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Rays locked and loaded for deep Draft

Rays locked and loaded for deep Draft

Rays locked and loaded for deep Draft
ST. PETERSBURG -- Of all the drafts conducted by professional sports leagues, Major League Baseball brings the most gray areas to the party.

Can't-miss prospects often do miss because the survival of the fittest path to the Major Leagues can be derailed by any number of factors -- from injuries and lack of desire, to the simple fact a player just isn't talented enough. Locks do not exist.

With that in mind, Andrew Friedman likes the Rays' chances of coming away with some nice selections in this June's First-Year Player Draft.

More

"Obviously the more arrows you have, the more likely you are to hit the bulls-eye," said Friedman, the Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations.

Tampa Bay has a record 12 of the first 89 selections and 10 of the first 60, including three first-round picks, seven compensation picks and two second-round selections. Overall, the Rays will make 60 selections, which is the most by a Major League team since the Draft was restricted to 50 rounds in 1998.

"It's great to have this many picks in large part because of the failure rate; it gives us more of a chance to get guys who can impact a Major League game," Friedman said. "For us, with our resources, that's why the Draft is so important for us."

Tampa Bay won't make its first pick until the 24th pick, which came as compensation for losing Carl Crawford to the Red Sox. After that, they'll make back-to-back picks at 31 and 32.

In addition to the 24th selection, the Rays added the Nos. 31, 38, 41, 42, 52, 56, 59, 60, and 75 overall picks thanks to free-agent compensation.

Draft Central

This is just the second time in club history the Rays have had extra picks. In 2010, they had two first-round picks and six of the first 100 selections: the 17th, 31st, 42nd, 66th, 79th and 98th selections.

"It's a great opportunity for us," Friedman said. "[Scouting and development is] more important for us than any other team in baseball in the division that we compete in, the resources that we compete against. It's critical for our future success."

Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft begins with a one-hour preview show on Monday, at 6 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

Once again, the Rays' philosophy will be to select the best available talent, despite any organizational weaknesses at given positions. For example, catching is often cited as the organization's Achilles' heel. Nevertheless, the Rays will not draft a catcher just to draft a catcher. Fact is, catching remains the most difficult position on a diamond to master, a point R.J. Harrison addressed.

The Rays' scouting director noted that few organizations in baseball have any depth at catching because of the demands of the position.

"The beating that a catcher takes," Harrison said. "A guy that goes out there every day, and then to expect him to also be proficient with the bat and hold up to the grind, there aren't a lot of guys running around who can do that.

"It's hard. That's why you see a lot of these veteran guys who keep hanging around because there just aren't a lot of guys coming to get their jobs."

Rays' recent top picks
Year Player Position Current
2010 Josh Sale OF Extended Spring
2009 LeVon Washington OF Did not sign
2008 Tim Beckham SS Montgomery (AA)
2007 David Price LHP Tampa Bay (MLB)
2006 Evan Longoria 3B Tampa Bay (MLB)

Harrison pointed out that the organization has invested in some catchers over the last couple of years -- guys the organization believes have the potential to develop into Major League catchers.

"We'll check back again in three or four years to see how we're doing," Harrison said.

Harrison paused before adding: "But Johnny Bench is not out there."

Whether the next Johnny Bench is out there in this year's Draft or not, Harrison is excited about the opportunity this year's Draft will bring the Rays' organization.

"We've been working at this, it's an ongoing process," Harrison said. "I think there's a chance to continue to add really valuable resources to our system, turn them over to the player development guys. That's the goal every year, to add as many good players as we can. ... I don't like to put big, grandiose labels on it, but it's really a chance to add to our development."

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

In about 50 words
The 2011 Draft is being heralded for having a deep pool of talent, which should bode well for the Rays since they have 12 of the first 89 selections: Nos. 24, 31, 32, 38, 41, 42, 52, 56, 59, 60, 75 and 89. No team has ever had as many selections in the top 100 picks.

The scoop
"This is something that didn't just sneak up on us," Friedman said. "We anticipated being in this position. ... We're prepared to do what we need to do. And I'm very confident that the guys who want to go out and start their pro careers, that we'll be in a position to sign all of them."

First-round buzz
A lot of speculation suggests that the Rays' first selection will be a local: Right-hander Jose Fernandez from Tampa's Alonso High. Not only can he hit 98 mph on the radar gun, he complements his heater with a nice array of pitches.

Shopping list
You can bet the Rays won't stray from their mantra, which is to always have a stable of quality arms in their system. There is a wealth of power arms as well as left-handed pitching in this Draft. Catching remains a glaring weak spot in the organization.

Trend watch
While the organization as a whole is trending toward defensive-oriented position players to complement what their Major League team is doing, middle-of-the-diamond players and athletes rank at the top of their list for whom to draft.

Recent Draft History
Rising fast
David Dietrich was taken in the second round of last year's Draft. Coming out of Georgia Tech, he is well advanced after playing against quality ACC competition. He came to the organization with the ability to swing the bat and drive the baseball. Dietrich has a strong arm; the Rays will likely let him stay at shortstop until he proves he cannot play the position.

Cinderella story
Sean O'Malley was a fifth-round selection in the 2006 Draft, but was sidelined by a right-shoulder injury during the '10 season. He is now playing second base at Double-A Montgomery. In '09, the speedy O'Malley was named the "Best Baserunner" in the organization after stealing 40 bases for Charlotte. The Rays are happy to have him back playing again.

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 '08 and became a weapon in the Rays' bullpen during their postseason run. After going 19-6 in 2010, Price is now the No. 1 starter.

Evan Longoria joined the team early in the 2008 season and has seemingly been a star since his arrival. 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.

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