Tampa Bay Rays: A Decade Of Hits And Misses In The 1st Round

by Jon Erkkila | Posted on Tuesday, August 27th, 2013
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Price and Longoria

1st Round Pick Over the Past 10-years: Tampa Bay Rays

The last 10-years have been quite a ride for the Rays when it comes to the Rule 4 Draft. For a period between 2004 and 2007 they struck gold while drafting near the top of Round 1 and helped build the bedrock of their MLB roster that would contend for AL East titles in the years ahead. But beginning with a big whiff in 2008 the Rays have seemed to hit a fallow period that could imperil their long term plan unless a few draftees really step up soon.

2013- Nick Ciuffo C South Carolina prep

Ciuffo was drafted at #21 overall. While high school catchers scare off many teams in the early rounds due to a rather high washout rate, Ciuffo seems to have the overall skill set that could make him the exception. A lefty bat who projects from some power and powerful throwing arm that should make him an asset behind the plate. Only 18, he’s probably three years off.

Ryne Stanek RHP University of Arkansas

Stanek fell to the Rays after having some performance issues during his final season in college. However he was thought of as a Top 10 talent for most of the prior year and if his command issues can be resolved in the Rays’ system it could be a huge steal moving forward with a player chosen 29th overall.

2012- Richie Shaffer 3B, Clemson

Shaffer was chosen 25th overall and his power bat was the calling card behind the selection. His first full season of professional baseball is going “okay”. He isn’t setting the Florida State League on fire but isn’t in a full on struggle either. His slash is at .258/.314/.411. So the power isn’t there yet and his K/BB ratio of 103:34 is only moderately acceptable. The Rays may have to have Shaffer repeat the level at the beginning of next season and that would be a set back.

2011- Taylor Guerrieri RHP South Carolina prep

Guerrieri was the first pick in one of the largest draft hauls in MLB history as the Rays were able to game the draft compensation system to have 12 of the first 89 selections in the 2011 draft. Guerrieri dominated the short-season New York Penn League in 2012 and picked right up by posting a nifty 2.01 ERA in the Midwest League this season with a 4:1 K/BB ratio. However the Rays hit a major speed bump with Guerrieri as he’s been sidelined with Tommy John Surgery this summer. He’ll be on ice for the next year. This isn’t devastating since Guerrieri should return, but its never a guarantee. The Rays have had amazing fortune avoiding Tommy John in their system over the years. It was bound to bite them at some point.

2010- Josh Sale RF, Washington prep

Sale is another long term play by the Rays drafting high school talent early. Sale struggled in his first pro experience in the Appy League in 2011 but was rebounding with decent secondary stats in Low A in 2012. Then things came off the rails. First a 50-game for amphetamine use. That was bad. Then came an incident in a strip club this spring that has caused the Rays to suspend Sale indefinitely. He has not played in 2013. Not good.

2009- LeVon Washington 2B, Chipola Junior College

Washington did not sign and re-entered the draft two years later to be drafted by the Cleveland Indians.

2008- Tim Beckham SS, Georgia prep

Did the decision really come down to Beckham or Buster Posey?  If so, not much further need be said. Beckham was the draft’s first overall selection and now appears ticketed for perhaps a utility infielder role at the MLB level. Posey is an elite catcher with an MVP and two World Series rings. If Posey was a Ray, would the Rays have the hardware that has eluded them to this point? That’s how the draft can work sometimes…

2007- David Price LHP, Vanderbilt

If the Beckham pick was a dud, the Price selection first overall in ’07 was a Grand Slam. The Cy Young Award winning Ace has been all the Rays could possibly have hoped for and probably more. With free agency looming it will be interesting to see if the Rays make a major deviation from their usual methods and toss cash at Price…or will they  market him on the trade front to get a massive haul from the clubs that will likely line up for Price. The Rays moved James Shields to get a cornerstone talent like Wil Myers…Price probably brings back more than Shields if the Rays hunt around.

2006- Evan Longoria 3B, Long Beach State

The Rays struck gold in 2006 with the selection of Longoria. A cornerstone talent in the making the Rays also moved quickly to sign Longoria to a hugely team friendly deal after only a few days in the majors in 2008. The Rays have been getting nothing but value from that deal as they have fielded contenders lead by Longoria. His power bat and smooth defense is the fuel to the Rays engine. He has now signed to another fairly affordable long term deal that will keep him a Ray through his prime years.

2005- Wade Townsend RHP, Rice

Townsend dominated at Rice with a 12-0 record and a 1.80 ERA and seemed like a natural choice at the time. But the term “Rice pitchers” was about to become a pejorative phrase as Rice pitchers seemed to start falling fall leaves all over the place. Townsend was not immune. He was plagued by should problems and never developed into the Ace he promised to be in college.

2004- Jeff Niemann RHP, Rice

Niemann was a Rice pitcher that did not have his arm explode. He did take his time progressing through the Rays system as he looked to coordinate his massive frame into a consistent starting pitcher. Niemann surfaced in Tampa in 2008 and then took a rotation role in for three seasons winning double digits each season. 2012 saw his season derailed by a broken leg and he lasted only 8 starts. 2013 has been lost to a torn labrum and season ending surgery. At age 30, his career is in limbo until he see how the shoulder responds to the surgery. Three solid seasons from a first round pick can’t be considered a “bust”, but he probably wasn’t the impact arm from a Top 5 pick that was envisioned on his draft day.

BHC Pick Of The Litter: Evan Longoria & David Price

BHC Franchise Flop: Tim Beckham

Analysis:

The Rays built their run of contention from 2008 through the present by showing some remarkable drafting acumen early in the Friedman Era and making some advantageous trades along the way. Dealing former first overall pick Delmon Young at precisely the right time for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett brought plenty of residual value in return over the subsequent season. Drafting Price and Longoria gave the club a superstar level core.

However beginning with the Beckham-whiff over Posey, the Rays have not gotten a lot of immediate impact in their last 5 draft classes. Trading Garza and Shields for a bevy of young players has certainly lessened the impact of ineffectual drafting and moving Price at some point may be the next move. However it will be interesting to see if the Rays can continue their impressive run of big league success if their draft system can’t turn the tide and find some players with their own picks. These players make it to the majors on the cheap and the Rays need those types of players to play major roles.

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Jon Erkkila
About the Author

Jon Erkkila is a native of Michigan's Upper Peninsula and a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan. Currently living in MLB Blackout Hell, otherwise known as Iowa. Follow him on twitter @yooper_ia







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