ST. PETERSBURG -- Since Spring Training, the Rays have seen Luis Patiño, Randy Arozarena, Shane McClanahan and Josh Fleming graduate from their Top 30 Prospects list. They’ve promoted switch-hitting infielders Wander Franco, Vidal Bruján and Taylor Walls to the big leagues over the past two months, perhaps for good.
In other words, the Rays have pushed much of their organization’s future into the present in half a season. But guess what? Tampa Bay’s system is still loaded with high-end talent and a ton of depth.
The Rays still have potential contributors in the Minors at every level, starting in Triple-A Durham with right-handers Shane Baz, Joe Ryan, Drew Strotman and Brent Honeywell Jr., infielder Kevin Padlo and outfielder Josh Lowe. At Double-A, infielder Xavier Edwards and infielder/catcher Ford Proctor are two of their top prospects.
Their High-A roster includes shortstop Greg Jones, catcher Blake Hunt, lefty John Doxakis and infielders Pedro Martinez and Curtis Mead. Their Low-A roster is stacked with right-handers Cole Wilcox, JJ Goss, Seth Johnson and Taj Bradley, lefty Ian Seymour, slugger Heriberto Hernandez, infielders Alika Williams and Osleivis Basabe and outfielder Nick Schnell.
There’s another group of young prospects down at the Rays’ complexes in Florida and the Dominican Republic, too, headlined by 2020 first-rounder Nick Bitsko, top international signing Carlos Colmenarez and flame-throwing righty Sandy Gaston.
The Rays need those waves of talent to keep coming, of course, which is what makes the three-day MLB Draft so important for Tampa Bay’s front office. It’s critical to keep the system stocked with savvy trades, smart international signings and the kind of impactful Draft picks they hope to make in the coming days.
Day 1 of the 2021 Draft will take place live from Denver’s Bellco Theatre on Sunday. It will feature the first 36 picks and will air on MLB Network and ESPN at 7 p.m. ET. Day 2, which will span rounds 2-10, begins at 1 p.m. ET on Monday. The Draft will conclude with rounds 11-20 on Tuesday, starting at 12 p.m. ET. MLB.com will simulcast MLB Network’s broadcast and provide live coverage on all three days.
- The Draft begins at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday (ESPN/MLB.com)
- The Rays pick 28th in Round 1 and also have the 34th overall pick (Competitive Balance Round A) on Day 1
- Tampa Bay’s bonus pool is $7,955,800
Here’s more on how the Draft is shaping up for the Rays.
Who might they take?
Trying to project the 28th pick of the MLB Draft is not an easy task. As amateur scouting director Rob Metzler recently said, “Once the Padres pick at 27th, then we'll know our options.” That’s the one downside to having a late pick, albeit one the Rays will happily take every year if it means continued success at the Major League level.
So, let’s get familiar with some of the prospects linked to the Rays. Their first two picks are packed tightly together, so these players could go either 28th or 34th. Theoretically, taking a college player with one of their top two picks could free them up to use the other on more of a risk/reward play (that might command more of their bonus pool) with a high-upside high school player.
One position player to keep an eye on is Wright State University infielder Tyler Black, who controls the strike zone well and makes hard contact from the left side of the plate. The 20-year-old, MLB Pipeline’s No. 57 Draft prospect, is likely a second baseman and has enough speed and good enough instincts to steal and take extra bases. He hit .383/.496/.683 with 13 homers, 14 doubles, 59 RBIs, 11 steals, 39 walks and only 25 strikeouts in 233 plate appearances over 48 games for Wright State this spring.
Another player to consider is East Carolina second baseman Connor Norby, the No. 58 Draft prospect. He’s a right-handed hitter with a disciplined approach who makes hard contact from gap to gap, doesn’t have many glaring weaknesses and hit .415/.484/.659 with 15 homers and 18 steals this year.
Among the other college players linked to the Rays in MLB Pipeline’s recent mock drafts are Mississippi State right-hander Will Bednar (the No. 32 Draft prospect and College World Series Most Outstanding Player), Wake Forest righty Ryan Cusick (No. 26), UC Santa Barbara right-hander Michael McGreevy (No. 28), East Carolina righty Gavin Williams (No. 31) and Saint Mary’s lefty Ky Bush (No. 67).
Among the high school position players to keep in mind are speedy outfielder Will Taylor (No. 20), power-hitting outfielder Joshua Baez (No. 24), athletic outfielder Jay Allen (No. 33), strong-armed infielder Wes Kath (No. 34), shortstop Max Muncy (No. 38, not the Dodgers slugger by the same name) and lefty-hitting second baseman Cooper Kinney (No. 84).
What they’re saying
“It's a challenge, but it highlights the number of great people we have on staff. In a scenario where we were picking at the top, which we have no desire to go back to, maybe some situations would be more like, one or two or three scouts really bearing down. This, our whole staff gets to play.
“We're dependent on everybody to highlight the attributes of the best players in the country. We work together. It's very collaborative. And I think we have a system that puts us in good position to do that.”
-- Metzler, on picking late in the first round again
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. Each selection in the top 10 rounds comes with an assigned slot value, and the total for each club’s selection equals what it can spend in those rounds without incurring a penalty.
Clubs that outspend their allotment by 0-5 percent pay a 75 percent tax on the overage, and clubs lose future picks at higher thresholds. If a player taken in the top 10 rounds doesn’t sign, his pick’s value gets subtracted from the team’s pool.
The Rays have a pool of $7,955,800 to spend, the 20th-largest pool in the Majors, with a slot value of $2,493,900 for the 28th pick and $2,148,100 for the 34th pick.
The recent top picks
2020: Nick Bitsko, RHP (rehabbing from shoulder surgery, expected to miss the rest of the season -- Rays’ No. 9 prospect)
2019: Greg Jones, SS (High-A Bowling Green -- No. 7)
2018: Matthew Liberatore, LHP (Triple-A Memphis -- part of the Randy Arozarena trade)
2017: Brendan McKay, LHP/DH (Triple-A Durham, 7-day injured list rehabbing from shoulder surgery -- No. 3)
2016: Josh Lowe, OF (Triple-A Durham -- No. 10)
The Rays haven’t necessarily picked a specific type of player toward the top of the Draft recently, but there has been a clear lean toward upside with their first picks of late: the high school righty Bitsko, the toolsy college shortstop Jones, a high school lefty in Liberatore, the two-way player McKay and two athletic high school outfielders in Lowe and Garrett Whitley (13th overall in 2015).
Their other first-round picks during that stretch also reflect that search for overall upside: Arizona State shortstop Williams, prep right-hander Goss, Campbell University righty Johnson, quick-moving starter McClanahan, high school outfielder Schnell and unsigned (then acquired via trade this year) righty Drew Rasmussen. In later rounds, the Rays have gravitated more toward certainty (with college picks) and players with specific standout tools.