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Tampa Bay Rays Draft 2016: The best picks in club history

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As we approach the 2016 draft, here's a look back at some of the best draft choices in Rays history.

Evan Longoria, what a difference 11 years makes. Married with children, owns a restaurant, what a guy.
Evan Longoria, what a difference 11 years makes. Married with children, owns a restaurant, what a guy.
Reuben Canales/Getty Images

*Last year I wrote this 2,000 word monster driving into the history of the Rays draft successes. Since this went live, some numbers have of course changed with Mikie Mahtook making it rain last September, as well as the sudden rise of 2012 first rounder, Richie Shaffer.

On June 4th, 1996 the Tampa Bay Rays participated in their first ever draft. They held the 29th selection, and when the time came, Vince Namoli from his 'war room', announced that the team had drafted Paul Wilder out of Cary High School in Cary, North Carolina. Unfortunately for the Rays and Wilder, he would never amount to much as injuries and lack of production hampered his career. He would never advanced above High-A.

There were, however, a few diamonds in the rough shined through that draft, as the team selected several future big leaguers -- 9 to be exact. With one of the last picks in that year's draft, a solid pitcher was selected that would go on to have a career span of 13 years: Dan Wheeler, selected in the 34th round. Meanwhile, the team's first three picks never made it to the majors, let alone High-A..

Below is a history of how the Rays have done in the draft, excluding 2012 and later:

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We have about a month until this year's draft takes place and the Rays will select 13th overall.

Although it's very easy to get excited about the team's first pick in the draft, but what has often been the case is that the picks in the later rounds have turned out much more, as quality players such as James Shields, Kevin Kiermaier, and Jason Hammel were all taken in the tenth round or later.

In Rays history, this team has drafted 883 players through 2011. Roughly 14% (121) of those players have reached the big leagues. (It'd be 11% if you included the past three drafts.) The best drafts, in which the most players reached the majors, were 2001 and 2003 when 12 players were all able to make the jump. However, the draft the proved the most productive was the 1999 draft, which produced a total of 78.4 WAR.

So, in anticipation of the upcoming draft, let's take a look back at some the team's best draft picks, whether they produced with the the team or not.

David Price

(2007 Draft, 1st Pick, 1st Round)

On June 7th, 2007, the Tampa Bay Rays possessed the number 1 overall pick after having the worst record in the league the year before. Heading into the draft, the obvious choice was the tall flame throwing southpaw from Vanderbilt University. So, the Rays took David Price, but waited a while to close the deal as he was signed on August 15th.

Price would throw in his first professional game the following year at High-A Vero Beach, then soar through the minors and make his major league debut in September. He would also have an incredible performance during the the Rays dramatic postseason run.

Cy Price

J. Meric/Getty Images

After a decent first full season in the bigs in 2009, Price broke out in 2010 and had up to that point the best pitched season in team history. Price established himself as the ace of the staff and one of the best pitchers in the league, and will be forever enshrined as the 2012 Cy Young award winner. Price would be dealt to the Tigers at the 2014 trade deadline, but he will always be remember in the Rays history as one of the franchise's best ever pitchers.

Career Stats: 23.8 WAR / 192 G / 89-52 (W-L) / 3.20 ERA / 3.26 FIP / 1261.1 IP with 8.4 K/9 & 2.4 BB/9 over the course of 8 seasons.

*Stats as of May 3rd, 2015

Jacoby Ellsbury

(2002 Draft, 674th Pick, 23rd Round)

Yup! During the 2002 draft, the Devil Rays selected Jacoby Ellsbury in the 23rd round of the draft. He had already been offered a scholarship to Oregon State, so when the team offered him just $90,000 to play professional baseball over going to college, he turned them down.

Ellsbury then proceeded to tear up NCAA pitching, slashing .365/.464/.522 over the course of three seasons at Oregon State. He'd drafted with the 23rd overall pick in the first round of the 2005 draft by the Boston Red Sox. He'd make his major league debut two years later in 2007, and finish 3rd in RoTY voting after his first full year in 2008. He'd lead the league steals in 2008, 2009, and 2013. His best season came in 2011 though, when he finished 2nd in MVP voting.

After the 2013 season, he became a free agent and proceeded to sign a 7 year, $153 million deal with the New York Yankees.

Career Stats: 25.4 WAR, slashed .294/.349/.434 with 82 HR and 289 SB in 887 games over the course of 9 seasons.

*Stats before the start of play on May 4th, 2015

Josh Hamilton

(1999 Draft, 1st Round, 1st Pick)

Heading into the 1999 draft, it was a consensus that the first pick would either be flame thrower Josh Beckett or the gifted Josh Hamilton. Scout agreed that both players were going to be phenomenal, it was just a question of who would be first. When the time finally came, the Devil Rays made Josh Hamilton the #1 overall pick and signed him almost immediately.

He'd make his debut with Princeton and seemed to have little trouble transitioning from high school to professional baseball. He even earned a promotion to Hudson Valley towards the end of the year. In 2000, Hamilton had another solid year and was named the top prospect in all of baseball. Unfortunately, that was the highlight of his career with Tampa Bay.

Hamilton

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After dealing with substance issues and injuries in 2001 and 2002, Hamilton missed three straight seasons from 2003-2005, and the majority of the 2006 season. The Devil Rays consequently removed him from the 40-man roster, leaving him unprotected for the Rule 5 draft, where he'd be selected by the Cubs and then sold to the Reds.

After a full season with Cincinnati, Hamilton would be traded to the Rangers where he won multiple accolades, including the MVP award in 2010.

