Adding Some Context to the Rays’ Recent Draft Drought | The Process Report

Adding Some Context to the Rays’ Recent Draft Drought

With the draft five weeks away it’s time to start rolling out coverage. Let’s take a broader view of the Rays’ recent drafts before delving into who might be available to them this year.

Stephen Vogt owns a dubious honor: He is, as a 12th-rounder in 2007, the franchise’s most recent pick to reach the majors. Tim Beckham, the 2008 first-round selection, should take over sometime in the near future, with others from the 2009-2012 drafts usurping him in due time. But for now this is a notable and disheartening piece of trivia. How could the Rays, purportedly the present-day king of player development, go this long without producing a homegrown talent? Have they lost their touch? Did they ever have a touch to begin with?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions; nobody on the outside does, really. Speculation and guesswork is all you can do, and most of the time that’s pointless. Besides, success in the draft is tied up to randomness. If you’re not sold on the draft being a stochastic process then consider this: The Rays were reportedly interested in Mike Trout the year he was drafted. They were also (reportedly, at least) interested in acquiring Mark Teixeira during the 2008 season. Teixeira, of course, signed with the Yankees, who gave up their first-round pick to the Angels, who used that pick to select Trout. Had the Rays acquired Teixeira would they now have Trout? These are the kinds of rabbit holes draft analysis leads you down.

I’m going to hop over that one and focus on another topic instead: The 1990s Braves. I’ve compared the Braves and Rays before for reasons beyond the geographical and phonetic similarities. Both have (and had, in Atlanta’s case) intelligent front offices capable of building long-term winners, in no small part due to their perceived ability to foster talent. Both made quick rises from the cellar behind strong, young pitching and a stud third baseman. And both found ways to continue winning even when past stars left them behind. Now it’s not a perfect comparison—the Braves, backed by TBS, had more resources than the Rays do—but there is one other similarity: Both went through prolonged periods of so-so drafting, at least from a results perspective.

In 1990 the Braves drafted Chipper Jones first-overall. It’s easy to draw parallels between the Braves drafting Jones and the Rays drafting Longoria, since the two teams improved their play over the following year and a half—except Jones did not debut until late in the 1993 season, and did not become a big-league regular until 1995; Longoria had his hand in the Rays’ competitive dough from the get-go. After taking Jones the Braves went through a drafting drought of their own.

In 1991 they drafted Mike Kelly second-overall. He did reach the majors with them but it’s fair to call him a bust. The next-best player who they selected and signed was Jason Schmidt—and he did most of his good work outside of Atlanta. Viewing this through results-only lenses makes it a bad draft.

In 1992 the Braves selected Jamie Arnold 21st-overall. He also busted. The next-best player was Darrell May, who threw in two games for Atlanta before heading elsewhere on waivers. Not a good draft.

In 1993 Atlanta did not have a first-round pick. With their first selection of the year they took Andre King. Another bust. They did atone for the King pick by selecting Kevin Millwood in the 11th round and Jermaine Dye in the 17th. The Braves also received better than expected value out of their 18th-rounder: John Rocker. Dye racked up about 300 plate appearances in a Braves uniform before heading to Kansas City in a trade for Keith Lockhart and Michael Tucker. Still, the Braves got enough value from Millwood to call this a solid draft.

In 1994 the Braves took Jacob Shumate 27th overall. Their best pick was either George Lombard or Wes Helms. Bad draft.

In 1995 they picked Chad Hutchinson 26th overall. Best pick who signed: Kevin McGlinchy, who made 74 appearances in the majors. Bad draft.

in 1996 A.J. Zapp came to Atlanta with the 27th-overall pick. Another rough first selection, though the Braves snagged three great values by landing Marcus Giles in the 53rd, Jason Marquis in the supplemental portion of the first round, and Mark DeRosa in the seventh. Good draft.

In 1997 Atlanta kept its streak of busted first selections going with Troy Cameron 29th overall. The best pick in their draft was fifth-rounder Horacio Ramirez. Bad draft.

In 1998 they took Matt Belisle with their first pick (52nd overall). Belisle never played for the Braves before being traded to the Reds.. After him Atlanta’s best pick who signed was Ryan Langerhans. Bad draft.

In 1999 they chose Matt Butler 81st overall. Their best pick who signed that draft? Garrett Jones, though he never played in the majors for the Braves. Bad draft.

So in the nine drafts following the Jones selection the Braves saw one of their first selections reach the majors with them—and that was the second-overall pick who busted. Otherwise they endured what we’d categorize as bad, or not-good classes. You know what happened in the 10th class after, and what’s continued to date? Atlanta started drafting well again::

2000: Adam Wainwright, Kelly Johnson, Adam LaRoche
2002: Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur, Chuck James, Dan Meyer, Charlie Morton
2003: Matt Harrison, Jonny Venters, Jarrod Saltalamacchia
2005: Yunel Escobar, Tommy Hanson, Joey Devine, Tyler Flowers
2006: Kris Medlen, Jeff Locke
2007: Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Cory Gearrin
2008: Craig Kimbrel, J.J. Hoover
2009: Mike Minor
2010: Andrelton Simmons, Evan Gattis

It is worth noting that this exercise encompasses drafts ran by three scouting directors: Paul Snyder, Roy Clark, and Tony DeMacio. Snyder was responsible for nearly all of the poor drafts mentioned above, while Clark oversaw almost all of the good drafts in recent years. Both of those individuals are legends within the industry for their acumen—Snyder, incredibly, worked for the Braves for more than 40 years, and served as mentor to Clark. It would be easy to finger Snyder and say he was at fault, but consider this: DeMacio, prior to joining the Braves, ran the White Sox’ drafts—a team that hasn’t produced a ton of homegrown talent in a while, either.

What’s it all mean? Did the Braves lose the touch that netted them talented players like David Justice, Ryan Klesko, and Steve Avery in drafts leading up to 1990? Did they have a touch to begin with—this is the same club that took Tyler Houston second-overall, ahead of Frank Thomas, after all? Or were they the victim of a cycle? I don’t know. But, with any luck, one of the Rays’ recent drafts will turn out to be their version of the Braves’ 2000 class.


  1. dinfl wrote:

    Good article R.J. but there is only one rabbit hole to look down, the one Buster Posey ran down.

  2. […] as much attention as the Rays’ recent draft drought receives, the latest round of 40-man roster additions represents a win for the scouting […]

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