With a record 10 picks before the start of the second round, the Rays had a unique opportunity in the 2011 Draft. But they failed to take advantage of their three first-round choices and seven supplemental first-rounders, landing a quality left-handed starter (Blake Snell) but just two other fringe big leaguers (Mikie Mahtook, Tyler Goeddel) and nothing else.
:: 2018 Draft coverage ::
With its limited financial resources, Tampa Bay couldn't afford to swing and miss that badly. It's not a coincidence the club hasn't posted a winning record since 2013.
The Rays got another chance to clean up in the Draft this week. Thanks to the free-agent defection of Alex Cobb and the decision not to sign supplemental first-rounder Drew Rasmussen after he failed a post-Draft physical last year, Tampa Bay had three first-round choices (tying Kansas City for the most) and a bonus pool of $12,415,600 (second only to the Royals). Based on initial impressions, the Rays amassed a better group of talent this week than any club did.
With its first two selections, the Rays grabbed a pair of left-handers who never should have fallen as far as they did. Arizona prepster Matthew Liberatore has quality stuff, advanced feel for a teenager and projectability, as well as a combination that led some evaluators to consider him the best pitcher available, yet he lasted until No. 16. South Florida's Shane McClanahan looked like a top-10-overall choice before a late-season fade dropped him all the way to No. 31 despite a fastball that reaches 100 mph and one of the better changeups in the Draft.
Tampa Bay spent its third first-rounder, No. 32 overall, on Indiana high school outfielder Nick Schnell, who has the potential for solid-or-better tools across the board. It concluded the first day of the Draft with offensive-minded Florida Atlantic middle infielder Tyler Frank (second round) and California right-hander Tanner Dodson (supplemental second), who has a fastball that hits 97 mph, flashes a plus slider and also won the Cape Cod League batting title with a .365 average last summer.
Video: Metzler on selecting Matthew Liberatore 16th overall
On the second day, the Rays started with two up-the-middle college players in Rice shortstop Ford Proctor (third round), a grinder with a line-drive bat, and Tulane center fielder Grant Witherspoon (fourth), who has sneaky all-around ability. Georgia high school right-hander Taj Bradley (fifth) is raw but athletic and projectable with a promising sinker and curveball, while Saint Louis righty Miller Hogan (sixth) is a polished college performer. They also took a pair of interesting gambles on the third day in San Diego left-hander Nick Sprengel (15th) and California Baptist righty Justin Montgomery (17th), who figured to go in the first five rounds before rough springs.
Based on initial impressions, no team had a better 2018 Draft than Tampa Bay. Here are the four other clubs that collected the most talent, plus one that did well without having any extra first-day selections:
Video: KC@LAA: Royals GM Moore discusses Royals' draft picks
Like Tampa Bay, Kansas City had a pool of more than $12 million, three first-rounders and lucked into two pitchers who shouldn't have gotten to its first two picks. Florida right-hander Brady Singer was considered by all of the clubs in the top five before shockingly falling to No. 18, which will only fuel his considerable competitive fire, and with his stuff and track record, he's a good bet to race to the big leagues. Fellow Gators righty Jackson Kowar has a formidable fastball/changeup combo and should do the same after dropping from the mid-first-round to No. 33.
Afterward, the Royals continued to pound college pitching with left-handers Daniel Lynch (Virginia, first round), Kris Bubic (Stanford, supplemental first) and Austin Cox (Mercer, fifth) and righty Jonathan Bowlan (Memphis, second). They also added a pair of promising bats in college outfielders Kyle Isbel (UNLV, third) and Eric Cole (Arkansas, fourth).
Video: Deric Ladnier on D-backs' three picks on Day 1
With its first three choices, Arizona nabbed three players it would have been happy to select at No. 25: California prepster Matt McLain (first round), a steady shortstop with precocious feel for hitting; Virginia's Jake McCarthy (supplemental first), a speedy center fielder with a track record of producing at the plate; and Illinois high schooler Alek Thomas (second), another quick center fielder with similar tools to McCarthy.
The D-backs scored a number of hard-throwing righties on the second day with Kansas' Jackson Goddard (third), Wright State's Ryan Weiss (fourth), Oregon's Matt Mercer (fifth) and Florida prepster Levi Kelly (eighth). Another Sunshine State high schooler, shortstop Blaze Alexander (11th), offers the strongest infield arm in the Draft and also some raw power.
Video: Scott Barnsby on Tribe's first day of 2018 Draft
:: 2018 Draft prospect points ::
Besides Tampa Bay and Kansas City, Cleveland was the only other club with multiple first-rounders, which it used on one of the best all-around high school bats (Canada catcher Noah Naylor) and the best fastball in the Draft (Georgia right-hander Ethan Hankins, who also has a nifty changeup).
After that, the Indians mixed another hard-throwing prep righty (New York's Lenny Torres, supplemental first round), premium college performers (Southern Mississippi right-hander Nick Sandlin, second; Towson shortstop Richie Palacios, third; Wofford left-hander Adam Scott, fourth) and promising high school bats (Florida third baseman Raynel Delgado, sixth; Texas outfielder Korey Holland, 14th).
Oakland began the draft with a bold move, taking Oklahoma quarterback/outfielder Kyler Murray at No. 9 after he promised to give up football after this fall. He has game-changing speed and the potential to make an impact at the plate and in center field. Dallas Baptist outfielder Jameson Hannah (second round) and Missouri State shortstop Jeremy Eierman (supplemental second) are toolsy collegians who could have fit in the first round.
The A's spent most of the second day collecting college performers, beginning with Louisiana-Lafayette left-hander Hogan Harris (third), whose fastball reaches 98 mph, and Arizona first baseman Alfonso Rivas (fourth), a line-drive machine. Washington right-hander Joe DeMers (11th) and Concordia (Minn.) righty Gus Varland are third-day sleepers.
Best Draft with no extra picks: Blue Jays
Unlike the teams above, Toronto had only two choices on the first day, which turned into a pair of sluggers in Texas high school third baseman Jordan Groshans (first) and Duke outfielder Griffin Conine (second), the son of two-time All-Star Jeff. Right-hander Adam Kloffenstein (third), Groshan's teammate at Magnolia (Texas) High, comes with a heavy low-90s two-seam fastball, a four-seamer that reaches 96 mph, a sharp slider that he can turn into a bigger-breaking curveball or a harder cutter, and a tumbling changeup.
Other pickups of note: Texas Christian righty Sean Wymer (fourth), who also has a deep repertoire, and Florida prep shortstop Addison Barger (sixth), who has a strong arm and the potential for at least average tools across the board.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.