After several seasons in Texas, he became a free agent and received a huge payday from the Angels to the tune of $125 million over 5 seasons. After two years in LA, however, Hamilton suffered a relapse and in a highly publicized manner, was chastised by the Angles and essentially given back to the Rangers for free.

Career Stats: 27.7 WAR, slashed .292/.352/.519 with 192 HR and 50 SB in 977 games over the course of 8 seasons.

*Stats before the start of play on May 4th, 2015

James Shields

(2000 Draft, 16th round, 466th Pick)

When he was drafted, James Shields was considered one of the best high school prospects in the country, but he was offered a full scholarship to Louisiana State. The decision couldn't have been easy, but thankfully he eventually chose to sign with Tampa Bay in August and began his pro career the following Summer.

After a solid debut season, in which he was able to advance to Single-A, Shields suffered a shoulder injury that would require surgery. He would miss the entire 2002 season and his future in baseball was in doubt. It was during this time, that Shields learned how to throw his devastating change-up.

Shields

J. Meric/Getty Images

Finally, after years of working hard and developing in the minors, Shields made his major league debut in May of 2006. He'd immediately become one of the team's best pitchers and eventually the team's ace. He led the team into the 2008 playoffs. In 2010, it looked like his time as the team's ace was coming to an end, but it turned out the best was yet to come as he had an incredible 2011 campaign in which he was a finalist of the Cy Young award.

After the 2012 season came to end, as did James Shields' time with Tampa Bay as he was traded to the Royals. Shields brought his invaluable leadership to Kansas City and he guided them to the world series in 2014. This past offseason was his first as a free agent and he would receive a payday to the tune for $75 million of 5 years.

Career Stats: 27.5 WAR / 117-90 (W-L) / 3.72 ERA / 3.77 FIP / 1946.2 IP with 7.7 K/9 & 2.1 BB/9 over the course of 10 seasons.

*Stats as of May 5th, 2015

Carl Crawford

(1999 Draft, 2nd Round, 52nd Pick)

Carl Crawford was a multi-sport star in high school who had multiple scholarship offers to play football and basketball at a handful of some big name universities. But, Crawford's passion was baseball, so when the Devil Rays chose to choose Crawford with their 2nd pick in the '99 draft, he signed within two weeks.

Crawford was only 17 when he began his pro career at Princeton, but that didn't stop him from putting on a show with his speed. In only 60 games that season, he stole 17 bases and had 4 triples. Crawford's skills on the bases, plus his bat and outstanding defense, propelled him through the minors and he'd make his major league debut in 2002 at the age of 20.

He would become the face of the franchise and pretty much one of the only reasons to watch the the team during the Devil Ray years. He'd lead the league in steals and triples multiple times and was just a thrill to watch run the bases. In 2009, he tied a major league record by recording 6 steals in just one game against the dreaded Boston Red Sox. His best year would come in 2010, when the league finally recognized his talents and awarded him a gold glove and silver slugger award, to go along with being 7th for the MVP.

Unfortunately, Crawford became a free agent following the season and he made an ill-fated decision to sign with the, again, dreaded Red Sox. It was a 7 year contract worth $142 million, but Crawford's time with Boston was terrible in all aspects, and it'd come to an end in August of 2012 when the Red Sox offloaded over $250 million to the Dodgers in "The Punto Trade."

Crawford has been hampered with the injuries the past few seasons, having not played a full year since 2010, buthe will always be remembered as one of the team's all time greats in a Tampa Bay uniform.

Career Stats: 39.8 WAR, slashed .292/.332/.438 with 133 HR and 470 SB in 1,632 games over the course of 14 seasons.

*Stats before the start of play on May 5th, 2015

Evan Longoria

(2006 Draft, 1st Round, 3rd Pick)

Evan Longoria was considered the best college bat in the draft, so naturally he was one of the first picks in the 2006 draft, when the Devil Rays took him 3rd overall. Longoria signed very quickly and began his assault on minor league pitching in the lower levels on the Rays system, advancing all the way up to Double-A Montgomery by the end of the year.

Longoria would be promoted to Durham halfway through the following year and looked prime to make the major league roster in 2008. He didn't, but he was about about a week into the season and signed a long term team friendly deal. Although he was a rookie, Longoria seemed to have an immediate veteran presence and he helped guide the team into the playoffs and also won the rookie of the year (the first time it'd been done in team history).

Longo

J. Meric/Getty Images

Over the past several years, Longoria has grown into the team's leader and is the only player to have been continuously on the team since 2008, and it looks like he'll continue to be here for a while thanks to his second team-friendly contract extension that'll keep him with Tampa Bay until 2022. He's won silver sluggers, gold gloves, and has been nominated for the MVP award several times.

Longoria notably hit the biggest homerun in team history, and possibly one of the all time most dramatic in MLB history, to win Game 162 in 2011. Longoria's game is driven by quality defense and gives the Rays a perennial contender for multiple accolades over at the hot corner, and although his performance has fallen short of some people's expectations since the beginning of his career, he is still the face of the franchise and will be for years to come.

Career Stats: 40.3 WAR, slashed .271/.352/.492 with 185 HR and 42 SB in 985 games over the course of 8 seasons.

*Stats before the start of play on May 5th, 2015

Honorable Mentions:

Jason Michaels*, Dan Wheeler, Heath Bell*, Toby HallAubrey HuffLuke Scott*, Rocco Baldelli, Jason Hammel, Melvin Upton Jr., Mike Pelfrey*, Kris Medlen*, John JasoWade DavisJake McGeeJeremy HellicksonTommy Hunter*, Ike Davis*, Wade Miley*, Desmond JenningsAlex CobbMatt Moore, Kevin Kiermaier

*Did not sign with Tampa Bay