Wonder who was responsible for those drafts. MT @johnmanuelba Friedman left at right time. Years of rough drafts have left farm system thin.
— Kevin Gengler (@KevinGengler) October 14, 2014
@KevinGengler Not the GM. Scouting directors do that (RJ Harrison in TB). GM made mistake of keeping the same dept. that kept falling short
— John Manuel (@johnmanuelba) October 14, 2014
I agree with John. Not that Andrew Friedman leaving is part of some cut and run operation, but good or bad, I really don't assign responsibility for drafts to the general manager because my understanding has been GM's have little to do with the draft, although I'm sure some do more or less than others,
I think the argument in favor of crediting the success or failure of a draft to a GM is fair though. As the leader of the front office, ultimately, the buck stops at the GM's desk, even if there's a scout failing to pin down bonus demands of players or a cross-checker making bad evaluations.
Whether responsibility lies with Friedman himself, Harrison, someone else, or (more likely) a combination thereof, Friedman leaves the Rays with a depleted farm system. Entering 2014, Keith Law ranked them 23rd in baseball, Baseball Prospectus ranked them 26th, and Baseball America was a little more optimistic, ranking them 20th. Acquiring Willy Adames helps, but he's not significantly moving the needle upward.
A big part of that is a string of unproductive drafts. In the Rays era starting in 2008, they're arguably the least productive drafting team in baseball. Of course, that can change in a few years when new players come up and make an impact, but right now, their record doesn't look good.
To their credit though, they did nail the picks of Evan Longoria and David Price at the top of the 2006 and 2007 drafts. It might seem like picking at the top of the draft is a slam dunk, but as the selections of Greg Reynolds at number two overall in 2006 and Daniel Moskos fourth in 2007 suggest, it's anything but a slam dunk. However, those drafts were pretty long ago, and I want to focus on the recent stretch that includes young major leaguers and players that are still considered prospects.
Using Baseball Reference's and Baseball America's draft databases, I checked out every team's drafts from 2008 to 2013 and counted how many players each team signed that reached the majors. The Rays rank dead last with seven, tied with the Twins, and two of those seven made their big league debuts with other organizations, first Derek Dietrich and then Kyle Lobstein. By contrast, 11 teams, led by the Padres with 25, have produced 18 or more big leaguers or three per draft in the time period.
"June 6, 7 and 8 will be among the most important days in Rays franchise history"
That's what Andrew Friedman said months before the 2011 draft. With the loss of so many free agents that off-season, the Rays would have 12 picks in the top 100 of that draft. The book is not closed for this draft yet, and the Rays will surely see some big league playing time come out of it. The early returns aren't inspiring though.
The Rays have not received a single plate appearance or inning pitched out of anyone in that class. They're not alone in that; six other teams are in the same boat, but none of them had the quantity of picks the Rays did. Over 50 players were signed that draft and have reached the majors, and some of them were available to the Rays. Seattle got Brad Miller 62nd overall; Cleveland found Cody Allen in the 23rd round; Cincinnati picked Tony Cingrani 114th overall.
Meanwhile, the Rays picks either aren't looking good, or had some bad luck. Taylor Guerrieri, Grayson Garvin and Lenny Linsky all had Tommy John surgery. Kes Carter has been slowed by injuries, and Jeff Ames needed Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery. Brandon Martin is out of baseball, and James Harris never gained any traction. On the plus side, Jake Hager and Tyler Goeddel continued to play at a steady level, and Mikie Mahtook, Blake Snell and Granden Goetzman all made strides
What teams are looking for is quality -- not quantity -- in the draft, so I added up the bWAR (conveniently located on BR's draft pages) produced by all of these players, zeroing out the players in the negatives because drafting a player and getting him to the majors is still a credit to the organization.
Again, the Rays don't stack up, finishing last with just 5.2 bWAR from their seven players compared to the league average of 24.5 bWAR.
The Rays are joined at the bottom of the league by division rivals Boston and New York. I suppose a big major league budget can cover up some draft whiffs. The number one team could come as a surprise: Arizona, with 51.2 bWAR. They had 16 picks reach the majors between the 2008 and 2009 drafts with Paul Goldschmidt leading the way.
Keep in mind this is just a cursory perspective, and that some pretty thorough looks at the Rays drafting have already been done here, as well as other places. If you'd like to dig deeper, I'd certainly recommend them. One of the challenges of pieces like these is projecting the future and what might be expected from prospects. The statistical ways to do so were covered in some of those pieces, but I want to try a rudimentary scouting approach to judge value from drafts too recent to provide much big league value.
It really only takes one big pick for the Rays to shoot up the WAR standings. Players like Goldschmidt, Buster Posey and Mike Trout significantly boost their teams' totals, and in two of those three of those cases, available to be chosen where the Rays have been picking the last six years.
Have the Rays learned any lessons from the whiffs between 2008 and 2011?
The recent drafts will certainly be a huge factor when determining why the Rays have a weaker farm system than usual. I discussed some of Baseball America's league-specific top 20 prospect lists last week, and a handful of picks from recent Rays drafts populate those lower-level lists. In a world where evaluating talent is easy and always correct once players have started their professional careers, these are the players that will be providing value in the future.
There are 204 unique players on the 16 league lists for the low-minors, drafted between 2007-2014 (with players eligible in multiple leagues). Five were drafted by the Rays, which is a little below the league average:
Justin O'Conner ('10, FSL), Nick Ciuffo and Riley Unroe ('13, Appy), Brent Honeywell ('14, Appy) and Casey Gillaspie ('14, NYPL).
Notice again the big 2011 draft isn't a factor. in fact, none of the picks are among the 28 from that draft feature in the league lists. Still, even in those possibly failed drafts from 2008-11, many of the prospects acquired began at a high school level. Ryan Brett, for example, could still develop into a good major leaguer.
If I had to give a grade to the full scope of drafts where Friedman was at the helm, it would have to be incomplete. In five years, it'll be worth revisiting because these picks' careers as prospects will have concluded, and it will be clear if the front office made mistakes with their choices over the last three years.
The next Kevin Kiermaier (31st round), the sole success story and a product of the 2010 draft, could be just around the corner.