Roger Mooney covers the Tampa Bay Rays for The Tampa Tribune, TBO.com and News Channel 8. He has covered the Rays since their first season in 1998, including 11 years for the Bradenton Herald. Roger has also covered Florida, South Florida and Florida State football, the Bucs and the Lightning.
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With six picks in top 100, Rays approach important draft
Posted Jun 1, 2010 by Tribune Sports
Updated Jun 1, 2010 at 09:04 PM
By TONY FABRIZIO
ST. PETERSBURG – In Toronto, the Rays are trying to avoid losing any more ground in the American League East standings. Back at team headquarters, the club is trying to take advantage of an opportunity to bolster the player development side of their operation.
Because they didn’t sign their first two picks last year, the Rays have two compensatory picks in next Monday’s first-year player draft. They own two first-round selections for the first time in club history, as well as three of the top 42 picks, five of the top 79 and six of the top 98.
The Blue Jays (eight and Angels (six) are the only other teams with as many selections in the top 100.
Rays executive vice president for baseball Andrew Friedman and scouting director R.J. Harrison are busy preparing for a draft in which the Rays will make 53 picks, their most since before the draft was restricted to 50 rounds in 1998.
Needless to say, the focus is on the three selections the Rays will make the opening night of a draft that will take place over three days.
“There are a number of guys, as we’re going through this, that we’d like to have,” Friedman said. “And we feel like having three of the top 42 picks, we’re going to be able add three really good players to our system on that first day, which is something we’ve never been in a position to do before.”
The Rays don’t have a shot at the top player in the draft, 17-year-old catcher Bryce Harper of Southern Nevada Junior College, or the next three or four highest rated players. But Harrison, who has spends nearly 200 days on the road scouting each year, said there’s good depth to the second tier of this year’s draft.
“I would say, and I want to say this in a positive way, that this draft is probably void of depth with really significant-type prospects,” he said. “But I think there’s a big pool of good prospects. In other words, at 17, 31 and 42, there’s not that big a difference in the pool of applicants. …
“I’ve heard that some of the (teams) that are picking at (No.) 5 and 6, it’s kind of like, if they could trade down, they would try to do that, although I don’t know there’s anybody that would want to trade up. Because there’s a general sense that’s at No. 5 or 6, you might be able to get that player at 15 or 20.”
There’s no trading of picks in Major League Baseball’s draft, although Friedman thinks having it would “introduce a whole different element that would make it a lot of fun.”
Last year, the Rays chose speedy Gainesville Buchholz High outfielder/second baseman with the 30th overall pick and Woodside, Calif., high school shortstop Kenny Diekroeger in the second round.
Washington said he was eager to sign on draft day, but the Rays and Washington’s agent, Scott Boras, never came to terms. After the signing deadline passed, Washington’s father, Victor Washington, told the Gainesville Sun the Rays broke a pre-draft agreement about the level of signing bonus the player would receive. The Rays never commented.
LeVon Washington failed to qualify at Florida and played at Chipola Junior College this year, hitting .356 with eight homers. He is back in the draft pool, his stock having fallen somewhat.
The Rays knew they were gambling on Diekroeger, because he has committed to Stanford, but they believed his upside was so substantial, he was worth the risk. Diekroeger is hittign .351 with 39 RBIs as a freshman at Stanford.
“The kid, when it was all said and done, just told me, ‘I don’t think I’m ready for this,’” Harrison said of Diekroeger. “He said, ‘I’ve never been away from home , I grew up 20 minutes from Stanford.’ He wasn’t one of those kids who had been on all those travel teams like a lot of these kids. …
“You learn from everything, and that’s’ really the first time we had really gotten involved with a Stanford commitment. That’s a tough commitment to break.”
Friedman said Monday that the Rays, who did sign seven of their other first eight picks last year, won’t change their approach in this year’s draft based on not being able to sign last year’s top selections.
“We’re very process driven in what we do,” Friedman said. “Obviously we’re disappointed to not have signed our first two guys, like last year, but we feel like our process was very good. Especially in light of the fact we have same-slot compensation in place.
“I think our track record speaks for itself in terms of our success signing guys we’ve drafted. And with everybody we’ve drafted up high, our full intent is to sign them. But we’re not going to just hand them a blank check. We’re going to do that within the realm of the evaluations we have on these players.”
Baseball America, in its annual draft preview, projects the Rays taking Oviedo High School right-handed pitcher A.J. Cole at No. 15, and Henderson (Texas) High School right-handed pitcher Tyrell Jenkins at No. 31. Among the other players who could be available when the Rays make their first selection are Clemson quarterback and outfielder Kyle Parker.
We’ll have more coverage of the draft in Sunday’s Tribune / TBO.com and in an upcoming Martin Fennelly column.