The Rays had a record 12 selections in the first two rounds of last year's Draft. They won't have extra choices this season, and their first pick won't come until the 25th selection.
"Well, it's been different," said Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison when asked about the preparation for this year's Draft. "The whole experience last year was different and unique.
"Basically, we have one pick on the first day of the Draft and then we retool and get ready for the next day. I'm not going to lie to you, I wish we had 10 picks every year. It was a unique experience, and it was one of those things where a lot more players were going to be in play."
Live coverage of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft begins with a one-hour preview show on Monday, at 6 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players.
Andrew Friedman, the Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations since the fall of 2005, said he has gained an appreciation of how difficult a job the scouting department has in finding the right talent to stock the Rays' farm system.
"What we're asking our guys to do on a yearly basis is extremely difficult," Friedman said. "It's extremely difficult to predict what a guy is going to do from Triple-A to the big leagues. So when you take it back to amateur players, it's really, really difficult, so it gets into profiles and certain attributes that we value.
"Our guys do a really good job of getting a feel for the tools, and also the makeup. It's such an important factor here. You're talking about, for the most part, a group of players that have never failed before. And so trying to assess how they will respond when they do fail is probably the most difficult part of it."
Fortunately for the Rays, most of Harrison's scouting staff has been with the organization since before he became scouting director in 2006. Having that familiarity with the staff lends itself to making wiser decisions.
"You know how guys evaluate a little bit," Harrison said. "Different guys' grades might be different. But knowing them you might level them off a little bit. Some guys are just naturally more aggressive. Others are more conservative. That's our job, knowing those guys and knowing how they grade."
Friedman noted that while the Draft is important to any Major League organization, it's probably more important for the Rays than almost any team in baseball.
"If you just look at it with the division we compete in ... we weren't looking for guys who could just get to the Major Leagues," Friedman said. "We were looking for guys who could have an impact in the Major Leagues. I think we're really excited about the guys we drafted, and we understand it's really a long process."
Last year the Rays were under the gun to make solid decisions quickly based on their number of picks in the early going. This year they face a different kind of pressure.
"If we don't take this player with the first pick, more than likely this player won't be there because there's a big gap," Harrison said. "We pick at 25 and then again at 88. It's just a different mindset. We're still going to get good players."
Here's a glance at what the Rays have in store as the Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
"Everybody's in that boat," said Harrison about the new limitations on the bonuses teams can pay Draft choices. "In the past we've been able to take players down in the Draft and pay them up. And really, this doesn't allow for that. That does change things. There's going to be more guys going to college."
Friedman noted that drafting in the 25th position is "really, really difficult."
"I think that's what makes this Draft so great," Friedman said. "It's very difficult to predict. The randomness of how certain teams value a player versus another, it's very difficult. The good news is, if we get 25 names lined up, we're going to get one of them."
The Rays organization has an established track record for drafting and developing high school pitchers, from James Shields and Wade Davis to Matt Moore and Jake McGee. Based on this year's Draft pool being thick with high school pitchers, Ty Hensley is an educated guess as a possible selection for the team to select with the 25th pick.
Hensley is a 6-foot-5, 220-pound right-hander from Santa Fe High School in Edmond, Okla.
rays' bonus pool
Under the new 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.
According to Harrison, Tampa Bay never looks at the depth of any one position or strength in its system when heading into the Draft.
"You can't ever have enough of anything," Harrison said. "Remember there were years when we thought we were so loaded for outfielders? And the next thing we know we're having to go look for one? [So we go for the] best player available.
"If it gets down to where you're weighing one player against the others, then you may get down to weighing some different factors. You don't want to go into any Draft drafting for anything but the best talent based on our opinions in that room down there."
Harrison said this year's Draft has "some good high school pitching," and he added that there are some good high school position players at the top of the Draft.
"Going down through it, the biggest glaring lack I see is left-handed pitching, whether it's high school or college at the upper parts of the Draft," Harrison said. "That's the only real big gap that I see."
Recent Draft History
First baseman Henry Wrigley was a 14th-round selection in the 2005 Draft and is beginning to show a power stroke that could ultimately land him at Tropicana Field. Wrigley hit .274 with 17 home runs and 84 RBIs at Double-A Montgomery in 2011. After beginning the 2012 season at Montgomery, Wrigley is now at Triple-A Durham.
Rays' recent top picks
|2011||Taylor Guerrieri||RHP||Extended spring|
|2010||Josh Sale||OF||Class A Bowling Green|
|2009||Levon Washington||IF/OF||Did not sign|
|2008||Tim Beckham||SS||Triple-A Durham|
|2007||David Price||LHP||Tampa Bay (MLB)|
|2006||Evan Longoria||3B||Tampa Bay (MLB)|
Catcher Mark Thomas came to the Rays in the 22nd round of the 2006 Draft. After posting a stellar season at Class A Charlotte in 2011, when he hit 13 home runs and drove in 64 runs in 116 games, Thomas began the 2012 season at Double-A Montgomery. Baseball America ranked Thomas as the Best defensive catcher in the Rays' farm system entering 2012. Based on the state of the Rays' catching, Thomas has a legitimate shot at becoming a factor in the future.
In The Show
Looking back to the 2006 Draft, 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 2007.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.