The Rays Pre-Draft Press Conference | The Process Report

The Rays Pre-Draft Press Conference

Note: This transcript was provided by the Rays. None of the material was asked, recorded, or transcribed by us, this is simply the team-issued release.

With Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and Scouting Director R.J. Harrison.

How important is this draft for the Rays?
AF: It‟s a great opportunity for us. You know, we talk about it a lot; scouting and player development has almost become a cliché in the game today in the amount that people talk about it, but by definition it‟s more important for us than any other team in baseball. In the division that we compete in, the resources that we compete against, it is critical for our future success. So to have 10 of the first 60 picks, 12 of the first 89, it‟s extremely important in that respect.

Before the 2010 season, we had a choice to make. We had one of two ways to go. We understood and appreciated that we had a number of guys who were on the last year of their contracts and we had a choice to make—whether to trade some of those players for prospects or to press forward. It was critical for us to ascertain what type of team we had, how talented we were, what the likelihood was of us reaching the postseason and having a chance to win a World Series title. So we had that choice of whether to trade some of those guys for prospects or to press forward, try to accomplish that goal knowing that we had this as a backdrop, that the safety net here—if we happened to come up short or irrespective of the success of 2010—was that we were going to end up in a position where we were going to have a lot of picks. It‟s something that we‟ve had our eye on for a while and now that it‟s coming closer, we‟re extremely excited and very focused on this process.

Is there a chance that you could set up your farm system for years with this draft?
RJH: We‟ve been working at this. It‟s an ongoing process. Obviously we‟re going to have greater impact this year just by sheer numbers, and sheer numbers at a higher level in the draft. I think it‟s just a chance to continue to add really valuable resources to our system and turn them over to the player development guys. I mean, that‟s the goal every year is to add as many good guys as we can. We just get more swings this year. I don‟t like to put big, grandiose labels on it but it‟s really a chance for us to add to our development side.

Do you have any breakthroughs or innovations on how you breakdown a player?
RJH: Every year we try to review what we‟ve done and get better. I think we do that in all areas of the organization but on our side, we look and Andrew asks me where can we add, what can we do, what kind of things should we try to do, and each year we do something, we add something, whether it be adding more people out in the field, adding more help inside. Looking at last year, we‟ve been in search for an eye test that we can use out in the field, we use personality profiling. We try to do as many things as we can to get a better feel for the players that we‟re evaluating so ultimately at the end of the day, it‟s that getting out there and being in the ballparks and our guys getting to know these players and just piecing together as much information as we can.

With 10 of the top 60 picks, what would be a success rate for you in terms of guys that make it to the majors?
AF: Well, it‟s hard to say one specific number. Obviously, if you look at it historically and you look at it actuarially, the returns aren‟t phenomenal. We spent a little bit of time looking at it a while ago during the offseason and some people talk about it with “this many players reached the major leagues.” For us, that‟s not important. It is who can reach the major leagues and have staying power. We don‟t look at it from an outcome base. We look at it from what we can control in the process and the returns were fairly sobering. The draft is a difficult process. With the lag time, it‟s far different from the NFL draft, it‟s far different from the NBA draft, and it‟s extremely difficult.

For us, we try to control the things that we can control. We have phenomenal communication between scouting and player development in terms of things that we‟ve had success improving things, that we haven‟t had as much success improving, and the communication there is critical. So for us, all of those things factor into our decision-making process and when we go through this, we‟re going to factor all that in, take the top player on our board, and then we‟re going to feel good about it. It‟s hard to operate any other way but obviously, the more arrows you have, the more likely you are to hit the bull‟s-eye. It‟s great to have this many picks in large part because of the failure rate. It gives us more of a chance to get guys that can impact a major league game and for us, with our resources, that‟s why the draft is so important to us.

Can you talk about some of the extra work associated with having so many picks?
AF: You know it‟s funny—and I‟ll let R.J. talk to it as well–but R.J. and I were out last week just catching up on a lot of stuff like we do before the draft and the process isn‟t that different from last year and years past. Last year, we had a few extra picks but we didn‟t pick until 17 so we were at the mercy of what the teams ahead of us did. For us, it was about setting up those top 75 players and lining them up and being in position to select them based on what happened in front of us. The difference is we‟re just going to get more guys. We‟re going to be able to select more of them which is great but the process isn‟t that different.

