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ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel on the Rays draft process

ESPN MLB Insider Kiley McDaniel Previews the Rays approach to the 2022 MLB Draft

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays
Rays draft success Shane McClanahan was selected in the first round in 2018, and is now headed to the All-Star Game.
Photo by Tyler Schank/Getty Images

ESPN MLB Insider and draft expert Kiley McDaniel answered questions on Tuesday ahead of the 2022 MLB Draft.

For context, McDaniel currently has the Rays mocked to draft Tucker Toman, 3B, Hammond HS (So. Car.), LSU commit:

Toman probably doesn’t get this far, but I think he’ll go in the 20s and he fits Tampa Bay’s approach with prep hitters, which I pointed out to a steely-faced Rays exec when we were watching him this spring. Like Houston, I could also see Tampa Bay opting for an upside pitcher here, trying to jump the line of teams that saved money with their first pick to spend it in the comp round.

Below is an excerpt from McDaniel’s press call:

Kiley McDaniel: [This year] we have what I perceive, and I think most people do, three high school guys, Druw Jones, Termarr Johnson, Jackson Holliday. And then beyond that, opinions diverge greatly. I would say even some teams have different takes on Termarr Johnson. So really, there’s two guys that everyone has the same evaluation on and around that six to eight, nine, ten area where we might see some wacky stuff going on.

And I think the top of the Draft, the top two, three guys is as good or better than usual, and then that gap of four through 12 is weaker than usual, and then I think the depth is as good if not a little better than usual. It’s a little quirky, probably average draft class overall, maybe a little top heavy, and the college pitching is the worst it’s been in a long time. Not because of the talent, I think there are plenty top half of the first round types, but pretty much all got hurt, or in case of the Carson Whisenhunt, got suspended and missed a year.

I think the talent is there, and there’ll be a lot of teams looking to do creative stuff after a top tier of six or eight guys, trying to do underslot deals, take injured players, guys who didn’t pitch this year, some stuff like that. I think there will be a lot of overslot deals, more than normal in Rounds 2 and 3, as teams save money at the top to do those sort of things.

Q. Kiley, we’ve talked about the Rays’ player development, we’ve talked about their creativity at the Big League level. What is their draft process philosophy and how has it been working under the current regime?

McDaniel: So in the article I put up today where I did a history of all the 30 teams ($), the kind of players they look for, I noticed maybe more than I have in the past, when you got to the bottom of the first round with teams that make the playoffs that are kind of good at everything, which is Yankees, Rays, San Francisco, maybe Milwaukee, Boston to a lesser degree, a little bit Toronto, those sorts of teams, I find the teams ahead of that, not those teams, something is not working. Like, they’re picking high because they didn’t make the playoffs or in a rebuild, maybe they just fired a scouting director or player development head or something like that. So their sort of point of view is maybe not as fleshed out or it’s subject to the top six or eight players, are the these guys, so we’ll take one of them.

When you are in the back of the first round, you have to have a very clear point of view, and you probably do, because you’re a successful team that does well.

So all that to say, when you get to the Yankees or the Rays or San Francisco, they tend to have certain kinds of guys they like. The Rays it’s up the middle, athletes, high school pitching, they index for those more than all the other teams. They don’t really love going college unless it’s just a very unique sort of player, like Greg Jones is like an incredibly unique athlete out of college. They typically like to go college later, and I think they, like those other teams I was referring to, have two or three things that they sort of over-index for that they lean into.

Last year, Cooper Kinney and Carson Williams was a good example where the sort of hit-first infielder where they focus on the bat, then you have this athlete-first infielder Carson Williams, and they didn’t mind that it was high school and that it was risky because it’s high school. Tucker Toman this year high school third basemen out of South Carolina kind of fits of Cooper Kinney type, and then we have all kinds of up-the-middle athlete types, Justin Crawford, obviously with the Carl Crawford connection fits that Carson Williams type, and there’s a ton of high school pitchers that I think after about 20, there’s 10 of them that might go in the next 30, 40 picks.

I think because they over-index there, they tend to do better on that, they focus on those kinds of guys. That’s also what the board is giving them at their picks. I would kind of lean into that tendency of theirs, I would imagine, they can lean into it again this year.

Q. Do you think they change it from year to year or do you think they try to — whether the board is built for that — or you think they try to stick with that philosophy or they’re adaptive?

McDaniel: Yeah, I think all teams down there tend to be value-minded, take what the board gives them, but when you get down past 20, there’s not consistent best player that everyone in the room agrees on. So you end up leaning towards the stuff you like because everything is available. I think that’s kind of where they are. They’re always picking after 20. There’s never an obvious best answer. So they’re going to tend to find themselves with sort of an upside type, typically high school player, typically one of those two or three traits I talked about, whether it’s Greg Jones out of college or Nick Bitsko, who they had barely seen pitch before, they all have those characteristics.

Q. The Rays having the 70th and 71st pick with the trade from the Tigers, is there a gaming of the system you can do in that situation?

McDaniel: Yeah, when the Angels had back-to-back picks, they took Mike Trout with the second one, so maybe they’ll do something crazy like that and take a Hall of Famer.

Sure, I mean, that puts them in a spot where I think, going back to what I said before, the tolerance for risk with high school players is higher for them than with other teams, and having multiple picks and a lot of money and ways to spread that around I think gives them an opportunity to do something maybe like what A.J. Preller will do where it’s basically never pay slot at any pick, it’s always over or under. I could see them pinpointing a couple players that they like. Often what will happen here is you’re picking at 70, your next pick is at 100, he’s not getting our next pick, we’ve got to take him here, but he’s under slot, so we’ll move somebody here, the guy we like that nobody else likes we can push down the board so we’ll take him later. I think especially when you’re talking about upside high school guys that’s most likely to happen, and with Tampa, that’s the kind of guys they tend to like, or some guy in college with a crazy, freaky changeup or whatever it is, they tend to be on guys that once you get outside of those top 30, 40 picks aren’t consensus.

So I would expect them to move money around. To what degree, I don’t know, but if you’re trying to project chaos, I would say the Rays are a good bet.

Q. Shane McClanahan, 31st pick in 2018, would you have expected him to be an All-Star and the most dominant pitcher in the Major Leagues at this point this year?

McDaniel: Nope. Got me there. I was on the low end of him in the draft. I moved him aggressively into my top 100 when I found out I was wrong, but even then I would have been like, hey, maybe third serve for a couple years and we’ll see what happens. Yeah, thumbs up to Shane. You got me there.

Q. I think they thought of him as a reliever up until last year, as well.

McDaniel: Yeah. Fun story, apparently there was an email sent out right before they took him because he had a bigger number behind the Rays and was trying to get past that pick, and it did not happen. So he could have easily not been playing for the Rays right now.

ESPN will nationally televise the first round of the 2022 MLB Draft from Los Angeles on Sunday, July 17, at 7 p.m. ET. Karl Ravech hosts with McDaniel, plus analysts Eduardo Perez, Jessica Mendoza, Kyle Peterson, Chris Burke and Senior MLB Insider Jeff Passan.

McDaniel’s Mock Drafts, draft rankings, draft order and analysis is available on’s dedicated MLB Draft landing page. McDaniel’s third and final Mock Draft will publish on Friday, July 15.