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Reflecting on the Rays 2017 draft strategy

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How does the decision to take Brendan McKay change when Kyle Wright costs the same? JT and Darby discuss:

@UofLbaseball

JT Morgan

Damn.

So, going with Wright doesn't look like it would have really been cheaper.

Darby Robinson

That's big money! $7 mil won't do it for McKay!

JT Morgan

Ya that's just barely under the $7-7.2MM that's been reported for McKay. I think it will definitely take something in that range.

I liked Wright because I think he's the better pitcher by a little. I don't really like turning McKay into a 1B, but I’m ok with trying to do both for some period of time to see if the 1B thing works.

If it works it's definitely the side you'd like. It's just so much higher variance. I don't know if giving up a lot of the rest of the draft to target low cost signings was really worth it to justify taking McKay over Wright, but if they require basically the same bonus I like McKay much more.

The Braves #5 pick slot is only $5.7MM so that's $1.3MM over-slot, and they only have a total pool of just under $9.9MM. So including the 5% overage they are allowed it only gives them about $3.4MM to sign the rest of their draft class.

Darby Robinson

One thing that really interests me with McKay, as a hitter, is that he's improved so damn much with power, and he's been mostly “a pitcher who also hits” when he's not pitching.

JT Morgan

Ya I do think there's some interesting upside if he focuses on it.

Darby Robinson

Obviously it's hard-to-impossible to project that, but if he takes the next step at the plate it could be where he ends up.

JT Morgan

It's just a 1B has to hit so much and even the best college hitters fail to live up to that standard most of the time.

And if he's a likely #3 as a pitcher with #2 upside he really has to hit to be worth moving that to 1B.

You really need him to at least get like 120-130 wRC+ which is a top 50 bat.

Darby Robinson

Oh for sure. But there is something incredibly exciting about his bat. He's just a really good baseball player.

JT Morgan

I do think the Rays hope 1B works for McKay. I do too, because I think he really has to hit for the Rays to really pursue that long term.

It's not like you're going to get a 1B bat that is only acceptable there with what he can do on the mound.

I don't expect the 1B route to work all that often, but it definitely will pay off when it does. And unlike most 1B prospects you can always go to the mound and give you a solid way to get value out of the pick.

Darby Robinson

Yeah exactly.

JT Morgan

And there is a non-zero chance he becomes a DH/SP.

Darby Robinson

Unlike, say, a guy like Matt Bush, who flopped as a position player and was able to become basically a fastball only reliever. That's hard to do and super rare.

McKay already is a guy who could fall back to a top pitching prospect. It’s definitely a nice safety net.

JT Morgan

Agreed.

Darby Robinson

Plus, like you said, there is a possibility of some super neat new duel position thing.

JT Morgan

I still like the route of letting him rest the arm the rest of the year and put him at A+ and see what he can do with the bat.

It definitely is interesting to think about even if he's a reliever and 1B, but there are other logistics that you have to work through.

Like, how do you get him warmed up and then not waste a guy to cover 1B while he pitches. Because if you do it as a DH you have to give up the DH. It makes it logistically easier since you can go to the bullpen to warm up whenever you need to and you don't need a guy to cover 1B.

Darby Robinson

I have no idea. It's such a new situation. In baseball everything has been done and generally for 100 years.

JT Morgan

Ya. I wish we were a NL team right now. Would make it so easy to dream about a way he's a 4-5 win player without getting too crazy.

Darby Robinson

It certainly would be a neat and tidy solution. They could still do it on his starts.

I still can't imagine him being a starter and a hitter. But it would make things cleaner.

JT Morgan

Ya, neither can I. But you don't really have to be much of a hitter to bring a lot of value with the bat as a pitcher in the NL.

Bumgarner has been around a league average bat the last 3 years and puts up 1-1.5 fWAR in ~100 PA.

Darby Robinson

If he started and then DH'd like 3 other days, PH the rest, that's a dynamic option.

It's still a fantasy right now.

JT Morgan

Right. It makes it easier to accept a platoon 1B/DH bat out of the #4 pick.

Darby Robinson

But if anybody could do it, it's him... or Ohtani.

JT Morgan

I think that's the way he does it if it does work.

SP and DH against RHP.

