In April, DRaysBay started rolling out mock drafts for the Rays’ first five picks. There’s so much uncertainty at all levels of baseball right now, making exercises like this even more challenging.
With so little time to scout players — and no time at all for many — due to spring-sport cancelations, how are teams building their draft boards? There was still some time to see players at showcase events and summer leagues, and there will be plenty of video to study.
With less information than usual, maybe teams will fall back on tendencies. It’s worth looking at the types of players teams like taking, as many will. But I took a different approach.
I looked back at the states, countries, and territories the Rays have selected from in the last five drafts and compared them to recent league averages to see if there were any states or areas they tended to favor. Is this a dumb approach? Probably! They’ll likely take any player they like no matter where they’re from. It is a different way of looking at things, though.
To narrow down players to select from, I looked at a range of 11 players for each pick on Baseball America’s draft board ($) — the player ranked at the Rays’ pick, the five players ranked higher, and the five ranked lower, except for one instance in which I wanted to cheat and took a player ranked six spots higher.
No. 24 — SS Nick Loftin, Baylor
The Rays’ 25 picks from Texas over the last five years outpace the league average. Would they draft a college hitter with their first pick in consecutive years? They never have in franchise history, so maybe Illinois high school shortstop Ed Howard would be a more likely choice.
Loftin has average tools across the board. He’s a decent athlete who can stick at shortstop but has proven he has defensive versatility. He’s a contact-oriented offensive player but was showing a little more pop before the season was canceled.
No. 37 — C Drew Romo, The Woodlands High School
I have the Rays double dipping in Texas. They drafted two players from the state on Day 1 last year and traded for another, so maybe they’ll take a chance to shore up a position they’re not deep at.
Romo has the traits the Rays — and frankly, every team — look for in catchers. He has a strong arm, and the other aspects of his defensive game are plus as well. BA’s report even notes that “teams believe he’s as high a likelihood major leaguer as you’ll find out of one of the riskiest draft profiles.” He’s going to have to hit more than he has, but he is a switch hitter.
The Rays are an average team when it comes to drafting Florida prospects, but Miami righty Slade Cecconi or high school righty Carson Montgomery could be options if they want a pitcher.
No. 57 — 3B/RHP Casey Schmitt, San Diego State
The Rays finally go to the college ranks with their third pick. California is another state they neither select from more or less often than other teams.
Schmitt would also be their first pitcher of the draft — kind of. He’s a top two-way player in the draft. Certainly not to the level of Brendan McKay because he’s a reliever, but he has major league potential at the plate and on the mound.
Just two years ago, they took two-way player Tanner Dodson in the second round. Dodson may be a better athlete, but Schmitt may hit more. He’s a good defensive player at third base and has the power potential to play there, though he hasn’t always shown it in games.
As a pitcher, he may be a reliever only. His fastball is average in the low-90s, and his splitter is an average pitch. He’s been effective with San Diego State and in the Cape Cod League, giving him a track record against strong competition.
No. 96 — OF Kalai Rosario, Waiakea High School
Rosario is the player I cheated to take — he’s the No. 90 player on BA’s board. How could I not cheat? Of the 22 players taken from Hawaii in the last five drafts, the Rays have gotten four of them, including 2019 third rounder, outfielder Shane Sasaki.
With Rosario, the Rays would be getting a different player than Sasaki. Sasaki is a better athlete, but Rosario has a better bat. And according to BA’s report, he’s going to need that bat. He plays center field now, but left field could be his future position. That’s fine since he has plus-plus power potential and knows how to hit.
If the Rays don’t go back to Hawaii, there are more options from California and Texas available in this range, including two-way player Tanner Witt.
No. 126 — LHP Nick Swiney, NC State
North Carolina is a state the Rays draft less than the average team overall, but with three players from the state drafted in the first five rounds over the last five drafts, it is a state they’ll go to early.
And I have them going there for their first full-time pitcher of the draft. I don’t think it will take that long in reality, but it’s how this draft played out.
On the second day of the draft in recent years, the Rays have had success turning college swingmen into rotation prospects, and Swiney would give them another chance. In his first two seasons, he pitched almost entirely out of the bullpen, but he moved into the rotation this season before it was canceled. In his new role, he’s shown growth, developing a changeup and drastically reducing his walk rate. He also throws an average fastball and a good curveball.
Virginia lefty Andrew Abbott was another player I considered with this pick.
No. 126 — RHP Carson Seymour, Kansas State
With five picks over the last five drafts, Kansas is tied for the Rays’ ninth-most drafted state.
Seymour would give them another full-time college pitcher, but he’s quite different from Swiney. He’s bigger and has better stuff, but his track record is significantly shorter. He only has 28 career innings due to the canceled season and a transfer from Dartmouth to Kansas State. He’s going to have to throw more strikes and prove he can handle a starter’s workload, but the potential is there.
His fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s with movement, and his slider is another pitch with above-average potential. He also throws a curveball. There’s a lot of relief potential, but he also offers a lot to work with to an organization that can develop pitching.
Video courtesy of 2080 Baseball, D1 Baseball, and Perfect Game