With Draft near, Rays' philosophy hasn't changed

June 10th, 2020

Though the MLB Draft will look different this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the focus remains the same for the Rays, who will be looking to add as much talent as possible to their Minor League system.

“There [are] going to be a lot of differences,” said Rays scouting director Rob Metzler, “but a lot of similarities.”

The big difference this year is that the Draft will only be five rounds. The undrafted players will then be free to sign with whichever team they like. It’s something that nobody has seen before, creating some uncertainty of what the process will look like.

“We’ve never experienced anything quite like that, nor has any other club, and I think Major League Baseball is doing what they can to provide safeguards for the players that are in that situation,” said Rays general manager Erik Neander. “We don’t really know what to expect, but doing our best to prepare and if we can provide opportunity to players, that’s something that we’re going to lean on our scouts and our staff to identify the right players to do that with.”

One other thing that will look different will be the way the Rays communicate throughout the two nights of the Draft. The Rays will have a big Zoom meeting, which will take some getting used to. They will host a mock Draft situation in order to familiarize themselves with what it will look like. Metzler said that it’s going to require “discipline” in order to allow scouts and officials to express their opinions on different picks.

Neander, who will have his war room televised during the team’s picks, says he’s not planning on drafting at any lavish location. He said that he’s planning on making the team’s selections in his office at Tropicana Field.

On the other hand, one of the similarities, according to Metzler, is the philosophy the Rays will carry into the Draft process. They will continue to value high character and talent, regardless of whether the players are from the high school or college ranks.

Metzler did add, however, that scouting high school players is more difficult because a lot of that scouting work comes from visiting and watching players in person.

“It’s a big challenge,” Metzler said. “If there were big strength gains, we might have some lead that they put on 10 or 15 pounds, you know, we might have some sense for those types of changes in young prospects. But how that applies to the game on the field and how that applies to competition, it’s going to be challenging for us to actually get the best sense for that.”

Day 1 of the 2020 Draft airs today on MLB Network and ESPN at 7 p.m. ET and includes the first 37 picks. Day 2 begins at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday on MLB Network and ESPN2 and spans the remainder of the 160 picks.

Comprehensive coverage will be available on MLB.com and MLB Pipeline, which will simulcast MLB Network’s broadcast. Go to MLB.com/Draft to see when teams pick, the Top 200 Prospects list, mock Drafts from analysts Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, scouting video and more. And follow @MLBDraft and @MLBDraftTracker on Twitter to see what Draft hopefuls, clubs and experts are saying and to get each pick as it’s made.

Here’s how the Draft is shaping up for the Rays, whose first selection is the 24th overall pick.

State of the system
Over the past few years, the Rays have been able to stockpile a ton of talent throughout the organization, and they come into this year’s Draft with the best farm system in baseball. The Rays have six players in the Pipeline Top 100, headlined by top overall prospect Wander Franco.

What they’re saying
“I really think that for [Rob Metzler] and the staff, the behaviors should be pretty similar. You’re not making as many picks, but you’re still making a first-round pick, a second-round pick, and so on, much like you would any other year. You don’t have the sheer number and volume of opportunities that we’ve had historically, but you know the access to tell the top of the Draft is pretty similar. At the end of the day, you’re trying to select players that you believe are those most likely to positively impact your Major League team sometime down the road.” -- Neander on the team’s philosophy in a five-round Draft

Whom might they take?
The Rays are always looking for ways to add young pitching to the system, and that could be a focal point again this year. In his latest mock Draft, MLB.com Draft expert Jim Callis has the Rays taking pitcher Jarred Kelley from Refugio High in Texas. MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo also has Tampa Bay taking a pitcher, but one from the college ranks in Louisville right-hander Bobby Miller.

Money matters
Each team gets an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of its selections in the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. This year, with a five-round Draft, all signing bonuses of drafted players will apply toward the bonus pool total.

For 2020, there is a $20,000 limit on bonuses for non-drafted free agents. There is no limit to the number of undrafted players teams may sign, but they cannot go over $20,000 per player. These bonuses do not count toward the pool total.

The Rays have a pool of $7,474,600 to spend, including $2,831,300 to spend on their first selection.

Shopping list
The Rays come into the Draft with the best farm system in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline, making it incredibly difficult to find a weakness. Tampa Bay has stockpiled a lot of talented pitchers and position players over the years, and a lot of that has to do with the success they’ve had in the Draft.

If there’s one position -- and this is mostly nitpicking -- that could use some reinforcement, it would certainly be third base. Of their Top 30 prospects on Pipeline, only Kevin Padlo serves primarily as a third baseman. Mike Brosseau, who was on the Major League roster last season, is also a young player at that position. With that being said, Tampa Bay will continue to try to add competition at the position, but it won’t necessarily be a pressing need on Draft day, even with the shortened Draft.

Trend watch
Neander and his staff have preached a “best player available” mentality, and that has certainly been the case during the Draft. Four years ago, the Rays selected outfielder Josh Lowe out of high school and then selected two-way player Brendan McKay out of Louisville a year later. Two years ago, the Rays selected high school pitcher Matthew Liberatore with their first selection and then turned around and selected shortstop Greg Jones in the first round last season. The Rays have been one of the most unpredictable teams on Draft night, and we expect that to continue this year.

The recent top picks:
2019: SS Greg Jones (Class A Short Season Hudson Valley)
2018: LHP Matthew Liberatore (Traded to St. Louis)
2017: LHP/DH Brendan McKay (Triple-A Durham)
2016: OF Josh Lowe (Double-A Montgomery)
2015: OF Garrett Whitley (Class A Advanced Charlotte)