ST. PETERSBURG -- The First-Year Player Draft continues to be the single most important event of the year for the Tampa Bay Rays.
"The Draft is everything for us," said Andrew Friedman, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations. "Player procurement on the domestic and international front is really our only viable way of sustaining any kind of long-term success. And so, it was everything. It is everything. And we talk about it ad nauseam. Scouting and development is our lifeline. ... When you look at our resources in relation to our direct competitors, it's very easy to see why that is the case for us."
The 2013 First-Year Player Draft will take place Thursday through Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 73 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. Rounds 3-10 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Friday, beginning with a preview show at 12:30 p.m., and Rounds 11-40 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Saturday, starting at 1 p.m.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
Given the importance of the Draft, it is critical to the Rays that they have someone like scouting director R.J. Harrison at the helm directing the operation and setting the tone for what the scouting department does to prepare for the big event.
"We're all very competitive and we take this stuff personally, and we don't like misses," Harrison said. "We do the best we can to run the best prospects out there. That being said, it's just kind of nature of business, some guys are going to fall short. But if we put enough guys out there, instead of counting the misses, we're going to count the hits, because those are the guys who are going to get us to the next level. But we take it personally. We're very competitive in this deal."
Harrison and company aggressively beat the bushes looking for talent, but the fact that the organization needs them to be successful in their pursuit does not hamstring that pursuit by adding caution to the equation.
"In my position, Andrew and ownership have never said, 'Hey, let's make sure this guy is a Major Leaguer,'" Harrison said. "And I know some guys work under those circumstances. ... We try to take a look at the pool of applicants we're dealing with each year. And we stack them up by which guys we feel have the chance to have the greatest impact at the Major League level.
"Nowhere in there does the word safe come into play. We certainly aren't reckless. ... Safe is not really that good of a word in what I do. Nothing is safe. If you're taking the safe way, what you're saying is you're taking a lesser guy in a lot of cases. And there's no guarantee that guy's going to be a big leaguer."
As for the process, Harrison knows it's critical for the scouting department to remain on the cutting edge where trends and changes are concerned.
"We challenge one another not to stay the same all the time," Harrison said. "To try and always be open-minded to change and things that can help us look at things from different angles. I think that in anything you do, if you just keep doing things the way you have always done, you're going to be behind."
Some aspects of scouting have changed over the years, but the basic demands of the job remain the same.
"The foundation of this is still getting out there working and seeing players and finding guys who have the tools to be big leaguers," Harrison said. "But things change. ... We all change. You have to stay current or you're going to be left behind."
In the end, the scouting process is not an exact science. There are going to be can't-miss prospects who do miss and there are going to be long shots who hit.
"I've spent basically my whole adult life either in the Minor Leagues or scouting, and I believed this when I was managing in the Minor Leagues and I believe it now," Harrison said. "You do everything with these kids, but you really don't know what you have until they have to go out there away from home and they have to do it every day.
"Some of them are going to make good decisions and some of them are going to make not-so-good decisions. That's what you get when you're dealing with young men in an environment like this."
Here's a glance at what the Rays have in store as the Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
Harrison noted that he could not characterize this year's Draft as being pitching heavy or position-player heavy, but he added: "I think there are some good options." Overall, he sized up this year's pool as a decent group. "We feel pretty good about what we're going to be able to do, particularly at 21 and 29."
The Rays do not have any hard-and-fast rules about who they draft, even if they are thin at one position or another within their system.
"For us, analyzing any Draft, it's always relative to itself," Friedman said. "So for us, it's about lining up the board and lining up the players in terms of who we feel has the best chance to impact a Major League team.
"And that's really our thought process, and we try not to factor in anything about our organizational depth or anything we wish we had more of or think we have a surplus of, because surpluses can be fleeting. Deficiencies can change overnight. It's just one of those things. Maybe we're not smart enough to determine that. But I think the most dangerous thing is to get outside of the current Draft you're analyzing."
Two interesting possibilities the Rays might take with their first-round picks (21st and 29th selections) are catcher Nick Ciuffo and right-hander Hunter Harvey.
Ciuffo attended Lexington High School (South Carolina) and has committed to South Carolina. He hits left-handed and has a strong arm. While he needs to work on other parts of his catching, he is projected to remain a catcher. Harvey attended Bandys High School in North Carolina and is the son of former All-Star closer Bryan Harvey. He has a high ceiling.
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.
Any team going up to five percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75-percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75-percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100-percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100-percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
The Rays have a total to spend of $6,694,900, which averages out to $608,627, ranking them 14th among other Major League teams for the amount of available money they can spend.
The recommended slot value limits assigned to the Rays' first (21st overall) and second (29th overall) picks are $1,974,700 and $1,758,300, respectively.
The Rays' Draft playbook has always adhered to the philosophy that picking for need is a short-sighted way to conduct their Draft.
Harrison has used the example countless times about how the Rays looked to have incredible depth at outfield when Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford, Elijah Dukes and Josh Hamilton were in the organization.
Then, as Harrison pointed out, "The next thing you know we're having to go look for one."
Harrison's point: No organization can ever have enough of anything. Thus, they draft for the best player available.
Pitching, pitching and more pitching.
The foundation of the organization has been, and will continue to be, young arms. While certain positions have appeared to be thin over the past several years (catcher comes to mind), the organization understands that it must continue to cultivate young arms in order to remain competitive. As Friedman says: "We can never operate in a fashion where we have to go to market for starting pitching."
• Recent Draft History •
Taylor Guerrieri was the Rays' first pick of the 2011 Draft (24th overall). The right-hander has good stuff and he appears to be the organization's next great pitcher. He walked just five batters in 52 innings for Class A Hudson Valley in 2012 while pitching to a 1.04 ERA in 12 starts. He is off to a good start at Class A Bowling Green this season and could move fast based on the caliber of his stuff coupled with his pitching acumen.
C.J. Riefenhauser is tearing it up at Double-A Montgomery. The Rays selected the 23-year-old left-hander in the 20th round of the 2010 Draft. His 118 strikeouts between Class A Charlotte and Montgomery in 2012 ranked fourth among Rays farmhands in 2012.
In The Show
Looking back to the 2006-07 Drafts, the Rays have sent five of their Top 10 picks from those years to the Major Leagues: Evan Longoria, Alex Cobb and Desmond Jennings in 2006, and Matt Moore and David Price in '07.
Rays' recent top picks
2012: Richie Shaffer, 3B, Class A Charlotte
2011: Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Class A Bowling Green
2010: Josh Sale, OF, Suspended indefinitely by the club
2009: Levon Washington, IF/OF, Did not sign (Class A Lake County, Indians)
2008: Tim Beckham, SS, Triple-A Durham
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.