Deep thoughts: Draft talk part one

Will a top talent like Taylor Guerrieri fall to the Rays at 21st overall? - Jim Donten

With the draft a couple days away, Michael and I have a wide-ranging conversation

Deep thoughts used to be used more frequently here at DRaysBay, and we thought it would be a good idea to bring it back for some more draft talk. Until the draft starts on Thursday, we'll bring you thoughts on draft strategy, players the Rays could be targeting and how the Astros can turn the draft upside down.

Scott Grauer: The 2013 draft begins this week, and after only having all of their own picks last year, they will have an extra first round pick this draft for losing B.J. Upton. This increases their bonus pool by a significant amount, something that's always helpful for small market teams (the opposite could be said about baseball's "competitive balance picks" farce.) One strategy that teams discuss is reaching just a little bit for a player to save a little money with their first pick and then using the savings to go overslot for later picks. Based on previous drafts, even though they were under different spending rules, I don't think the Rays will go this route. They certainly didn't save any money selecting Josh Sale and Taylor Guerrieri with their first picks in 2010 and 2011.

Michael Valancius: I agree wholeheartedly with you, Scott. The Rays seem to focus on selecting the best player available with their first pick; Josh Sale, Taylor Guerrieri, and Richie Shaffer were all among the top available options when the Rays selected them.

With the second first round pick and thus the enlarged bonus pool, the Rays can actually take a different aggressive approach and try to sign a top player who has slipped. Under normal circumstances with the new draft rules, it would be difficult for the Rays to find the money to select one of the better talents in the draft. Even if they budgeted their second through tenth round picks, they would probably not have enough money to make a serious offer to an elite draft prospect. However, with a second first round pick, the Rays have a larger bonus pool to work with, making it possible for them to target a more expensive (and better) player.

For example, the Rays have $6,694,900 in their bonus pool this year. If they budget their money properly and only spend about $1.5 million on picks picks #2 through #11 (all picks in the first ten rounds besides their first pick), then they have just over $5 million to spend on their first pick. The first pick in the 2013 draft is slotted at $7,790,400, the second pick at $6,708,400, and the third pick at $5,626,400. After that, every pick is slotted below $5 million. So all players outside of the top three picks are looking at bonuses under $5 million.

Now the $5 million spending budget on the first pick may be a bit extreme, but the general point is that the Rays should be able to nab most prospects who slide in the draft. If someone like Trey Ball (9th best prospect in the draft according to Baseball America) wants $3.5 million and, as a result, slides down, the Rays can make a competitive offer while still having enough money to spend on their other picks. They might have to sacrifice a little on their later picks in the bonus pool range, but the addition of a player like Trey Ball is probably worth it.

Personally, I like this strategy, as it is the perfect way for the Rays to add an elite talent to their system without having a top pick. The new CBA is designed to prevent teams handing out significantly over-slot deals. But with their possession of two first round picks, the Rays can wisely allocate their money to sign one of the better talents in the draft. Scott, what are your thoughts on this strategy?

SG: I think that's the way to go. In the last three drafts, I can't imagine many expected for Josh Sale, Taylor Guerrieri and Richie Shaffer to be available to the Rays, and they didn't hesitate to take the first two despite potential signability concerns. I wouldn't put them up with a team like the Red Sox or Nationals when it comes to making risky picks based on money, but they're definitely not like the White Sox trying to make pick signing as painless as possible either.

The question then becomes who could take a surprise tumble on Thursday? To be honest, I've heard very little about bonus demands and rumors even though we're only a couple days away, so I admit I don't have a good feel for answering this. Sean Manaea could drop due to bonus demands, but there are so many questions about his health it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to let another team take that chance. One player to watch may be Dominic Smith, a high school first baseman you wrote about over the weekend. It seems unlikely that he falls to the Rays, but you never know when teams could get gun shy with a high school first baseman in the first round. I think fans might like that pick; there are always discussions about adding first depth to the organization, and it wouldn't be a reach either. He's a very good hitter and would likely be the best player available at that point.

MV: It is definitely difficult to predict who will slip in the draft. I don't think anyone saw Taylor Guerrieri falling to the Rays when he did. I can envision a scenario in which a top player falls due to the shake up at the top of the draft. In Keith Law's latest mock draft on Monday, he had the Astros picking Colin Moran with the first overall pick. In the mock draft, Kohl Stewart, the best high school pitcher, fell all the way down to the sixteenth pick. While that is still five spots above where the Rays pick, it just goes to show how the Astros draft strategy could create a situation in which a top player slides.

Speaking of the Astros, I am baffled by what they are reportedly considering. Colin Moran is a very solid prospect, but he is clearly in a lower tier than players such as Mark Appel, Jonathan Gray, and Kris Bryant. Baseball America rated him the seventh best player while Keith Law has him as the ninth.

Last year, they took a similar approach, selecting Carlos Correa over the higher rated Mark Appel and Byron Buxton. When Correa signed an under-slot deal, the Astros used the additional funds to sign highly rated players with their later picks, such as Lance McCullers. While the move was praised at the time, the decision looks like it may have been a mistake as Byron Buxton is an early favorite to be the top overall prospect heading into next year (currently batting .333/.435/.545) and Mark Appel had a terrific year at Stanford.

However, I see a major difference between the two years. While Moran is quite a bit behind the top players in terms of talent, Correa was not far behind the top players. Keith Law actually rated him the second best prospect, and most considered him to be among the top five draft prospects.

When the conversation continues tomorrow, I'll talk a little more about the Astros, and the discussion will swing back to the Rays.

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