The forgotten drafts: 2008 and 2009

With the rule 4 amateur draft underway once again, it seemed like as good a time as any to kill a couple of hours over at The Baseball Cube’s draft research tool. While looking over the past few years of data, I was struck by something that may be well known, but wasn’t evident to me: the Rays haven’t had a single player drafted after 2007 reach the majors (David Price, Matt Moore and Stephen Vogt were the last players to do so, drafted in 2007).

The list of players drafted between 2008-2011 who are already in the majors has now reached 143, though admittedly a sizeable portion of the list has only enjoyed a cup of coffee as a September callup or injury replacement thus far in their careers. Still, every other major league team has had at least one player from the last four drafts make it to the show, led by the Detroit Tigers with 10 such callups (how much legit major league talent the group will have outside of Alex Avila and Jacob Turner is however debatable). The highly rated Blue Jays front office have set the standard in the AL East, with seven players reaching the bigs already, though again, how many of these outside of Drew Hutchison will turn into anything more than utility/bullpen types is questionable.

When looking at these lists you must consider opportunity, as you are going to see more callups from teams with weaker squads or those who suffer an inordinate amount of injuries. For example, you wouldn’t want to hold the lack of a callup in previous years of an Alex Cobb or Jesus Montero – who were blocked by quality players ahead of them – against a front office.

With the Rays though, I’m not sure that is the case. Looking at Rays Prospects top 30, you find just four players drafted in 2008 or 2009: Tim Beckham (9th), Tyler Bortnick (27th), Jeff Malm (29th) and Luke Bailey (30th). Given the multitude of injuries over the past few weeks, Beckham may well have found his way to St Pete’s if not for his untimely suspension but even with a possible uptick in power and improved defense, it’s fairly evident he has an uphill struggle just to avoid the dubious honor of being one of a handful of first overall picks to never make an MLB roster (alongside former Ray Matt Bush, of course).

2009 was not a good draft and the Rays may well have done well to pick someone who ultimately didn’t sign (LeVon Washington, picked 30th, is currently in the Indians organization but doesn’t generally figure too high in their own prospect charts) until they used the pick on Justin O’Connor who is yet to impress so far. You can cherry pick names like Jason Kipnis (63rd), Will Myers (91st) or Brandon Belt (147th) who were available with the Rays on the clock, but only Myers was a serious option for the Rays at 30, and he brought strong signability issues, eventually costing the Royals $2m to lock him up (the Rays apparently refused to go over the recommended slot of $1.1m for Washington).

The class of 2008 has provided big league quality already with the likes of Eric Hosmer (3rd), Buster Posey (5th) and Brett Lawrie (16th) all already well on the way to ranking among the top-10 of their position. Posey, of course, is the name which is generally brought up when critiquing the Beckham pick, and not totally unfairly, given that many outlets had Posey as the man to take heading into draft day.

This should not be construed as a major criticism of the front office, but more a reminder of just how hard the draft process is, and the pressure a front office is under when a lack of hits in the amateur market means significant minutes for players discarded by other teams, with resources to go out and grab a Roy Oswalt simply not available. As much as we all bristle whenever anyone questions the team’s ability to compete long term, we can see that misses in the draft, even if few and far between, can quickly leave a hole in the team’s production line. With the front office constantly walking a tight rope, you can at least understand the perception that the Rays cannot continue to succeed without a larger payroll (though I personally maintain that this overly simplistic viewpoint is misleading and success can be had for less money, it’s just harder to maintain, as shown here).

The good news, of course, is that the Rays have been as, if not more, successful in acquiring talent from other teams’ farms with Hak Ju-Lee, Chris Archer, Brandon Guyer and Alex Torres all ranking in FanGraphs’ top-15 Rays rankings having arrived in the Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir deals respectively. Throw in some decent talent from the 2010 class along with 2011’s historic class (in terms of quality depth, at a minimum) and you can probably suggest the Rays have avoided any lasting impacts from these two potential off years.

Whether the comparatively expensive Pena and Scott signings this year were a symptom or the cure for these rare misses is arguable but with the depth and quality of farm talent looking more promising in a couple of years, they should hopefully be enough to fill a rare void in the Friedman production line. With Upton likely gone this year and Shields starting to get pricey ($9m in 2013), the Rays can’t afford for too many more big swings and misses if they are to continue this unlikely run of success.

2012, Round 1 Selection: Richie Shaffer (3B, Clemson)

It was a quiet night for the Rays front office after running the show last year, as the Rays held just a single pick (25th), which they used on Richie Shaffer, third baseman (for now) out of Clemson. The best links on Shafer and immediate reactions are below:

“While there are holes to his swing, his bat is his best tool. He has plus power and can hit the ball out to all fields. He’s played both infield corners, showing off a plus arm from third, but his range might be better suited for first. He’s not a bad athlete and his power bat and arm might profile well for right field. Shaffer is always going to have some swing and miss to his game. But his ability to be a power-hitting run producer will make many teams interested in living with the strikeouts.” MLB.com

“He’s one of those guys who has a chance to get here relatively quickly. We never move guys too quickly, but on a relative scale pretty quickly.” Andrew Friedman

“He’s one of the guys we thought in this Draft that stood out, that brings real power and power now,” R.J. Harrison

“Some scouting directors thought he was [the] biggest impact college bat” Jim Callis, Baseball America

“Shaffer moved up as much as any college bat this season, showing improved defense and a patient approach at the plate. He makes good contact and has above-average power and, if he stays at the hot corner, could be a David Freese-style addition for the Rays . . . could hit the majors by the end of 2014.” Jason Churchill, ESPN

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