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Tampa Bay Rays: Breaking Down the Latest Rays Draft Buzz

By Robbie Knopf
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The 2015 MLB Draft will begin on June 8th, and it will be a big one for the Tampa Bay Rays as they have their earliest pick since they selected Tim Beckham first overall in 2008. There are rumors abound with regards to which players they are considering for the 13th pick in the first round, but it is always difficult to take stock in such talk when one source contradicts another. Let’s sort through everything and see if we can a better idea about who the Rays will be selecting.

In a sense, not much has changed since our last MLB Draft post, which came out on May 19th. Most mock drafts at that time were linking the Rays to either Missouri State right-hander Jon Harris or high school outfielder Garrett Whitley. Right now, Baseball America and Keith Law still have the Rays picking Whitley while Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs has Harris as their target. Only MLB.com is diverging, having them picking Arkansas outfielder Andrew Benintendi.

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All of those picks could hypothetically make sense for the Rays. Whitley fits if they want more upside while Harris could be their choice if they decide to augment their pitching depth with a relatively polished arm. Benintendi, meanwhile, is better than both of them as a potential five-tool centerfielder. Benintendi is only around 5’10”, 180, but he has drawn rave reviews for his power, plate approach, and good speed. Essentially, his potential comes close to Whitley but he comes with much less risk. If he is still around when the Rays pick, they would have a tough time passing on him.

What has to drive you crazy, though, is that Baseball America is connecting the Rays to prep outfielders and catcher Tyler Stephenson while MLB.com says that they are going to select a college bat. MLB.com goes so far to say that if Benintendi was off the board, the Rays would select Arizona shortstop Kevin Newman. That makes little sense–Newman will stick at shortstop, but he doesn’t have much upside thanks to little power. The four mock drafts have his average selection at 22nd overall. The Rays won’t play it safe when there are still premium talents on the board.

Kiley McDaniel’s report seems to make the most sense. He has the Rays looking for someone to fall, whether it is Benintendi, Stephenson, high school outfielder Kyle Tucker, Vanderbilt RHP Carson Fulmer, or Cincinnati OF/2B Ian Happ. All four mock drafts have Tucker and Fulmer going in the top 10 picks while Benintendi is in the top 11 in every mock draft but MLB.com’s. Law adds that the Rays particularly want Benintendi, but he doesn’t believe that he will be available when they pick.

Benintendi would continue the Rays’ recent trend of drafting college hitters, joining Richie Shaffer and Casey Gillaspie, but Benintendi would be an entirely different story than that pair as an athletic player at a premium defensive position. He is the perfect hybrid of the Rays’ previous approach of drafting talented high school players and the recent trend of selecting college bats.

We don’t know enough of the Rays’ thinking to rank the players we have mentioned with any amount of certainty, but let’s at least give it a try. We can definitely say that the tier of Benintendi, Tucker, and Fulmer would be ahead of the rest of the crowd. They are all top-10 talents, and the Rays would love to get one of them at 13th overall. Tucker is a high school bat with good power, but I do think that the Rays would select Benintendi over him because he is a safer bet to become an above-average big league hitter and still has impressive upside of his own.

Benintendi versus Fulmer is less clear-cut as Fulmer has the stuff to be a frontline starter. However, he also comes with concerns about the effort his delivery and may end up in the bullpen instead. That really wouldn’t do the Rays much good–if they were going to draft a starter despite their pitching depth, they better be confident in his ability to remain in the rotation. The Rays might think that the criticism of Fulmer has been taken out of proportion, but it seems reasonable that they would rank Benintendi first, Fulmer second, and Tucker third.

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The next group would be Stephenson, Happ, high school outfielder Trenton Clark, Whitley, and Harris. Stephenson is an advanced defensive catcher coming out of high school with solid potential at the plate. The Rays have gone that route way too many times and it’s not difficult to see them passing on him. Happ has some Ben Zobrist-type possibilities as a switch-hitting outfielder and second baseman with solid power and speed. The concerns with him are that his defense is pretty iffy and he may not be able to play second base at all. Still, we may have reached the point where the Rays will take the bat and find a position later.

Clark probably slots ahead of Whitley as a centerfielder with excellent pure hitting skills and defense, blazing speed, a strong plate approach, and solid power. Whitley may have a little bit more upside, but he has holes in his swing and comes with markedly more risk. It seems like the Rays would pick Clark over him. Finally, Harris is a relatively safe starting pitching prospect thanks to a four-pitch arsenal headlined by a fastball that can reach 95 MPH and a sharp curveball. He has some minor command issues, although on the positive side, he still has projection remaining.

Based on what we know about these players and about the Rays, Happ would probably rank first in this second tier of players while Stephenson would place last. In the middle, we have Clark ahead of Whitley, but it’s hard to figure out where Harris fit in with them. At the end of the day, though, this is the year for the Rays to draft a college starting pitcher if the college bats are gone by the time they pick, and it still makes sense for them to pick Harris over Whitley and likely over Clark as well.

With all of this in mind, here’s the final ranking for the players to whom the Tampa Bay Rays have been connected at 13th overall: 1. Andrew Benintendi, 2. Carson Fulmer, 3. Kyle Tucker, 4. Ian Happ, 5. Jon Harris, 6. Trenton Clark, 7. Garrett Whitley, and 8. Tyler Stephenson. Then, in the second round, high school first baseman Josh Naylor has been connected to the Rays, and his raw power would be a nice combination with a college player. Another player to mention is RHP Jake Woodford from Plant High School in Tampa, who may fit even better behind a college bat.

At this point, we know a good amount about the direction in which the Rays will be heading on draft day. We will have to see who slips on June 8th, and it certainly isn’t clear that they would pick Harris over Clark or Whitley, but if you want to start doing your research before the draft, these players are the prospects worth most of your time.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Ryan Brett, Richie Shaffer Homer

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