Although James Shields hasn't thrown a pitch for the Rays since 2012, he helped out his former team once again.
Shields, who signed with San Diego on Monday, cost the Padres their first-round draft pick, moving the Rays up a spot to No. 13 - the Rays' highest draft slot since 2008, when they drafted Tim Beckham with the No. 1 overall pick.
To state the obvious, Tampa Bay used those seemingly annual top picks to propel the first run of success in franchise history. But after falling to fourth place in the American League East last year and posting their first sub-.500 record in seven years, the Rays get the opportunity to select in the first half of the first round once again.
Though not as flashy as a top pick, the No. 13 spot has produced its share of top prospects and Major Leaguers lately.And it couldn't come at a better time for the Rays.
The once-fertile pipeline that flowed up from Port Charlotte, Florida, through Montgomery, Alabama, up to Durham, North Carolina, and back down to Tropicana Field has been pumping hard water later of late. From 1999 through 2008, all but one of the Rays' top picks in the Amateur Draft made it to the big leagues. There were different degrees of success, of course, ranging from perennial All-Stars (Evan Longoria, David Price) to the crash-and-burn busts (Dewon Brazelton), but picks high in the Draft bore fruit.
Since 2008 and the Rays' continued success, the well has started to dry. Thanks to injuries and plain old unproductiveness, Tampa hasn't produced a Major League player from the first round in the last seven drafts. Of course it's too early to write off the last several drafts, recent first-rounders like catcher Nick Ciuffo and pitcher Ryne Stanek still need significant time to develop, but from 2009-2011 the Rays help 14 draft picks, and none have yet to make a serious impact on the organization.
Meanwhile, new President of Baseball Operations Matt Silverman has spent the offseason bulking up what risked being a depleted farm system through the trade market, adding respected shortstop Daniel Robertson and outfielder Boog Powell in the Ben Zobrist trade while picking up multiple promising prospects from the Diamondbacks and Padres in the Jeremy Hellickson and Wil Myers deals, respectively.
Robertson immediately vaulted to the top of the Rays' prospect list - he's No. 1 on MLB.com's rankings of the Rays' prospect - with Steven Souza, acquired from the Nationals and best known for his no-no-saving catch on the last day of the regular season, is ranked sixth. He gets lower marks for age, but he'll likely contribute immediately.
Powell also makes MLB.com's list at No. 12, and Andrew Velazquez and Justin Williams (acquired for Hellickson) join him at No. 13 and 14, respectively. Jake Bauers and Burch Smith, who came to the Rays as part of the Myers trade, rank 17th and 19th. In addition, Willy Adames, acquired during the season in the David Price trade, also makes the list at No. 3.
However, of all those prospects, only Robertson (No. 66) and Adames (No. 94) cracked Baseball Prospectus' Top 101 list and Keith Law ranked the Rays' system 23rd overall. It's difficult to replenish a farm system through trades alone if you don't want to blow up the Major League roster entirely.
The Rays, despite making some of the biggest trades of the offseason, still have an intact lineup and rotation, and the farm is noticeably greener. But the biggest opportunity they will have to move back among the game's elite Minor League systems will be in June's draft.
- The Rays signed utility player Jake Elmore to a minor league contract Monday. Elmore has played parts of three seasons in the Majors, including five games with the Reds last year during which he hit 2-for-11 with no extra-base hits. However, he did have success at AAA, posting a .281/.376/.345 triple-slash line in 72 games in the Oakland and Cincinnati systems.
- Rays Radio broadcaster Neil Solondz answered Twitter questions on the Rays Radio blog Monday. Solondz touched on several topics, including Rays' hitting woes, time of game and if Tampa Bay was done building its team for the coming season.
Solondz also hit on the Rays' closer situation with Jake McGee out due to his elbow surgery last December.
"Jake feels he's ahead of schedule, and is targeting his return for some time in April. Since the season doesn't start until the sixth of the month, he may not miss much time. In the interim I'm guessing that the Rays will use relievers in high leverage situations based on the best matchups."
- Original Devil Rays first baseman Fred McGriff will join the Braves staff as a special hitting assistant, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Monday. Crime Dog spent parts of five seasons with the then-Devil Rays, including an All-Star Game appearance in 2000 racking up a 9.0 rWAR and a .291/.380/.484 triple-slash line while belting 99 homers.
- Mets starter Matt Harvey met with the media Monday in Port St. Lucie, Florida, to discuss his recovery from Tommy John surgery, Paul Casella of MLB.com reports. Harvey hasn't pitched since August 2013, when he was absolutely dominant. He was a very fun pitcher to watch, so hopefully he can get back to that kind of form.
- If you have an extra $100,000 laying around, a signed picture of Shoeless Joe Jackson is up for sale, Reuters reports. That's about $8,333 dollars for every hit he had in the 1919 World Series, which he definitely didn't throw (#FreeShoelessJoe).
- Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.com isn't quite convinced that the Shields signing, as well as all of the Padres' other moves this offseason, has turned the Friars into a winning team. But, on the bright side, they have nowhere to go but up when it comes to hitting.
- MLB.com columnist Anthony Castrovince ranked who he thought would have the top 10 lineups this season. You can control-F search for the Rays; you won't find them. The Red Sox come in at the top of this list. Personally, I think he underrated the Nationals and Dodgers at No. 5 and 6, but the biggest impression I got from the list is that there is no obvious top lineup.