Prior to this year’s MLB Draft, plenty of analysts talked about how teams with supplemental first round picks would be able to target first round-caliber players who slipped because of bonus demands. The Tampa Bay Rays only had one first rounder, so they were not among the teams mentioned. However, they followed the exact same strategy, and as of today, we can say that it was a stroke of brilliance. Anything can happen once players turn pro, but all you can ask for is the best possible group of players that you can get given your draft position. The Rays did their best to reach that ideal.
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We know about Garrett Whitley, the high school outfielder with gaudy potential with regards to his hitting, power, speed, and centerfield defense. He was mentioned as a Rays target for months, and he was exactly the type of potential superstar that they were hoping to get at 13th overall. Chris Betts, however, was another story. He was a talented high school catcher with huge power potential and the defensive chops to stick behind the plate. He wasn’t an athlete in the way that Justin O’Conner and Nick Ciuffo was, but he had a better chance than either of them to hit. He was one of the Rays’ favorite players in the draft, but they liked Whitley more and thought that Betts would be selected between their first selection at 13th overall and their second at #52.
Instead, Betts fell and the Rays saw a huge opportunity if he was signable. It made a lot of sense for the Rays to complement Whitley with a college pitcher in the second round, but Betts was good enough to warrant changing their entire strategy. To sign Betts, the Rays would need to be ready to go as much as $500,000 above his slot bonus of $1,160,500. The Rays had no problem doing that as they shelved their strategy of drafting high-upside high school players in the top 10 rounds and instead selected eight straight college players.
That didn’t mean that the Tampa Bay Rays’ selections in the third through 10th rounds were jokes, however. Brandon Lowe and Joe McCarthy had dealt with injuries–Lowe likely won’t play until next year following a broken fibula just before the draft–but they were polished college hitters in a system that never has enough impact bats. Brandon Koch and Benton Moss also added to their pitching depth, with Koch being a relatively polished reliever while Moss may even get a chance to start. Jake Cronenworth could be another such pitcher if the Rays convert him from second base and let him unleash the draft’s best splitter upon opposing hitters.
Then, later on in the draft, the Rays did get the high school and junior college players that they were hoping to receive from the very beginning to complement Whitley. And while they may have with a touch more risk than the guys that the Rays weren’t able to select earlier because they selected Betts, you can’t argue with their talent. Devin Davis and Joe Davis gave the Rays two more power bats to either join Betts or serve as backup plans if he didn’t sign. Justin Marsden gave them the type of high school pitcher they have always developed well while Dezmond Chumley and Ryan Caldwell gave them a pair of athletic outfielders.
Overall, the Rays came away with the arguably the two most talented high school players they have selected since Taylor Guerrieri in 2011 while still adding dependable (yet promising) college players and a few more upside possibilities later in the draft. However, everything was going to hinge upon whether they could sign Chris Betts or come away with almost every high school player that they selected later on if they failed to ink him. The Rays went the former route, and even then, they were able to get several mid-to-late-round prep players into their fold.
Keith Law reported that the Rays had signed Betts for $1,485,000, an above-slot bonus, but not even anything crazy. He received a late supplemental first round amount, and given his talent, that was certainly warranted. That also left more money for the Rays to go after their post-10th round picks. First they signed Devin Davis and Ryan Caldwell, and then today, they officially signed RHP Nicholas Padilla for $177,500 and Marsden for $147,500 per Jim Callis. It is fascinating that Padilla received that much money right after Tommy John Surgery.
We will have to see if the Tampa Bay Rays can sign anyone else. Before we factor in the bonuses of Davis and Caldwell that we don’t know about, the Rays have just $26,400 left in their bonus pool. However, if the Rays are willing to incur a 75% tax on the bonus pool overage, they can spend a total of $355,965 more without giving up any future draft picks. With two and a half hours to go, the Rays can dangle hundreds of thousands of dollars to players like Hawaii RHP Tyler Brashears and Chumley and see if they can make their draft class even better.
It was a gutsy move for the Rays to draft Chris Betts, but now that he has signed, their strategy has worked as well as they possibly could have hoped. It would be nice if they could add another player or two to their current group of 31 signings, but even if no one else agrees to terms, they will be happy. The Rays haven’t given up on their big 2011 draft class and have high hopes for several of their picks from the last few years, but this just might be the draft that changes everything for the team.