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The Tampa Bay Rays and the Upcoming Draft

The Amateur Draft for MLB is coming up soon - June 6th, to be exact - and as many of you know, this is a huge year for the Rays. Due to the large amount of free agents that the Rays lost to other teams this off season, the Rays have 10 draft picks in the first round (first 60 picks), and 12 in the top 89 picks. Here's the full list:

First Round Picks:

Pick #24 - Carl Crawford
Pick #31 - Rafael Soriano
Pick #32 - Regular pick

First Round, Compensation Picks:

Pick #38 - Rafael Soriano
Pick #41 - Carl Crawford
Pick #42 - Grant Balfour
Pick #52 - Brad Hawpe
Pick #56 - Joaquin Benoit
Pick #59 - Randy Choate
Pick #60 - Chad Qualls

Second Round:

Pick #75 - Grant Balfour
Pick #89 - Regular pick

More on the draft (and our coverage of it) after the jump.

This is a unique opportunity for the Rays, as I don't think there has ever been another teams with such a slew of first round draft picks (if there has, feel free to correct me in the comments). Also, this draft was already going to be something special: it's widely considered one of the deepest draft classes of the last 10 years, and it's also the final draft before the upcoming CBA negotiations. The free agent compensation system is likely to change going forward, meaning the Rays are sneaking in under the wire and exploiting this rule as much as possible while they still have a chance.

As a small market ball club, the Rays' long term success is tied in closely with their ability to continuously restock their minor league system with talent. Free agents are expensive to sign and other teams aren't willing to give up hot young major league stars, so the Rays are essentially forced to develop the majority of their talent from within. It's difficult to both win and keep a strong minor league system, as good minor leaguers are constantly being promoted and rotated through the majors, so this draft is very important for the Rays: if they draft well this year, they could be setting the franchise up for years and years of future success.

Because of all this, my assumption (and hope) is that the Rays are approaching this draft with an aggressive mindset. I mean, just listen to Andrew Friedman from this past February (emphasis mine):

DRB: The organization obviously values draft picks very highly. You're going to have a bounty of picks within the top 100 of the 2011 draft (R.J. Harrison has to be drooling). How much of an edge do you feel that gives you over other teams?

AF: June 6, 7 and 8 will be among the most important days in the history of this franchise. Because young players are so important to us, we have a chance in this year's draft to impact our future in a way that's unprecedented. It's a tremendous opportunity and R.J. and his staff have already been working overtime to capitalize on it.

While that's a lot of first round picks to sign, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Rays toss sign-ability/financial concerns out the window in order to draft the best possible players they can. Go big or go home, right?

Over the next couple weeks, we'll be covering the draft a good amount here on DRaysBay. We'll be linking out to articles and mock drafts, and trying to get a feel for what sort of players the Rays might target. All these posts will be marked with a "Draft" tag, so you can always find the articles in that section. While it's notoriously difficult to predict exactly which players a team will draft, we're hoping to at least provide everyone with enough information that you can enter draft day and knowledgeably assess the Rays' picks.

Only 20 more days 'til June 6th. The countdown is on.