The Rays are known for building successful rosters through savvy trades and shrewd, under-the-radar pickups. They’ve done well acquiring international prospects lately. But to win on a consistent basis, ultimately, they must draft and develop their own stars.
That’s reflected any time you look at a list of their greatest players. Evan Longoria and David Price? Drafted and developed. Carl Crawford and James Shields? Same deal. More recent stars like Kevin Kiermaier, Blake Snell and Brandon Lowe? They came up through the Rays’ system, too.
There are exceptions, of course. Tampa Bay acquired Ben Zobrist, Scott Kazmir and Chris Archer in trades. Carlos Peña first caught on as a Minor League free agent. More recently, Charlie Morton was a free-agent signing and Austin Meadows was acquired for Archer. But over the Rays' first 23 years of existence, the their brightest stars have been homegrown.
For these rankings, we’re only evaluating how much the players produced for the Rays after being drafted by the team. (So Price’s ring with the Red Sox, or James Shields’ value with the Royals, won’t be considered.) We used various calculations of WAR as a barometer for on-field value, but this also takes into account other factors like team success, lasting impact, etc.
With all that said, here are the top five homegrown Draft picks in Rays history.
1) Evan Longoria (2006 Draft, third overall)
Taken with the first and second overall picks in the 2006 Draft: Luke Hochevar and Greg Reynolds, respectively, who combined to total 2.2 wins above replacement in their careers. The third pick turned out a little better for the drafting team.
That would be Longoria, the Rays’ franchise player for 10 years and still their most accomplished overall player as the team’s career leader in WAR (51.8), games (1,435), doubles (338), home runs (261), RBIs (892), runs (780), walks (569), extra-base hits (618) and total bases (2,630). However you want to look at it -- individual success, team success, big moments, national recognition -- Longoria is the greatest player the Rays have had.
From 2008-17, only the following position players posted a higher WAR total than Longoria during his tenure with the Rays: Adrián Beltré, Joey Votto, Mike Trout and Robinson Canó.
Tampa Bay’s 2008 renaissance coincided not just with the team’s name change but with the arrival of Longoria, who won the American League Rookie of the Year Award after the Rays pulled off their worst-to-first turnaround and won the AL pennant. Longoria made three straight All-Star teams from ‘08-10, won three AL Gold Glove Awards for his fine work at third base and hit one of the most famous home runs in recent memory to complete the club's frantic comeback in Game 162 on the final day of the 2011 regular season.
2) Carl Crawford (1999 Draft, second round)
Crawford could have played college basketball or football, but when Tampa Bay drafted him, he knew his career would be in baseball. That move worked out well for the team and the player, as Crawford emerged as a four-time AL All-Star and arguably the second-best overall player in franchise history behind Longoria.
Crawford was the club’s first true homegrown star, a player who could catch your eye at the plate, on the bases and in the outfield. He slashed .296/.337/.444 with 104 homers and 215 doubles during his nine seasons with the Rays. Only Longoria has totaled more WAR than Crawford’s 35.6 with the team. He holds the franchise record with 1,480 hits and 105 triples, and he’s second in runs (765) and RBIs (592).
Nobody in Tampa Bay history comes close to matching Crawford’s record of 409 stolen bases. He swiped 50 or more in five different seasons, and he occupies the top seven spots on the Rays’ single-season leaderboard, with a peak of 60 steals in 2009.
Crawford played in 1,235 games with the organization, trailing only Longoria. He was named MVP of the 2009 All-Star Game thanks to his home run-preventing grab at the wall, then he won his only Gold Glove Award the next season. The desire to see him rob more homers led to the shortened section of the left-field wall at Tropicana Field, the so-called “Crawford Cutout,” over which Longoria homered in Game 162.
3) David Price (2007 Draft, first overall)
Even when they pick first overall, teams often quickly come to rue their top choices in the Draft. The Rays never had any such reason for regret after picking Price at the top of the 2007 Draft.
A little more than a year after leaving Vanderbilt University, Price was pitching for the AL East champion Rays in September 2008. He stood on the mound for the best moment in franchise history that October, the final out of the 2008 AL Championship Series. The southpaw didn’t immediately find his form in '09, but he was every bit the top-of-the-rotation starter they wanted from '10 until the time he was dealt to Detroit before the Trade Deadline in ’14.
Price finished second behind Félix Hernández in the AL Cy Young Award voting in 2010 and won the award in ’12, when he went 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA and 205 strikeouts in 211 innings over 31 starts. He pitched a gem to finish off '13, working a complete game against the Rangers in Game 163. Price also made four AL All-Star teams during his seven seasons with Tampa Bay.
The left-hander’s 3.18 ERA is the lowest among Rays pitchers with at least 300 innings. He ranks second in franchise history with 82 wins, second with 1,143 2/3 innings and third with 1,065 strikeouts. No Tampa Bay pitcher with more than 300 innings has a lower WHIP than his 1.14 mark, either.
4) James Shields (2000 Draft, 16th round)
Shields is the franchise’s all-time leader in wins (87), starts (217), complete games (19), shutouts (eight), innings (1,454 2/3) and strikeouts (1,250). Given the way pitcher usage has evolved, we’ll likely look back in a few years and marvel even more than we do now at the 2011 season -- 249 1/3 innings, 2.82 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 11 complete games, four shutouts -- that made him “Complete Game James.”
The right-hander was a model of durability during his time with Tampa Bay, making at least 31 starts in each of his six full seasons with the Rays and posting for 33 starts every year from 2008-12. He was also a model for the franchise's younger pitchers, including Price and Archer, with a motto that captured his tireless work ethic: “If you don’t like it, pitch better.”
Shields was a steady presence in the rotation the first two times the Rays won the AL East in 2008 and ’10, and he was the ace of the unlikely AL Wild Card team in '11. Not bad at all for a 16th-round Draft pick -- the only player selected in his round to reach the Majors, much less enjoy the successful career he did.
5) Kevin Kiermaier (2010 Draft, 31st round)
Speaking of longshot, late-round Draft picks, how about Kiermaier? Selected 941st overall out of Parkland College, the center fielder made himself into a hard-working, heart-and-hustle player and one of the game’s best defenders at any position.
Kiermaier hasn’t put up the offensive numbers you might expect for a player whose 27.4 WAR ranks fourth in franchise history. He enters 2021 with a career .248/.307/.413 slash line, 71 homers, 257 RBIs and 97 steals in 729 games. But the three-time AL Gold Glove Award winner and recipient of the '15 Platinum Glove Award has been such a game-changing player on defense that he’s been an extremely valuable player during his time with Tampa Bay, the focal point of its outfield and a key part of the club's run-prevention machine.
Over the course of his career, Kiermaier has totaled 135 defensive runs saved. Only shortstop Andrelton Simmons has posted a higher defensive WAR (20) than Kiermaier (16) since 2014, which is just one representation of Kiermaier’s elite performance in the field. His impact extends off the field, like the others on this list, as he was a clubhouse leader during the Rays’ return to the postseason in '19 and their run to the World Series last year.