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November 21, 1997

Devil Rays Draft Analysis

We rate Tampa Bay's expansion draft performance

by Christina Kahrl

THE DRAFT
1. Tony Saunders, LHP, Florida
4. Quinton McCracken, CF, Colorado
6. Bob Abreu, LF, Houston (traded to Philadelphia for SS Kevin Stocker)
8. Miguel Cairo, 2B, Chicago-NL
10. Rich Butler, RF, Toronto
12. Bobby Smith, SS/3B, Atlanta
14. Jason Johnson, RHP, Pittsburgh
16. Dmitri Young, 1B, Cincinnati (the PTBNL for the 11/11 trade for CF Mike
Kelly)
18. Esteban Yan, RHP, Baltimore
20. Mike Difelice, C, St. Louis
22. Bubba Trammell, LF, Detroit
24. Andy Sheets, SS, Seattle (traded to San Diego for C John Flaherty)
26. Dennis Springer, RHP, Anaheim
28. Dan Carlson, RHP, San Francisco
30. Brian Boehringer, RHP, New York-AL (traded to San Diego for C John
Flaherty)
32. Mike Duvall, LHP, Florida
34. John LeRoy, RHP, Atlanta
36. Jim Mecir, RHP, Boston
38. Bryan Rekar, RHP, Colorado
40. Rick Gorecki, RHP, Los Angeles
42. Ramon Tatis, LHP, Chicago-NL
44. Kerry Robinson, CF, St. Louis
46. Steve Cox, 1B, Oakland
48. Albie Lopez, RHP, Cleveland
50. Jose Paniagua, RHP, Montreal
52. Carlos Mendoza, CF, New York-NL
54. Ryan Karp, LHP, Philadelphia
56. Santos Hernandez, RHP, San Francisco
58. Randy Winn, CF, Florida
60. Terrell Wade, LHP, Atlanta
62. Aaron Ledesma, 2B/SS, Baltimore
64. Brooks Kieschnick, LF/1B, Chicago-NL
66. Luke Wilcox, OF, New York-AL
68. Herbert Perry, 1B-3B, Cleveland
70. Vaughn Eshelman, LHP, Oakland

POST-DRAFT TRADES
1. Acquired 1B Fred McGriff from Atlanta for a PTBNL.
2. Signed free agent RHP Roberto Hernandez.
3. Traded LF Bob Abreu to Philadelphia for SS Kevin Stocker.
4. Traded RHP Bryan Boehringer and SS Andy Sheets to San Diego for C John Flaherty.

CHRIS KAHRL'S ANALYSIS

The Devil Rays spent alot of time talking about how much time they'd spent on scouting over the past two years, but when push came to shove, they favored players that people from their front office brass were already intimately familiar with from their previous employment. The D-Rays made three picks each out of the Braves and Marlins, the previous employers of their GM, Chuck LaMar, and their manager, Larry Rothschild.

In some cases, that limited the organization's choices. Jeff Suppan should have been anybody's first pick, but the affiliation with Rothschild locked the D-Rays into Tony Saunders. Picking Bobby Smith as early as they did is indefensible any way you slice it: he won't hit well enough to handle third (especially if the Rays do not, as rumored, sign Wade Boggs), and the acquisition of Kevin Stocker makes it clear he won't be manning short any time soon. The selection of Rich Butler is amazing: after twenty years' worth of graveyards being littered with the bleaching bones of bad Blue Jay outfield prospects, you would have thought that somebody noticed how hard it is to toss another one onto the pile.

There were tactical mistakes as well as strategic ones: why lock yourself into Mike Kelly if you want to get the best talent you can from the Reds? Why make Jim Bowden's life easier? Again, LaMar's old conviction that Kelly can play from their days with the Braves artificially limited the team's choices from the Reds' organization.

That is not to say the Rays didn't make some good picks: Bob Abreu, Bubba Trammell, Kerry Robinson, Steve Cox, Randy Winn, Brooks Kieschnick, and even Carlos Mendoza are all potentially useful players. But Abreu's now in Philly in exchange for a 28 year-old shortstop with dubious skills at bat and in the field, and chances are pretty good that Cox will get to play in lovely Durham now that Fred McGriff has been acquired. That isn't written in stone, of course; the Devil Rays may run a wide-open camp that allows Cox to win a job at first so that McGriff can DH, with Trammell and/or Kieschnick moving to left. Unfortunately, it seems more likely that one or both of Quinton McCracken and Mike Kelly will open the season as regulars, although Robinson, Mendoza, and Winn are the better prospects. There are rumors that McCracken will be moved, and the Rays can't make that move soon enough.

Trading for Fred McGriff is being defended as a generator of fan interest, but that seems overstated: fans in Tampa are already going to be interested in their new team, and first basemen who can hit are a dime a dozen. Vlad projections for `98 indicate that the D-Rays wouldn't really lose much if they played Cox regularly:
		AB    R   H 2B 3B  HR  RBI  BB SB CS   BA  OBA   SA
Steve Cox	557 104 151 23  1  19   81  87  0  0 .271 .370 .418
Fred McGriff	550  99 145 23  1  26   86  76  2  1 .264 .353 .451

In fact, with sluggers like Kieschnick or Trammell, neither of whom have great mastery of the strikezone, a player with Cox' discipline is even more important without getting into the out-making skills of Miguel Cairo or John Flaherty.

That brings me to one of the major mistakes of this draft: the catchers the Rays decided to choose from. Mike Difelice is a dandy backup, but to John Flaherty? Tired myths like "there ain't no good catching" aren't true, unless you don't want to have catchers who do more than catch. That a player of Difelice's caliber was picked in the first round is hardly an indictment of the Cardinals' farm system as much as it is in the Rays' judgment, because people as Mike Difelice are always available on the waiver wire or in the Rule V draft. This wasn't the only example of this kind of thinking: having players like Jim Mecir, Ryan Karp, Herbert Perry or Vaughn Eshelman aren't horrendous decisions, but the problem is that players who do what they can do are routinely and freely available (Eshelman having just visited the waiver wire a month before the draft).

Larry Rothschild gets a lot of credit for his skills as an instructor and teacher of the art of pitching, and to match that, the D-Rays did take a group of pitchers with good potential: Esteban Yan was probably the team's best pick in the first round, and Brian Rekar, Albie Lopez, Jose Paniagua, and (to a lesser extent) Dan Carlson could all wind up being fine major league pitchers, either as starters or relievers. Rick Gorecki is a potentially outstanding reliever, and John LeRoy has gotten good marks for his stuff, and has been described as "teachable." Although the Rays were generally smart enough to not pick too many minor league relievers, they still wound up with two minor league closers: Mike Duvall, who is probably capable of pitching at the major league level, and Santos Hernandez, who was an old man at 25, blowing away children at A-ball with a mean forkball.

The Rays may not have had to field the worst team in the American League, but if the same logic that dictated the team's first-round priorities plays itself out in how they choose their major league roster and who plays regularly, they'll be hard-pressed to avoid it. Given the unique opportunity that the expansion draft represents, it's a shame that they did not take better advantage of it.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  Bobby Cox,  The Who,  Fred McGriff

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