Rays face challenge of late Draft pick

Rays face challenge of late Draft pick

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays will find themselves in a different position on Tuesday when they make their first pick in the Draft after 29 players have already been selected.

In the previous two Drafts, the Rays have had the top pick, selecting David Price in 2007 and Tim Beckham in 2008. Recently, the Rays have typically had one of the highest picks based on the team's performance at the Major League level. All of that changed in 2008 when the Rays won the American League East division and advanced to their first World Series.

"Drafting 30th is definitely challenging," said Andrew Friedman, the Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations. "More so than where we've been the last three years. That said, I hope we're in this position every year."

MLB.com will offer live coverage and analysis of the entire First-Year Player Draft on June 9-11. MLB Network will broadcast the first round at 6 p.m. ET on June 9 from its Studio 42 in Secaucus, N.J., and those 32 selections also will be simulcast live on MLB.com.

Beginning with the 33rd pick, up-to-the-minute on-air coverage from the remaining rounds will shift exclusively to MLB.com, where host Vinny Micucci will be joined by MLB.com Draft expert Jonathan Mayo and Major League Scouting Bureau director Frank Marcos.

Once the first night is done, the Draft will continue with rounds 4-30, via conference call from MLB headquarters in New York, at noon on June 10. Rounds 31-50 will be on June 11, starting at 11:30 a.m.

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

In about 50 words
According to Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison, this year's Draft is not as strong in regards to college position players as it has been in the past, at least for players at the top of the board. But he believes there are quality high school catchers and shortstops and some good athletic center-fielder types.

The scoop
"It's a real splintered Draft this year," Harrison said. "And that's not because it's a weak Draft. I just think there are a lot of guys to pick from. We're pretty encouraged about it. We feel pretty strongly we're going to get a guy we like down there. ... I think that we're going to have a tough decision. I think there's going to be some guys [available at No. 30], a pretty good group that we like pretty well."

First-round buzz
Early speculation has the Rays drafting a catcher, perhaps Tony Sanchez (Boston College) or Max Stassi (Yuba City H.S., Calif.), but Harrison said they are not drafting by positional needs, rather they want to find the best player available. Currently he said that set of players is as large as 15 to 20.

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 their 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.

Recent top picks
2008: Beckham, shortstop, Griffin (Ga.) High School

Beckham signed quickly after the Rays selected him with the top pick of last year's Draft and getting him into the system has paid off. He showed great progress between the time he signed with the Rays and when he participated in Spring Training. Currently he plays for the Class A Bowling Green Hot Rods and is doing well.

2007: Price, LHP, Vanderbilt University

Price was the top pick of the 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 began the 2009 season at Triple-A Durham and recently joined the Rays, where he should be a cornerstone of the staff for years to come.

2006: Evan Longoria, 3B, Long Beach State

There aren't enough superlatives to express what 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.

Rising fast
Desmond Jennings, OF, Itawamba Junior College

Jennings has five-tool potential and is showing it at Double-A Montgomery. Jennings was selected in the 10th round of the 2006 June Draft and has lit up every level he has played at until injuries slowed him in 2008.

Cinderella story
Heath Rollins, RHP, Winthrop University

Rollins was selected in the 11th round of the 2006 Draft and has found success climbing the Minor League ladder. In 2007 he won 17 games for Columbus and in 2008, he led Vero Beach with 115 strikeouts before finishing the season at Montgomery. He currently pitches at Montgomery.

In The Show
Price and Longoria, see above.

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