Draft Preview: Busy first day excites Rays

Draft Preview: Busy first day excites Rays

ST. PETERSBURG -- Draft day has changed a great deal for the Rays since 2008.

The Rays, who had the first pick of the Draft for the second consecutive year that season, came out of nowhere to win the American League East and advance to the World Series. Reaching the Fall Classic is every organization's goal, but doing so dramatically changes a team's position in the June First-Year Player Draft -- as does finishing with a decent record.

While the Rays will not have a top 10 pick in this year's Draft, thanks to the improved play of the Major League club, they will experience an interesting twist with the number of high picks the club will make.

For the first time in club history, the Rays have two first-round picks and six of the first 100 selections. The Rays have their original pick in the first round at No. 17 and were awarded the No. 31 pick as compensation for not signing 2009 first-round selection LeVon Washington. The Rays will make three of the first 42 picks, and five of the first 79.

"Unlike anything we've ever done," Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "We've never had an extra pick. Fifteen years, this is the first time we've had extra picks. It's unique, and with the Draft being set up the way it is this year with the three-day Draft, we have three picks on the first day of the Draft. Part of the process of setting the thing up is with the mentality of thinking about players as first-day [draftees]."

The Rays have the 17th, 31st, 42nd, 66th, 79th and 98th selections. The only other teams with as many selections in the first 100 are the Blue Jays (eight) and the Angels (six). The Rays will have a total of 53 picks, their most since before the Draft was restricted to 50 rounds in 1998.

"As a scouting director and a scouting staff, this is great because you get more opportunities," Harrison said. "But it is a different challenge than what we've had in the past."

Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman doesn't believe the Rays' unique position has affected the preparation by the scouting department.

"I think it's gotten us a little more excited in terms of thinking that there's a greater chance of getting more of these guys than we had in the past," Friedman said. "But I think the preparation's been pretty similar."

Draft Central

MLB.com will offer live coverage and analysis of the entire First-Year Player Draft from June 7-9 on MLB.com/Live. The first round and Compensation Round A will be broadcast live on MLB.com and MLB Network on Monday, June 7, beginning with the Draft preview show at 6 p.m. ET.

MLB.com Draft expert Jonathan Mayo will join Greg Amsinger, Harold Reynolds, John Hart, Peter Gammons and Baseball America executive editor Jim Callis on Monday's broadcast.

Coverage for rounds 2-50 will shift exclusively to MLB.com/Live. Rounds 2-30 will be streamed on Tuesday, beginning at noon, and rounds 31-50 will be streamed on Wednesday, starting at noon. Host Pete McCarthy will be joined by Mayo and former general manager Jim Duquette.

The Rays will have three selections the first night and will be represented at the studios by special assistant Rocco Baldelli and senior advisor Don Zimmer.

In addition to not signing Washington last year, the Rays were unable to sign their second-round pick, shortstop Kenneth Diekroeger, who opted to attend Stanford. Harrison said that not signing their first two picks last year will not change the organization's approach.

"Our goal is to take the best players we can and get them signed," Harrison said. "You factor in all information. We factor in everything when we select a player. The bottom line is ability in our evaluation of a player."

Harrison qualified his remarks by noting that every year brings a different challenge.

"And you learn from situations," Harrison said. "This is going to be great this year, because it's new to us -- having all these choices. So there was that challenge from the time we knew we were going to have all these Draft picks."

Here's a glance at what the Rays have in store as the Draft approaches:

In about 50 words
This Draft is probably void of depth with really significant-type prospects, but there is a big pool of prospects. For the Rays this could be good news in that there won't be a lot of difference in talent for the 17, 31 and 42 picks. This year's pool is deep.

The scoop
"Our hope is that 42 is more like 17 than 17 is like 42," Friedman said. "There are a number of guys, as we're going through this, that we'd like to have. And we feel like, having three of the top 42 picks, we're going to be able to add three really good players to our system on that first day."

First-round buzz
Speculation points toward the Rays selecting Nick Castellanos, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound shortstop/third baseman from Archbishop McCarthy High School in Davie, Fla, with the the 17th pick.

Shopping list
Quality pitching is where the Rays' organization can boast of having the most organizational depth -- there is a wealth of young arms pushing its way to the top. Catching is the most glaring weak spot.

Trend watch
The Rays do not try to emphasize anything other than philosophically, they like middle-of-the-diamond-type players and athletes, which typically are the hardest types of players to find.

Rays' recent top draft picks
Year Player Position Current team
2009 Levon Washington IF/OF Did not sign
2008 Tim Beckham SS Class-A Charlotte (Rays)
2007 David Price LHP Tampa Bay (MLB)
2006 Evan Longoria 3B Tampa Bay (MLB)

Recent Draft History

Rising fast
Jeremy Hellickson has all the pitches and the right makeup to make a big contribution at the Major League level. An eighth-round pick in the June 2006 Draft, the right-hander would already have reached the Major Leagues in most organizations.

Cinderella story
The Rays drafted David Newmann in the fourth round of the June 2007 Draft, but he did not play until 2008 due to a knee injury. Last season, the southpaw went 9-6 with a 3.44 for Class A Charlotte; he is a starter for Double-A Montgomery this season.

In The Show
David Price was the top pick of the 2007 Draft and has validated that selection at every opportunity since. He made his Major League debut in 2008 and became a weapon in the Rays' bullpen during their postseason run. He is now an integral part of the starting rotation.

There aren't enough superlatives to express what Evan Longoria has meant to the Rays since joining the team early in 2008. Immediately he established himself as an impact player on offense and defense en route to winning American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2008. He's signed to a long-term deal and should continue to be the face of the team.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.