January 24, 2011
The Rays' Golden Opportunity
With the MLB draft order nearly finalized (Felipe Lopez has a shot at messing things up a bit), much of the talk before the 2010 prospects actually start playing is the flurry of picks acquired by the Tampa Bay Rays. Thanks to free-agent compensation, the Rays currently have 12 selections between No. 24 and No. 89 overall in June's draft. That is a nice bounty in what has the potential to be one of the deeper drafts in recent memory, but to be fair cost has to be taken into account. Based on 2010 bonus recommendations for each draft slot made by MLB, those picks have a "value" of just over $9 million.
That's a big number, considering that the average team spent nearly $6.5 million on draft bonuses in 2010, with the Washington Nationals setting a new record with a shade under $12 million. The combination of high picks and an excellent group of talent evaluators in Tampa should lead to an outstanding haul, but at the same time there will have to be some budget picks in there -- those players that the Rays like and will sign quickly for under the slot figure.
Still, it's a fun exercise to figure out what kinds of players Tampa Bay could (emphasis on could; this is the draft, and nothing is guaranteed) get come June but keep a realistic approach. Here's a look at what those picks have meant historically, good and bad. (Note: "Big Leagues" measures how many of the 46 picks from 1965-2010 simply got to the majors, while "Regulars" measures careers somewhat looser, as having a starting role for three years, or current big league players projecting to that.)
2010 Slot Figure: $1.242 million
Best Prospect In Last Three Years: Gary Brown, San Francisco Giants
Best Pick Of All Time: Alex Fernandez (28.5 WARP), but Chad Billingsley could catch him.
Big Leagues: 26
Notes: Billingsley (2003) is the last 24th pick to make an impact, with he and Joe Blanton (2002) the only ones in the last 20 years to have substantial careers. Rondell White (1990) was the best position player, and only he and Rich Dauer (1974) played more than 1,000 games.
2010 Slot Figure: $972,000
Best Prospect In Last Three Years: Brett Jackson, Chicago Cubs
Best Pick Of All Time: Greg Maddux (115.8 WARP)
Big Leagues: 15
Notes: J.P. Howell (2004) is the only 31st selection in last 10 years to reach the big leagues. The pick has been an exceptionally brutal one for position players, as only three of 18 position players taken 31st have even reached the big leagues, and only Kirt Manwaring (1986), with 21 and Tom Dodd (1979) with one, hit home runs in the big leagues. Maddux is actually second on that list with five.
2010 Slot Figure: $954,000
Best Prospect In Last Three Years: Jake Odorizzi, Milwaukee Brewers (now Kansas City Royals)
Best Pick Of All Time: Dave Magadan (25.1 WARP)
Big Leagues: 22
Notes: Lefty Justin Thompson (1991) is the last to make an All-Star team. Lee Lacy (1969) and Dave Valle (1978) are the only position players other than Magadan to have notable careers. Twelve pitchers who reached the big leagues have average career record of 25-32, and none have more than 55 wins.
2010 Slot Figure: $858,600
Best Prospect In Last Three Years: Jordan Lyles, Houston Astros
Best Pick Of All Time: David Wright (38.9 WARP and counting)
Big Leagues: 19
Notes: Texas Rangers right-hander Colby Lewis (1999) is already the best pitcher ever taken with this pick, although young big league lefties Brett Cecil (2007) and Gio Gonzalez (2004) have shots at long careers. Plenty of solid-to-good position players, including Larry Hisle (1965), Kelly Johnson (2000), Tim Tuefel (1980) and Butch Wynegar (1974), had gone at 38.
2010 Slot Figure: $815,400
Best Prospect In Last Three Years: Chris Owings, Arizona Diamondbacks
Best Pick Of All Time: Fred Lynn (37.5 WARP)
Big Leagues: 21
Notes: After Lynn, the position players fall of a cliff, as the argument for second best is between Joe Oliver (1983) and Bob Stinson (1965); plenty of good relievers in Joba Chamberlain (2006), Lance McCullers (1982), Trever Miller (1991) and Dan Plesac (1980), but not a single starter of note.