RJH: Really the only significant difference in the process, especially with myself and the guys that scout nationally, is that we‟ve spent probably more time at the top…There‟s a lot of guys that fit for us this year. There‟s going to be a few that are up above that obviously aren‟t going to get to us at 24, but once we get to 24, there‟s a big group of guys that are all fairly similar that are going to fit for us down to 60 and down into that second round. I think we‟ve done a really good job of getting a lot of looks at those…I feel really good about the shape that we‟re in on those picks at the top of the draft.

Having this many high-round picks, is there any burden associated with signing them all?
AF: Like I said, this was something that didn‟t just sneak up on us. We anticipated being in this position and so it‟s something that we‟ve prepared for. As I said in the beginning, it‟s not lost on us how significant this process is for us and our future success and so we‟re prepared to do what we need to do. I‟m very confident that with the guys who actually want to go out and start their pro careers we‟ll be in a position to sign all of them.

How did the additions of Rocco Baldelli and Dave Eiland work into this?
RJH: It‟s been great. They give us a different perspective. They just both came off major league fields. Rocco has always kind of had a feel for this. Since he was a kid in the big leagues, every time we‟d come down to watch batting practice or something, he‟d want to sit in the dugout and he‟d always ask “how‟s the draft this year?” He‟s always had an interest so it‟s been an incredibly smooth transition for him. He‟s been very helpful. He‟s been great because he‟s spent a lot of time with our scouts out there and he just brings a different perspective. Same thing with Dave. He has that optimism of a pitching coach. He looks at a young guy and he envisions being able to get his hands on that guy—“if I could do this and do that.” It gives us a little different perspective than us. We‟re immersed it in year round, watching these amateurs year and stuff like that so it‟s really been good. They‟ve gotten after it pretty good.

Do you put more of a premium on defense for the guys you draft as position players?
RJH: You always emphasize that especially in the premium positions in the middle of the diamond. We evaluate all of the tools. If guy has plusses in an area, he‟s going to be more attractive. If we find a guy that we truly believe can play shortstop at the major league level then we‟re going to gravitate toward that guy, we‟re might give a little bit on some of the other areas. Again, it‟s just piecing all the players together. The pool of talent is going to dictate how the draft is going to go…But yeah, defense is certainly important, always has been just like foot speed. We‟ve always had good athletes and foot speed has been a big thing. We would like to, if we can find those types of players, continue to add those guys to the system.

What would you say is the strength of your minor leagues right now?
AF: I think it depends on where you cut it off. In the lower levels, we‟ve added a lot of position players over the past few years. We‟ve got a lot of pitching throughout—I would say it‟s pitching. My hope is that every year that you ask me that question, that that‟s the answer. We talked about it in 2006, the importance of pitching. In our view of how to compete in this division, that is a critical piece of our foundation to be able to do that. We‟ve got a lot of arms throughout our system that we‟re all really excited about.

Are there any players available in the draft that could actually help at the big league level this year?
RJH: If there were, they wouldn‟t be available at 24…I‟ve been here since the very beginning and we‟ve gone through the ups and downs and I think the one thing that we‟ve been consistent with since ‟06 is that our mentality in the draft and in player development is not about how soon we can get them to the big leagues. It‟s about getting them to the big leagues and when they get there, we want them to be able to get there and have some impact and be able to stay there. A couple of guys have pushed through. Evan and David, they knocked the door down and got there quickly, but we didn‟t take them because we were saying “gosh, these guys are going to get to the big leagues quick.” We took them because they were the best guys. They were the guys that we thought when they got to the big leagues would be the guys who could have impact….I think that if you start drafting for reasons other than „this is guy that we think is going to be the best big leaguer when he gets to the big leagues‟ then you can make some decisions that you might regret.

How optimistic are you that, in a few years, you’ll see some of these guys having a real impact on your big league club?
AF: That‟s certainly the goal and it‟s something that as we line up our board, we‟re lining it up with that in mind—to get guys that we feel can impact our major league team. It‟s a difficult process and the success rate obviously industry-wide is not great. It‟s trying to learn from past mistakes and incorporate all the different bits of information we have into making the most educated decision that we can. So obviously our hope is that in four to five years when we look back, we‟ve got a number of guys from this draft that are impacting our major league team.

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