The 2014 Major League Baseball draft begins tomorrow and now would be a good time to look at the Tampa Bay Rays’ recent first round draft history.
Over the last 10 years the Rays have had mixed success with their draft picks. Some have panned out to be great, while others have not. Let’s review:
2004: Jeff Niemann (RHP)
Niemann was taken fourth overall from Rice and turned out to be a very good pitcher for the Rays over his five years in Tampa. He compiled a 40-26 record with a 4.02 ERA. However, injuries derailed him the last two seasons. His leg was fractured on a line drive in 2012 and he missed all of the 2013 season after undergoing right shoulder injury. He’s currently a free agent (could the Rays use him now? I think so).
2005: Wade Townsend (RHP)
Yeah, this pick didn’t pan out and it’s especially more difficult to accept considering Townsend was selected eighth overall, ahead of other first round selections like Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury, Colby Rasmus and Jed Lowrie. Townsend was drafted eighth overall by the Orioles in 2004 but didn’t sign. The Rays might have wished he had. Over five minor league seasons he put up a 5.68 ERA while going 7-21.
2006: Evan Longoria (3B)
The Rays took Longo third overall from Long Beach State University and he has turned himself into the greatest player in the Rays (relative) short history. Now in his seventh season, he is the franchise leader in home runs (167) and has 567 RBIs, leaving him only 25 behind tying the franchise record. He is a three-time All-Star and won AL rookie of the year honors in 2008. To make things even better, Longo is signed through 2022 with a team option for 2023 meaning he isn’t going anywhere.
2007: David Price (LHP)
After taking Longoria in 2006, you could argue the Rays took their second best player in franchise history the following year. Coming out of Vanderbilt as the first overall pick, Price was in the majors by 2008, helping the team to their first World Series berth. In seven seasons, Price is 75-43 with a 3.28 ERA and has thrown over 200 innings three times. Like Longoria, he’s a three time All-Star and won the AL Cy Young award in 2012 after going 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA.
2008: Tim Beckham (SS)
For the second straight season, the Rays had the number overall pick but more than anything this pick is remember for what the Rays passed on rather than what they selected. First of all, Beckham has dealt with significant issues in his career such as injuries and a 50-game suspension. Beckham finally made the major leagues last season appearing in five games, going 3-for-7 with an RBI. He’s a .266 career hitter in the minor leagues but hasn’t played this season after tearing his ACL at the end of the 2013 season. However, as mentioned, the Rays passed on a number of All-Star players when they selected Beckham, including Buster Posey, Pedro Alvarez, Juan Castro, Lance Lynn, Wade Miley. Other quality players like Eric Hosmer, Gordon Beckham, Yonder Alonso, Justin Smoak, Ike Davis, Brett Lawrie, Gerrit Cole and Aaron Hicks would have been better options in hindsight.
2009: Levon Washington (2B)
Washington has played well in the minors, hitting .283 over five seasons. The problem is he’s not doing it with Tampa Bay affiliates. After being drafted by the Rays, he never signed. He’s now in the Cleveland Indians organization.
O’Conner is currently playing for the Charlotte Stone Crabs and with the Rays lack of depth at catching in the organization, it seems as though O’Conner isn’t making enough progress yet, especially with the bat. He’s a .217 career hitter who despite having raw power has only 35 dingers over five seasons, so until his bat becomes more consistent O’Conner doesn’t look like he’ll be moving up the ranks swiftly. Sale is also playing at Charlotte and it’s safe to say he hasn’t progressed quite as well as the Rays would have liked. A big part of that is due to his off-field issues where he has been suspended after testing positive for meth and amphetimines and was also suspended by the Rays for “conduct detrimental to the organization.” He didn’t even play ball in 2013. In 2014 he’s hitting .226 in 45 games, with just two homers. Vettleson spent the first three seasons of his pro career with the Rays minor league affiliates where he hit higher than .270 each year. He is now however a prospect with the Washington Nationals but has struggled mightily early on with the bat.
Hager was taken 31st overall and is currenly plying his trade with the Montgomery Biscuits at the AA level. He’s fared well so far hitting .278 in 47 games and has a .951 fielding percentage at short stop. His bat is holding up well too and if he continues at this pace look for him to be at Durham by next season. Taylor Guerrieri, like Sale, has had problems off the field that have hindered his progress, as he was also suspended 50 games for testing positive for marijuana. He is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery but is expected back for the second half of 2014. In two pro seasons though, he has a dominant 1.59 ERA in 26 starts. Mahtook is perhaps one of the best draft picks of the last five years for the Rays. He’s raking in Durham this season, hitting a whooping .338 in 50 games while driving in 29 runs. In less than three seasons Mahtook has established himself as one of the Rays’ best outfield prospects. He also holds a .978 career fielding percentage as he roams the outfield.
2012: Richie Shaffer (3B)
The only pick in the first round in 2012 for the Rays, Shaffer is slowly turning into a solid player for the Rays. He had a good 2013 season with Charlotte (.254, 11 HR, 73 RBIs) and that prompted a promotion in 2014 to Montgomery, but has had a rough time with the bat (.225). With any third baseman prospect in the Rays organization, a position change may be best in the long run, but for now Shaffer needs to focus on improving at the plate. He’s also made 12 errors this season in 109 chances so that needs to get better.
The Rays again decided to address the catcher position with Ciuffo and so far he hasn’t disappointed, although his lack of power is concerning. He didn’t homer in 169 at-bats for the Golf Coast Rays last season which is worrisome considering he has above-average power. He did drive in 25 runs while hitting .258 but he is still raw when it comes to his hitting ability. He looked good behind the plate though committing only three errors all year. Other intangibles include his powerful arm and the ability to frame pitches very well. Ciuffo hasn’t played in 2014 yet as he awaits the lower minor league seasons to begin. Stanek was a standout pitcher at Nebraska (22-8, 2.53 ERA) after spurning the Seattle Mariners when drafted in 2010, and has now started his pro career well with the Bowling Green Hot Rods. In five starts he is 2-2 with a 2.63 ERA with 22 strikeouts. He’s 6’4 and hits 90+ MPH with his fastball while also having a decent curveball. He may be better off as a relief pitcher in the long run but for now is doing admirably as a starter.