Darby Robinson

A large side of the platoon 1B that is also a 4-5 starter is certainly worthy of a top 5 pick.

JT Morgan

Exactly.

You'd be incredibly disappointed with even a solid platoon 1B/DH bat.

Not necessarily that you wouldn't get value out of the pick, but that it would add stress to the roster.

Darby Robinson

Here's a question: if McKay could be an above average 2-3 starter, or a well above average 1B focusing exclusively at one or the other, OR he becomes a solid 5th starter/platoon 1B, which do you pick.

JT Morgan

Door 1 or 2 most likely, although the last is very interesting.

I think you'd need more than #5 to make it really an option worth pursuing though.

Darby Robinson

It's so cool, and an extra 25 man spot is pretty valuable.

JT Morgan

It is, but 5th starters and platoon 1B are fairly replaceable. It buys you half a roster spot though so it's not terrible.

Darby Robinson

If he's a 2 win player as a hitter and pitcher, plus whatever you get from that roster spot, it’s hard to beat

He'd probably have to be a 3 win pitcher to beat that (totally doable if he is focused there).

JT Morgan

I think a 3 win pitcher is somewhere around what he is as a pitcher with some upside.

It's just awkward. The only real thing he brings is the roster spot which is definitely not nothing, but I think he would need to be a little better.

Darby Robinson

He also brings a fun new thing, which isn't quantifiable but it sure helps our hipster cred.

JT Morgan

Ya, I just think if that's all you got as he were working on up that they would have him focus entirely on whichever side he's doing better at. It's also why it will be difficult for him to do both at the MLB level.

Darby Robinson

Yeah. Most likely what McKay's duel experience does is give the Rays a unique level of safety net/back up plan that 99% of prospect don't have.

JT Morgan

It's definitely unique. Mostly that it mitigates the risk of being a 1B/DH bat prospect while also limiting the blowout potential of pitching prospects due to injury.

Darby Robinson

Him being a true duel threat in the majors would be awesome, but him becoming awesome at one with a great backup to try is nice.

JT Morgan

Same. In the end I want whatever he ends up being best at.

Darby Robinson

If Kyle Wright cost $7 million, no matter who drafted him, I think I like McKay even more.

JT Morgan

Ya looking at the Braves draft they really went all college guys too after their 2nd round pick, Drew Waters, that I really liked at either our 31 or 40 pick.

Darby Robinson

The big risk for the Rays is in putting so much of this draft in the hands of so few picks.

However, the Rays do have tons of depth. I like actually taking a shot at consolidating the risk and trying for a potential elite prospect rather than spreading the risk around when you are picking in the top 4.

JT Morgan

It is and it's not something you always want to do, but I do think they need to focus a little more on quality and not volume where their current farm system stands.

Darby Robinson

I don't see the Rays picking that high again for a while (hopefully).

JT Morgan

Ya, with the guys gone at our pick, considering McKay or Wright's costs, it is what it is. In a way. I don't think they really had a lot of choice. At the same price, McKay is the obvious pick.

They could have gone high upside OF bat, but I don't think that's necessarily better even if you do get a couple better picks later in the draft.

Darby Robinson

The only other option rumored was Bubba Thompson (drafted 26th) with a hope for people to fall later in the draft. That’s not a safer route.

But like I think you said, I hate risking an entire draft, with such a high pick, on what other teams do.

JT Morgan

The good thing is the Rays had the top pick of guys who could have gone the save money route.

So anybody that fell due to money the Rays had first shot at after the first round.

I would have needed a lot of confidence that you get another really good prospect at 31 that's likely at least mid 1st round worthy.

Darby Robinson

If we’re not deciding between McKay or Wright, I'd have needed something like Bubba and Jordon Adell (drafted 10th).

JT Morgan

Looking back at how the draft went down it probably would have been something like Bubba and then Sam Carlson (drafted 55th), while still having enough money to get another couple of picks overslot.

I would have rather gone either Adam Haseley (drafted 8th) or Keston Hiura (9th) if you were try to save money with the pick.

But I'd rather have what we have than maybe get slightly better value when things don't break absolutely perfectly.

Darby Robinson

Same for your last point.

