Recent high picks have Rays' farm crowded

Recent high picks have Rays' farm crowded

Recent high picks have Rays' farm crowded
With the 2012 First-Year Player Draft now completed, the Rays hold the rights to 40 of the best amateur baseball players in the country.

Those who choose to sign with Tampa Bay will face a challenging path to reach the Major Leagues, as the organization boasts a strong farm system that few teams can match.

The Rays had an abundance of high Draft picks last year, highlighted by the No. 24 overall selection, Taylor Guerrieri. The right-hander remains in extended spring camp but could see time in the Appalachian League once play begins.

The top position player taken by the Rays last year was Mikie Mahtook, the 31st overall pick. A two-sport star in high school, Mahtook has good power and a strong arm in the outfield. Through 54 games with Class A Advanced Port Charlotte, he's batting .281 with 23 RBIs.

2012 Draft Central

Tampa Bay also owned last year's 32nd overall pick, which was used to take shortstop Jake Hager. Still a few years from being Major League-ready, Hager has 20 RBIs in 43 games with Class A Bowling Green and is hitting .252 on the year.

In 2010, the Rays used their top pick on outfielder Josh Sale, who has been on a tear for Bowling Green in 2012. Through 20 games, he's hitting .368 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs. Sale is still projected to need a couple of more years in the Minor Leagues, but he has tremendous upside despite struggling throughout last season.

"I think he took stock on what happened last year," Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "He's had 60 at-bats in the Midwest League, and he's an All-Star starter in that league, so he's opened a lot of people's eyes there. ... He's grown up a lot over the past year."

Fellow outfielder Drew Vettleson was taken with the 42nd overall in 2010 and has fared well on the same team as Sale; the 20-year-old Vettleson is hitting .271 with 22 RBIs in 55 games.

Two other prospects, Hak-Ju Lee and Chris Archer, weren't drafted by the Rays but instead acquired in a trade before last season that sent Matt Garza to the Cubs. Lee, a shortstop, entered the season ranked by as the No. 40 prospect in baseball, and he's hitting .240 for Double-A Montgomery. Lee is known for his fielding skills and has good speed that could potentially be on display in the Majors at some point next season.

Archer, meanwhile, could see action for the Rays this season if there's an opening. The right-hander has struggled so far this season, going 3-7 with a 5.09 ERA in 12 starts, but he does have 76 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings.

Other Rays prospects haven't fared as well. Shortstop Tim Beckham, the No. 1 overall pick in 2008 set career highs in home runs and RBIs last season, but he received a 50-game suspension in early May after a second violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program for a drug of abuse.

Greg Zeck is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.