Rays fare well with pitcher-heavy '20 Draft class

June 12th, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays entered the 2020 MLB Draft owning the best farm system in baseball, which is largely due to the fact that Tampa Bay has a plethora of quality arms within the organization.

After the Draft, that pool of talent got even deeper as the Rays used four of their six Draft picks on pitching prospects.

Nick Bitsko was the Rays’ first-round pick, and the 17-year-old right-hander has the potential to be an ace. Bitsko’s four-seam fastball was clocked in at 98.5 mph during a recent bullpen session, which could potentially help him move quickly through the Minors.

But while Bitsko was the top pick, the Rays also added second-round pick Ian Seymour, third-round pick Hunter Barnhart and closed out the Draft by taking right-handed reliever Jeff Hakanson from UCF.

The Rays also added more depth at the shortstop position, adding two college shortstops in Alika Williams and Tanner Murray. Williams served as Arizona State’s cleanup hitter and was projected to play a key role in the Sun Devils’ pursuit of a national championship. Murray didn’t get a chance to redeem himself from an underwhelming performance in the Cape Cod League, but the shortstop prospect proved himself enough during college, hitting over .300 in all three seasons with the Aggies.

Now what?
The next step for the Rays will be to sign their six Draft picks and come to terms with some non-drafted free agents that they like. Tampa Bay has a $2,831,300 slot value to sign Bitsko, the club’s first-round selection. He’s committed to the University of Virginia, so heading to college isn’t out of the question. On Wednesday, Bitsko said that he and his family will make a decision over the next couple of weeks.

As for the rest of the signees, there’s a very good chance that the Rays will sign all of them. Williams’ slot value is $1,999,300 and it’s possible that he could sign under slot in order for Tampa Bay to have more flexibility with Bitsko and the rest of the picks. Seymour’s slot value is $1,243,600. The two sides are expected to come to an agreement soon, according to sources.

Barnhart, the team’s third-round selection, appears determined to sign with the Rays as opposed to attending Arizona State. Murray’s slot value is $455,600 and Hakanson’s is $340,000. Both players are expected to sign and, according to sources, Hakanson is set to sign soon, pending a physical. Tampa Bay’s total slot money this season is $7,474,600.

The signing deadline this year is Aug. 1.

If a club exceeds its assigned pool, it faces a penalty. Teams that outspend their allotment by zero to five percent pay a 75 percent tax on the overage. At higher thresholds, clubs lose future picks: a first-rounder and a 75 percent tax for surpassing their pool by more than five and up to 10 percent; a first- and a second-rounder and a 100 percent tax for more than 10 and up to 15 percent; and two first-rounders and a 100 percent tax for more than 15 percent.

In eight years with these rules, teams have exceeded their allotment a total of 149 times, but never by more than five percent. Twenty-one of the 30 teams outspent their pool last year.

Trend wrap
As usual, the Rays looked for value during the Draft, and this time it resulted in adding even more pitching to their system. However, it’s not much of a surprise that Tampa Bay landed four pitchers that all have a power fastball. Bitsko, Barnhart and Hakanson have the ability to reach 98 mph in the future, while Seymour will be around 96 mph with a pair of impressive breaking balls.

First-round fact
As impressive as Bitsko looks on the field, he has also done a lot of good off the field, even at a young age. Over the last few years, Bitsko has volunteered locally with the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and has also completed a couple of mission trips to the Dominican Republic.

Day 2 name to watch
Hakanson is a player that the Rays believe can be a part of their bullpen in a year or two, but landing Barnhart in the third round is exactly the value pick Tampa Bay looks for. The young right-hander split his time between football and baseball, but now he’s solely focusing on baseball, which should help his development. Barnhart could’ve helped his Draft stock by going to college, potentially becoming a first-round selection in a few years, but he says he’s ready to get into pro baseball with the Rays.

NDFA strategy
Both general manager Erik Neander and senior director of amateur scouting Rob Metzler said that they’re not sure what to expect in the non-drafted free-agent market. The club, however, will look to be opportunistic and look for value, just like it does during a normal Draft period. With a loaded farm system, the Rays will likely be pretty selective with the type of players they decide to pursue.

“We will have a pretty focused approach towards ordering what’s left on the board,” Metzler said. “We’ll be pretty systematic with how we communicate with prospects in that area. It’ll really be about communication and opportunity. That’s what it’s going to be about.”

The last word
“Pretty interesting mix and it ended up being a pretty balanced group. Not necessarily any intention to it, but really just focused on taking what we believe is the best player on the board. But it’s not a bad thing when it works out that way.” -- Metzler on the Rays’ 2020 Draft class