We've had a lot of value and quantity drafts

JT Morgan

That's mostly what you have to do with the draft in it's current structure when you don't have a top pick. Or you do have to go all in on a guy who falls (like the Astros last year).

Darby Robinson

Oh for sure. And next year when the Rays are picking beyond the top 15, go back to upside and quantity as a strategy.

Honestly, that’s also why I really got nervous with the rumors of under-slot at 4th overall. It's really the only time when the draft is about where you pick beyond how much you have to spend.

JT Morgan

Ya really the best thing about a top 5 pick that isn't #1 is you can get guys with much higher floors. Maybe with a little more upside but you really get less risk.

But it's still quite a bit of risk.

Darby Robinson

It's a sliver of light in a process largely about shooting into the dark

JT Morgan

I don't hate the under-slot guy when it's the guy you really believe in. I don't think it was really crazy to think Bubba is the best HS OF. Especially if the reports of his hit tool really taking a step forward this spring are true.

Darby Robinson

I just feel like in the top 5, you have to really REALLY love the guy

Outside of top 5, then you can get real creative

JT Morgan

Right. It's one of those situations where you feel like trading would be a benefit. If there's that guy you believe in a lot you just have to take him where you pick.

It's just a move that is going to be looked at hyper critically and if it doesn't work you'll look like a fool. But if you pick the next Mike Trout you look like a genius.

Editor’s note: Mike Trout was drafted out of highschool 25th overall in 2009. Bubba Thompson was drafted 26th overall in the 2017 draft.

Darby Robinson

True. But you've got to be both all in on a guy, and not nearly as interested in whoever else is available.

JT Morgan

At some point you have to plant your flag in a guy you really believe in. At the top it's harder because the perceived differences in players are pretty big.

Darby Robinson

If you absolutely believe the player you are taking is best or at least best available, absolutely, but not if you think the player you are taking plus whoever slips is better than somebody else that you could take

JT Morgan

Right, you have to be comfortable getting that guy and not getting a great #2 pick but being able to get an extra guy or two that you like that you couldn't have afforded.

After you drop to a certain point the values aren't really all that different even if they look like they are by 10-20 spots on a ranking list.

Darby Robinson

The under-slot value in the rest of the draft is a bonus but if you are picking top 5 you gotta get a guy you absolutely believe in

JT Morgan

Right which is very likely since it seemed they went way lower on the board than they likely would have had to... At least by the reports.

Darby Robinson

I think my big thing wouldn't have been the Rays going for Bubba at 4th. It's if they did that because they liked Bubba and wanted to go over-slot for falling prospects

JT Morgan

It definitely would have been treated different. Though if McKay busts they'll get shit on pretty hard either way.

Darby Robinson

I just feel pretty strongly, with the way the Rays system is looking, the way they have drafted the past few years, and the fact that it's been many years since they picked in the top 4, it was important to draft whoever they liked most.

JT Morgan

I'm glad they got the choice of guys they want even though it sounds like Lewis was their guy if he was available.

Darby Robinson

People are dumb if they shit on the Rays for taking McKay. You can maybe make a case for Wright instead, but anything else would be some blatant hindsight.

JT Morgan

Won't stop them.

Darby Robinson

Like if Jordon Adell becomes George Springer, people will whine.

JT Morgan

As if everybody had Buster Posey above Tim Beckham back in 2008, but that doesn't stop anybody from complaining.

Darby Robinson

But the only draft pick the Rays have made that I look back on with regret is really the Beckham one over Posey.

JT Morgan

But most had Posey just below the top three, no?

Darby Robinson

I seem to remember hearing about Posey a ton.

JT Morgan

It was really between Pedro Alvarez, Tim Beckham, and Brian Matusz for the top.

Most had Posey right after, somewhere around 5, where he was drafted.

Darby Robinson

I can't remember a single person mentioning Matusz for 1st overall.

JT Morgan

Baseball America had Matusz 2nd, behind Alvarez, and Beckham 3rd.

Darby Robinson

I guess I'm not talking Baseball America, but DRaysBay commentators and Rays media and our fans in general. Alvarez was interesting, but I really thought most camps were in the Posey vs Beckham club.

JT Morgan

I'm sure we would have mentioned Matusz more if he became the stud pitcher.