Rays eyeing position players in Draft
Club looks to bolster strong pitching staff with field depth
Rich with the fruits of previous Drafts on their Major League roster, the Rays will have a chance to add another impact player to their ranks with the No. 1 pick of this year's First-Year Player Draft.
In the past, the Rays have had a mixed history in regard to who they selected in the June Draft, with Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, James Shields, Andy Sonnanstine and Evan Longoria among the players drafted and signed by the club.
MLB.com will carry every pick of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, which takes place June 5-6, at The Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla. Day 1 coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET with a simulcast of ESPN2's broadcast of the first round and compensation picks. The remaining rounds on Day 1 will be shown exclusively at MLB.com, with live analysis on site from MLB.com Draft guru Jonathan Mayo.
Several of the top amateur prospects are expected in attendance in Orlando for Day 1 of the Draft, and each of the 30 Major League clubs will be represented by front-office executives and baseball luminaries. Fans are welcome to attend Day 1 of the Draft, and admission to The Milk House is free with seating limited to a first-come, first-served basis.
Day 2 will get under way at 11:30 a.m. and continue through Round 50, if necessary. Every pick on Day 2 can be heard live at MLB.com.
Here's a glance at what the Rays have in store as the First-Year Player Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
This year's Draft looks strong for position players. According to Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison, "There are a lot of interesting bats and there could be a record set for first basemen drafted in the first round this year."
Of the position players, college infielders look to be a particularly strong group, but there are not a lot of marquee college pitchers who will go in the early rounds.
"I think you've kind of got to go toward the strength of the Draft," Harrison said. "We'll stack them up and just see how they unfold. The problem is there are always more pitchers than anything else. We're more willing to project on pitchers, it's easier to find fault -- as an industry -- on position players and project on pitchers. Not that we want to push position players up, but we're trying to be more open minded to them."
Several names pop out as favorites to become the top pick. Among them are Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez. If indeed the Rays opt for Alvarez, Vanderbilt could claim the bragging rights for having the top pick two years running since David Price also played for the Commodores.
While Alvarez is regarded as the top hitter in a Draft rich with hitters, he also plays third base, Longoria's position. The Rays drafted Longoria in 2006, and signed him to a long-term contract before his second week in the Major Leagues.
"Everybody asks why we would take Alvarez when we have Longoria," Harrison said. "You can't have enough good guys. We plan on [Longoria] being an anchor for the next nine years, but who knows? What if there's an unfortunate injury?"
Another negative in Alvarez's corner is the fact he'll be represented by Scott Boras, which is always a consideration.
Also believed to be in the running are Brian Matusz, a left-hander from the University of San Diego; Tim Beckham, a shortstop from Griffin (Ga.) High School; Gordon Beckham (no relation to Tim Beckham), a shortstop from the University of Georgia; and Buster Posey, a catcher from Florida State.
With the list whittled down to five, Harrison said he will begin making visits to those players.
"I'll go in with the area guy, have lunch or dinner, chat with the kids," Harrison said. "I just like to sit down and talk baseball with them. Talk life with them. Some I've already talked to, but we'll go back in and sit down and have that last get together."
The Rays' organization is extremely deep in the pitching department. And though the old axiom states you never can have enough pitching, this is one Draft where the Rays might want to address building their depth with position players.
"Always, you want depth up the middle of the field with your catcher, shortstop and center fielder," Harrison said.
Harrison added that just like a college football team recruiting high school quarterbacks and having them fan out to other positions, such is the case with shortstops, who in many cases are the best athletes on their teams.
Harrison pointed out that an organization's depth at any position can change quickly, citing the Rays' outfield situation.
"Certainly, we need to keep stocking the shelves," Harrison said. "A couple of years ago, it's like we've got all these outfielders, then this spring we're looking for one."
Harrison said he's not sure about any trends with the organization's drafting philosophy or a theme for what they want to do in this year's Draft.
"I don't know, I keep thinking about it," Harrison said. "There are a lot of good high school guys. The key, I think, is to have a good mixture. I always admired the Toronto Drafts when Tim Wilken was [their scouting director]. They always had a nice blend of players.
"With the high school guys, the signability factor comes in a lot more than with the college guys. Ideally, I would like us to get a nice mixture of college and high school players."
Recent top picks
2007 -- Left-hander David Price (Vanderbilt) -- Showed well during Spring Training and showed how polished he was with his poise and pitching abilities. Currently, he is at the team's Minor League complex in St. Petersburg nursing a left elbow problem.
2006 -- Third baseman Evan Longoria (Long Beach State) -- Has been everything the Rays projected him to be. A legitimate five-tool player, he joined the Rays on April 12 and signed a long-term contract less than a week later.
2005 -- Right-hander Wade Townsend (Rice) -- Hard-throwing right-hander has had a rough going, experiencing countless physical problems along the way. Currently, he is being used as a reliever at Double-A Montgomery.
Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson is at Class A Vero Beach, where he is posting some eye-popping numbers this season. After six starts, entering Sunday, he had a 3-0 record with a 1.29 ERA. In 35 innings pitched, he had 46 strikeouts.
Right-hander Heath Rollins, who was selected in the 11th round of the 2006 Draft out of Winthrop University, went 17-4 with a 2.54 ERA at Class A Columbus in 2007.
In The Show
Currently, Longoria is the only player to reach the Major Leagues from the previous three Drafts.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.