/.273/.285 line while never getting higher than Low-A.
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The Rays have done what they can to get Edwards on track. They converted him from shortstop to centerfield hoping that the easier defensive position would help him focus at the plate. In 2014, they started him in extended spring training, but then they sent him to Low-A Bowling Green in June and gave him an opportunity to put himself on the prospect map. Everything has failed, and now a suspension is looming over Edwards as well.
Edwards will receive an 80-game suspension–the new minimum under the new minor league drug program–for testing positive for three difference performance-enhancing drugs. You can make the case that maybe his heart was in the right place and he was trying to do what he could to improve, but missing more than half of the 2015 season might be the nail in the coffin for his career.
Prospects very often fail. That is the reality that teams have to understand, and the same is true of their fans. Even so, with factors like the difficulty of upper-level pitching, defending at premium positions, and injuries already working against position-player prospects, adding something like drugs or poor character into the situation only makes it more foreboding.
We have seen both in the major league level and in the draft that the Rays acquire a lot of players whose value was reduced by character issues. They say that if such issues are overblown, they could wind up with incredible deals. But have they taken that stance too far? Have they signed and drafted too many players whose reward was not worth their risk?
Spencer Edwards is just another name to add the list, but we have to hope that the Rays are in the process of reevaluating their view on players with poor attitudes. Maybe the 2013 Draft was the turning point and Edwards is just an echo of a previous approach, but these suspensions need to stop if the Rays are going to have a topflight minor league system again.