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Rays 2017 MLB Draft Targets: A Very Early Look

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MLB: San Francisco Giants at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Although last year’s position in the final standings for the Rays was not what fans hoped for, the lone positive on that front is the ability to get a high draft position. The Rays will draft 4th, behind only the Twins, Reds, and Padres respectively.

Having such a high draft position enables us to take a pretty close look at which players are most likely to be available or of interest to the Rays. If they drafted 21st, it would be a near impossible exercise.

With that in mind, we’ll first take a look at what the Rays selected in the first round since 2010, just to get a feel for any trends that may or may not exist.

Historical Draft Trends

The Rays haven’t had a pick within the top 12 in recent years, so a direct comparison can’t be established. However, there are some notes we can gather from the latest drafts.

Selections since 2010:

  • 2010: Josh Sale, 17th overall, HS selection
  • 2011: Taylor Guerrieri, 24th overall, HS selection
  • 2012: Richie Shaffer, 25th overall, College selection
  • 2013: Nick Ciuffo, 21st overall, HS selection
  • 2014: Casey Gillaspie, 20th overall, College selection
  • 2015: Garrett Whitley, 13th overall, HS selection
  • 2016: Josh Lowe, 13th overall, HS selection

So it seems that if there are any trend to consider, they may include the fact that the Rays are not afraid to take HS players, that they’re more likely to do so when selecting higher in the draft, and that they’re very conscious of their need for better bats since they’ve taken bats in the first round in 4 of the last 5 drafts.

Now, if you ask any drafting team who they’re taking, they’ll tell you every single time: the best player on the board. While that’s true, some teams do follow a certain trends when drafting, so it’s important to consider the historical draft performances.

In order to come up with players to consider in this article, I started with a top 40 list: the currently ranked top 20 College players, and the top 20 High School players (as ranked by Baseball America). Then, worked the list down to what I consider to be 4 of the best targets for each, providing us with a Top 8 list of possible targets.

The Top 3 Selections by Consensus

Before we get going on who the Rays may select, I’d like to write off who most believe will go in the top 3 because there seems to be a very consistent consensus on who that may be in 2017.

In any order you want to have them selected, that consensus (such as this one from MLB.com’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo) includes the following:

Alex Faedo, RHP, Florida

2016 Stats: 17 GS, 104.2 IP, 87 H, 21 BB, 133 SO, 3.18 ERA, .222 BAvg,

“Hunter Greene is the consensus top prospect right now, but I can't see Minnesota's new regime becoming the first to take a high school right-hander at 1-1. The Twins are more apt to take whomever they deem as the best of a deep college pitching crop.”

Hunter Greene, RHP/SS, Notre Dame HS

2016 Stats: 55.2 IP, 68 SO, .163 OBP, 1.63 ERA

“Just like in 2016, the first prep arm will come off the board at No. 3. Greene is too talented -- he'd be a first-rounder as a shortstop, too -- to last any longer than this”

Jeren Kendall, OF, Vanderbilt

“best of a weak college position player class, with nifty all-around tools mitigated somewhat by swing-and-miss concerns.”

Along with the top rated player on my list, who could easily break into the top 3, they are the cream of the crop - so far. Let’s just assume that if any of these three studs are available at #4, the Rays will jump all over them and will become the best selection available (based on what we know right now).

You could make an argument for 2 or 3 others that I’ll touch on below for the #4 selection, but for now that’s what we’ll work with.

Top 8 Potential Targets at #4

The following could be Rays targets with the 4th overall selection. Performances put up this year will have an impact, of course, but they are some of the top arms and bats being looked at within the top players available.

I’ve decided to put them up in reverse order, with the last one on this list being the one I consider most likely to be selected with the pick. While it’s certainly a shot in the dark at this point, it provides us with a glimpse of what kind of talent this franchise could be adding to its system in June.

8. JJ Schwarz, C Florida 6-1 205

For some reason, a lot of people have already linked Schwarz to the Rays. As a player that steps up when the heat is on, he was able to lead the way for the Gators in 2016 and became a vital part of their winning season. The rub for him will be that his 2016 stats (below) were a tad lower than the .332/.398/.629 he produced in 2015.

Either way, his work behind the plate is sound and the arm has enough strength to see him remain behind the plate. As the top ranked catcher in this class, he’ll have no shortage of suitors. The question will be whether or not teams believe in both his bat and his defensive abilities enough to make him a top 10 pick.

2016 Stats: 252 AB, 73 H, 7 HR, 60 RBI, 45 BB, 54 SO, .290/.397/.456

Below are highlights from his 2015 season, which may be the better indication of what his ceiling may be.

7. Calvin Mitchell - OF Rancho Bernardo HS

Mitchell is the kind of prospect that sometimes gets pre-draft helium effect based on latest performances. The sound of the ball coming off his bat tells you all you need to know about his power, and he’s had success in events like the home run derby as a result.

2016 Stats: 34 GP, .371/.473/.828, 41 RBI, 12 HR, 18 BB, 21 SO

The patience at the plate, the prodigious power, all added up he’ll be an enticing player for the Rays to evaluate. Considered by many to be the best bat in this draft, he’ll be hard to overlook.

Detractors of his being selected in top 5 point to his possibly being limited to LF due to a questionable arm and defensive abilities.

Here’s a quick look at what he does have to offer:

6. Tanner Houck, rhp, Missouri, 6-5 218

Previously drafted by the Blue Jays in the 12th round of the 2014 draft. With a low three quarter delivery, he’s developed a mid-90s fastball and plus slider that has hitters swinging and missing. The change up is a work-in-progress, as is the case with many pitchers at the top of this class.

He has good movement on his pitches, and his makeup on and off the field draw rave reviews. While he looks extremely calm and relaxed on the mound, he’s a fierce competitor.

