ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays’ first-round pick has been in the 20s each of the last three years, and they’ll be on the clock with the 29th overall pick when this year’s Draft begins Sunday night. They want to get used to picking late in the MLB Draft, because it means they’re having success at the Major League level. But it comes with an added degree of difficulty for senior director of amateur scouting Rob Metzler and his staff.
As crazy and unpredictable as the Draft can be, even the teams picking second and third might not know what to expect before they’re on the clock. So how about the Rays, picking 29th, 65th, 70th and 71st?
They prepare and wait, then they wait some more.
“That's a great opportunity for us. And it's a big challenge, because there's so much uncertainty,” Metzler said Wednesday afternoon at Tropicana Field. “We have no idea what might be available or what decisions we're going to be faced with, so it's a lot to prepare for. We have a great group in there preparing right now, poring over every bit of information to try to make the most of the opportunity.”
It's impossible to predict whom the Rays will take. But they have an interesting chance to reload their deep Minor League system with four Day 1 picks, including back-to-back selections near the end of what should be a long Sunday night.
Mock drafts from MLB Pipeline’s experts have had the Rays taking a bunch of different players with their first pick: high school outfielder Justin Crawford (yes, Carl’s son), prep third baseman Tucker Toman, high school lefty Robby Snelling, prep righty Jacob Miller and even former Vanderbilt ace Kumar Rocker, among others.
Some might say the Rays have a type of player they prefer -- up-the-middle athletes with upside, high-ceiling pitchers with swing-and-miss stuff, etc. -- but Metzler said they simply set out to pick the best player available.
First pick and bonus slot: 29th overall, $2,547,600 bonus slot
Additional first-day picks: 65th overall (second round, $1,077,100 bonus slot), 70th overall (Competitive Balance Round B, $952,800 bonus slot), 71st overall (Competitive Balance Round B, acquired from Tigers, $929,100 bonus slot)
Total bonus pool: $7,795,100
Last three first picks: SS Carson Williams, 2021; RHP Nick Bitsko, 2020; SS Greg Jones, 2019
Best pick of the last 10 years, per MLB Pipeline: Shane McClanahan, 2018 first round/compensation
“We're certainly not sitting up in the room right now saying, 'Hey, we're looking for this or we're looking for that.' Just don't think that gives us the best opportunity to hit on something impactful,” said Metzler, readying for his 15th Draft with the Rays and his seventh in this role. “When Shane McClanahan's pick came, if we would have said, ‘We really need infielders; we really need a catcher,’ and we passed on him because of that, I'm certain that would eat at us.”
So much depends on how the Draft unfolds and who’s left on the Rays’ board. They build their board from the top, starting with the player they’d take if they picked first overall and working from there. It’s a very loose ranking earlier in the year, Metzler said, and by the middle of this week they had arranged it into “general buckets” with “a lot of debate still to be had.” They like to have it in order by Saturday night, giving them time to make (well-rested) decisions on Draft day.
Then, again, they prepare and they wait.
“Once you get into the 20s, you start to say, ‘OK, we have these four or five [players] left.’ You certainly start counting down to say, 'OK, we're going to get one of these, and we don't have to go down here and pull one up,’” Metzler said. “So then you start to make calls, just to check in and make sure that there's no surprises in terms of players' interest in coming out and starting their career. So there's feel to it, and the more experience you have, the more feel you have to work through it.”