The Draft Class That Keeps Giving
Draft failure has persisted as a go-to talking point about the Rays the past few seasons. R.J. Harrison, the club’s scouting director since Andrew Friedman took over, set the bar high during his first two drafts by selecting three all-stars (Evan Longoria, David Price, and Matt Moore) and two above-average contributors (Alex Cobb and Desmond Jennings). Alas, the next two draft classes were outright failures. Despite owning the no. 1 pick in 2008, the Rays have graduated just one player to the majors on their own from either of those classes—Tim Beckham, said no. 1 pick—and that came as a September call-up. Two other players did sign and reach the majors, though they did so with other orgs following trades.
Harrison’s fifth draft class, the 2010 bunch, hasn’t produced an all-star like 2006 and 2007 did to this point, and may never do so. Yet let it be known that the draft should be considered a win for the Rays.
Perhaps the result is not a surprise, given Harrison picked five times over the first two rounds. What is a surprise, then, is how little those first five picks yielded compared to the rest of the class. The top pick, Josh Sale, is essentially a lost cause; the fourth pick, Jake Thompson, reached Triple-A but doesn’t appear to be a significant prospect; and two of the others are no longer with the organization, though they were used to grab Nate Karns and Yunel Escobar (who, obviously, later turned into John Jaso, Daniel Robertson, and Boog Powell).
Harrison’s second pick of that draft was Justin O’Conner, whose health will determine if he reaches the majors and whose bat will determine whether he’s a starting or backup catcher. Harrison picked Ryan Brett, a potential starting second baseman in the third. He nabbed Jesse Hahn in the sixth, who along with Alex Torres later turned into three current 40-man roster players, in Matt Andriese, Brad Boxberger, and Logan Forsythe.
Later on in the draft, Harrison found three useful arms after the 20th round: C.J. Riefenhauser, who remains with the Rays as a middle-relief prospect, and Adam Liberatore and Matt Spann—both later dealt to other organizations, with Liberatore joining Joel Peralta in the Dodgers deal that netted Jose Dominguez and Greg Harris, and Spann heading to Washington for David DeJesus. Finally, Harrison found Kevin Kiermaier in the 31st, and he ought to be an extra outfielder at minimum.
Add it all up—the graduated big-league players, the remaining prospects, and the returns the departed brought in trades—and the Rays can credit the 2010 class for 11 players on their 40-man roster. None of the parties involved are all-stars or franchise cornerstones, yet if the purpose of the draft is to feed talent to the big-league roster—and it is—then you have to call 2010 a success.
Of course the jury remains out on Harrison’s more recent classes—2012 looks promising, 2013 less so—but, given how much blame he took for the failures, it’s only fair to give him credit for a third fruitful draft class.