2016 Stats: 15 GS, 105.1 IP, 82 H, 27 BB, 106 SO, 2.99 ERA, .209 BAvg

5. Kyle Wright, RHP Vanderbilt 6-4 220

There’s a chance that Wright turns out to be the first player from the 2017 draft to be MLB tested. His pedigree is strong, his stuff is refined, and he has one of the best arms of the draft.

The 2016 season was the first one that had Wright as a full-time starter after spending the majority (less 3 starts) of 2015 in relief. It’s evident that he successfully worked his way into the role and his stock has rocketed up the draft boards as a result.

For the Rays, Wright would represent the addition of a pitcher that would need some work but has all of the tools needed to join the rotation in short-order. He is arguably one of the top 3 College available and the Rays could lean his way this June.

2016 Stats: 16 GS, 93.1 IP, 82 H, 32 BB, 107 SO, 3.09 ERA, .238 Avg

4. DL Hall - LHP Valdosta HS

Already has two pitches that grade out as above-average, including a snappy curve that reportedly has depth to it. According to scouts, his FB works from 89 MPH to 95 MHP, while his Curve works at 75 MPH.

Also performs extremely well under the spotlight. If you watch the video of him throwing here, you’ll notice how rarely his pitches ever appear flat. Every pitch seems to have significant movement, whether tailing, sinking, or sweeping across.

The delivery is smooth, and he reportedly has better control of his pitches than the vast majority of Southpaws coming out of HS.

If the Rays are willing to wait a while longer for their selection to develop, something they haven’t shied away from in the past, he could be more than worth the investment.

Want to see what I mean close up?

3. Royce Lewis - SS/3B/OF J Serra Catholic HS, California

One of the first things to note about Lewis is the fact that he has some positional flexibility. This quote boils it down fairly well:

“He still thinks his best position is shortstop, but for three years he hasn’t complained one bit about playing third base or centre field.”

He’s open to playing any position, and as with the player I’ll cover at #1 on this list, he has 5-tool potential. While his defensive play at SS still needs refinement, his arm profiles well anywhere on the left side of the infield or the outfield.

There’s an evident focus on his love of the game whenever you read scouting reports on him and I haven’t come across any negatives at all. And you can’t get a better quote from a player who has a long road to the majors as this one:

“Don’t stop; never quit,” says Lewis of his lessons learned from the game. “They’re going to push you down. You’ve just got to get back up and keep going.”

With his tenacity and love for the game, he could move more quickly than most prep players, and the Rays haven’t been shy in promoting players quickly when they’ve proven that they can play at a certain level. He already has international experience, and some would say he’s mature beyond his years.

If he were selected by the Rays, there’s a decent chance that he’d become the best SS the franchise has ever had, making him a particularly interesting option.

2. J.B. Bukauskas, RHP, North Carolina, 6-0 196

Previously drafted by the DBacks in the 20th round of the 2014 draft, he decided to attend College and it’s paid off thus far in terms of heightening the chances of a large bonus. At the time of the 2014 draft, he had asked all 30 teams to not draft him, as his mind was already made up. Having graduated HS early, he didn’t think it was prudent to head out on his own at 17 years old. That showed a lot of maturity.

Since then, he’s developed one of the better fastball - slider combination of the draft class. His change up is also said to show potential, which is part of the package that makes him a top-notch prospect. What may set him apart from others for some is the makeup, which is fairly unshakeable and sets his floor high. Combined with a high ceiling, a team drafting Bukauskas would be getting an intriguing prospect which would be ready to help out the team in short order.

After the Collegiate season ended, Bukauskas joined the National Collegiate team and was instrumental in their win over Cuba in the Cuban Series, something no other USA Collegiate team had ever done. Within the summer performances, he threw 21.2 innings, only allows one unearned run, walked only 3, all the while striking out 21. In short, he was a beast.

2016 Stats: 13 GS, 78.1 IP, 68 H, 29 BB, 111 SO, 3.10 ERA, .234 OBA

1. Jordon Adell - of/rhp Ballard High, Louisville, Ky.

Possibly the best athlete in this draft class, Adell’s potential is extreme. He can run as well as anyone, he’s got prodigious power, and he profiles well at any of the 3 outfield positions.

The best quote I could find to describe his speed is this one:

This year at the Perfect Game National Showcase, Jordon ran a 6.19, the seventh-fastest time ever recorded by Perfect Game.

They go on to compare his time to Mike Trout who clocked a time of 6.5.

If the Rays are looking for a bat and are willing to make it one that has all of the tools required to become the best 5-tool outfielder the franchise has ever had, Adell is their target.

While some may prefer to go the safer route and grab one of the College arms in this draft, the Rays have an opportunity to get a franchise altering player who could be fast-tracked once he turns pro. With his makeup and abilities, the sky’s the limit.

Overall feel for what the Rays could add in June

If reading up on some of the players listed above doesn’t get you intrigued about what the Rays could add to the team’s system in June, check your pulse! This is a very top heavy class, particularly loaded with College arms and some outstanding 5-tool prep talents.

There’s a chance that the struggles experienced by Garrett Whitley thus far could sway the Rays to take a College arm instead. However, Adell and Lewis are both outstanding talents that have much clearer and more polished tools to work with. With his ceilings being so high, I lean towards Adell becoming the eventual Rays selection.

Still, Bukauskas is the one I hope they decide on when I wear my impatient hat because I want the team to win more quickly, and if he can join the top Rays arms already in place as quick as I believe he can, he’d be ready to chip in and make 2018 a memorable season.

The Rays are in an envious draft position this June and we’re going to update this list a few times to keep everyone up to date, so stay tuned and let us know who your favorites are!