2010 Slot Figure: $802,800
Best Prospect In Last Three Years: Jaff Decker, San Diego Padres
Best Pick Of All Time: Mookie Wilson (23.8 WARP), Clay Buchholz could threaten
Big Leagues: 15
Notes: Buchholz is the only pick in this slot since Wilson (1977) of note, unless you want to count Marlon Anderson (1995). From 1978-1990, only one 42nd slot even reached the majors. Dennis Leonard's (1972) 144 wins represent 80 percent of the total from this slot.
2010 Slot Figure: $684,000
Best Prospect In Last Three Years: Stetson Allie, Pittsburgh Pirates
Best Pick Of All Time: Carl Crawford (35.5 WARP)
Big Leagues: 20
Notes: After Crawford (1999), only Steve Balboni (1978), Ralph Garr (1967) and Ryan Sweeney (2003) amassed more than 1,000 big league at-bats. Only four pitchers reached the big leagues, none of them with a winning record. New York Yankees selected Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway with this pick in 1981.
2010 Slot Figure: $643,500
Best Prospect In Last Three Years: Jay Austin, Astros
Best Pick Of All Time: Jimmy Key (44.8 WARP)
Big Leagues: 18
Notes: J.J. Hardy (2001) is the last player to reach majors, with picks from 2003-2005 already out of organized baseball. Other than Hardy, no player has hit more than 20 big league home runs since Larry Herndon (1971). plenty of solid-but-unspectacular arms after Key, including Scott Linebrink (1997), Pete Schourek (1987) and former Cy Young-winner Pete Vuckovich (1974).
2010 Slot Figure: $614,700
Best Prospect In Last Three Years: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
Best Pick Of All Time: Roger McDowell (19.6 WARP)
Big Leagues: 14
Notes: Seven of eight players taken from 1997-2004 reached the majors, but only Ryan Doumit (1999) and Brandon League (2001) stuck. McDowell, League and Gary Majewski (1998) are only pitchers to spend a full season in the big leagues. Dean Palmer (1986) is best position player by a wide margin.
2010 Slot Figure: $605,700
Best Prospect In Last Three Years: Yordy Cabrera, Oakland Athletics
Best Pick Of All Time: Steve Garvey (40.0 WARP)
Big Leagues: 19
Notes: A surprisingly good slot for position players, as beyond Garvey there is Brad Fullmer (1993), Ryan Ludwick (1999) and Fred Lynn (1970), with Lynn not signing with the Yankees to play at Southern California. Jonathan Broxton (2002) is a great relief find, with Lynn McGlothin (1968) being the only starter of note.
2010 Slot Figure: $485,100
Best Prospect In Last Three Years: Jordan Swagerty, St. Louis Cardinals
Best Pick Of All Time: Grady Sizemore (29.8 WARP and counting)
Big Leagues: 14
Notes: Rays already have a very good pick in this slot with Wade Davis (2004). While Sizemore has highest WARP, Tino Martinez (1985) and Jason Thompson (1975) hit more home runs. The 21 pitchers selected 75th overall have combined for 95 big league wins, and Scott Radinsky (1986) has 42 of them.
2010 Slot Figure: $392,400
Best Prospect In Last Three Years: Wade Gaynor, Detroit Tigers
Best Pick Of All Time: Randy Johnson (89.7 WARP)
Big Leagues: 16
Notes: Justin Morneau (1999) is already the best position player ever taken 89th overall with a career 21.8 WARP, as he, Nick Johnson (1996) and Tom Paciorek (1968) are the only position players in this slot to have notable careers. Johnson's 303 wins dwarf the second place total of 62 by Josh Fogg (1998).
As exciting as that best pick category might be, those players are the 46-to-1 shots, as the overall numbers are quite jarring. Of the 552 players selected in these 12 slots, 251 of them (45.5 percent) failed to even reach the big leagues, and less than 15 percent of the total pool had careers as regulars or better.
Having 12 early picks is a wonderful thing, especially considering the 2011 talent pool, and no matter how smart they are or how good the talent available i, the Rays will almost assuredly need to aim low with some picks just to make budget. That makes the percentages here apply fairly evenly and provides a realistic expectation of five players who merely reach the big leagues and two that become everyday players, which is a friendly rounding up, considering that on average those 12 exact picks produce on average 1.78 regular players.
That's the cruel world of the baseball draft, and the Rays will need to exceed those projections greatly to stay competitive as a cost-conscious team stuck in the American League East with the big-spending Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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