Rays continue to show Day 2 chops
Second-round gems have made Tampa Bay a contender
Since they entered Major League Baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays have been a mainstay at the top of the Draft. As a result, they've been able to stockpile elite talent, future stars who have been cornerstones to the turnaround in Tampa.
BJ Upton, Evan Longoria and David Price were all taken in the top three and all made big contributions to the club that went to the World Series last year, leading to the Rays picking an unfamiliar 30th in this year's first round.
But marquee players alone cannot win a title or fill a roster. It goes far beyond that. A team's ability to find talent in Day 2 (and now Day 3) of the Draft is essential for the long-term success of any organization.
"Everybody expects the high guys to be good," said Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison, who's been with the organization from its very first Draft in 1996. "But from where I sit, you've invested the money in them, they better be good. If they're not, we're doing something wrong.
"We take a lot of gratification on guys taken down. Typically, they have to grind it out, they're not getting as many as opportunities as guys at the top of the Draft. They have to take advantage of what opportunities they get and fight from level to level. Typically, it's a guy with tremendous makeup, they have to be tough to get through that battle. You have to be happy for a guy like that."
Rays -- Top five selections
|30||2B||LeVon Washington||Buchholz HS|
|78||SS||Kenneth Diekroeger||Menlo School|
|108||CF||Todd Glaesmann||Midway HS|
|139||C||Lucas Bailey||Troup County HS|
|169||1B||Jeffrey Malm||Bishop Gorman HS|
|Complete Rays Draft results >|
Without guys like that, the Rays probably wouldn't have made it to the Fall Classic a year ago. The World Series roster had James Shields, a 16th rounder from the 2000 Draft whom the Rays had to give third-round money to sign, outfielder Fernando Perez (seventh round, 2004 Draft), who's legs helped the Rays get through the ALCS, and Andy Sonnanstine (13th round, 2004), who won 13 games in the regular season and won a game in each of the first two rounds of the playoffs.
"He had to prove everything at every level," Harrison said about Sonnanstine. "Those are special guys. Those guys are really made right."
Because of those guys, the Rays' 2004 Draft has the chance to be extremely special. Along with Perez and Sonnanstine, first-rounder Jeff Niemann is up in the big leagues as is second-round pick Reid Brignac. Wade Davis and Jake McGee, taken in the third and fifth rounds, aren't far away from adding to the club's embarrassment of pitching riches.
While the first-round picks get the attention, the television coverage and the seven-figure bonuses, scouts really get to roll up their sleeves and show their worth with the picks on the second day of the Draft.
"In particular, it's fun for the area guys because that's the time where their work [pays off]," said Harrison, who still recalls one of the last late-round guys he signed as an area scout, long-time backup catcher Vance Wilson, a 44th round draft-and-follow in 1993. "The job they've done on players, especially the deeper you get in, you depend on that. You lean on what they've told you and what they've reported. That's how we make these choices going on through the Draft."
As for this year, did the Rays find some more value in Day 2? Rays fans need to look no further than the first selection they made, fourth-round pick Luke Bailey.
Bailey was considered perhaps the best all-around high school catcher entering the season until a right elbow injury and Tommy John elbow ligament surgery put that in doubt. Someone was bound to take him and hope to bring him in to the system and let him rehab with a pro staff. The Rays ended up being that team, relying on the relationship area scout Milt Hill had with Bailey and his family to feel comfortable that they'll be able to get a deal done, not only with Bailey, but with most of their 2009 draftees.
"We're very excited. That's the way you make your Draft grow, to have the opportunity to get a guy like that," Harrison said. "Circumstances allowed us to do that with the Tommy John surgery. Certainly, some risk in this deal, but we think the risk is outweighed by the fact that the the reward has the chance to be tremendous.
"This isn't just something that happens. We've done some pretty good work on that guy, with the family and with Luke. We're very optimistic we'll get these guys signed. We'll see what happens."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.