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Unlike the NBA or NFL drafts, MLB teams do not draft for immediate need. There’s good reason for that, as even the most MLB-ready draft prospects usually take two seasons to get fully established in the majors. But as we ready for the 2020 MLB draft, it is useful to look at where teams are deep and where they are thin at the MLB and minor league level.
Also of note:
2019 MLB RECORD: 96-66
STATE OF THE SYSTEM: Tampa Bay has managed to build a playoff team while also compiling the best farm system in baseball. The Rays look equipped to put together a run of consistent success like they showed in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
BEST DRAFT PICK OF THE DECADE: Among their 2011 smorgasbord of high picks, the Rays unearthed a gem in lefthander Blake Snell. Nine years later, Snell has been a Baseball America Player of the Year, a Cy Young Award winner and the first (and hopefully last) champion in the sport-wide MLB The Show competition.
WORST DRAFT PICK OF THE DECADE: Brandon Martin was the 38th overall pick in 2011, never made it past the low Class A Midwest League and in 2017 was charged with three murders.
DEEPEST POSITION(S): Starting pitching and middle infield. Between McKay, righthander Shane Baz, righthander Brent Honeywell, lefthander Shane McClanahan, righthander Joe Ryan, righthander J.J. Goss, righthander Taj Bradley and righthander Seth Johnson, the Rays have one of the deepest groups of frontline pitching prospects in the game. They have an impressive second tier of pitching prospects to go with that group as well. Tampa Bay’s big league rotation is much improved over what it was a couple of years ago with lefty Blake Snell and righthanders Tyler Glasnow and Yonny Chirinos all under contract through 2023 or beyond.
The Rays also have an enviable array of shortstop/second base prospects. Franco is the game’s No. 1 prospect. Beyond him Vidal Brujan, Xavier Edwards, Greg Jones, Taylor Walls and Lucius Fox give the team impressive depth up the middle. Brujan, Edwards, Jones and Fox are all twitchy athletes who have plenty of positional versatility. Shortstop Willy Adames and second baseman Brandon Lowe have just established themselves in the majors, so the Rays are likely to have more MLB-ready middle infielders than spots to play them over the next two to three years.
WEAKEST POSITION(S): Catcher. The Rays have consistently struggled to develop catchers, consistently shuffling from one backstop to another over the past 15 years. Dioner Navarro is the last catcher to catch 100 or more games in back-to-back-to-back seasons for the Rays when he did so from 2007-2009. Mike Zunino is set to be the team’s main catcher in 2020 after sharing the job with Travis D’Arnaud, but Zunino is a free agent after this season. Ronaldo Hernandez gives the club a potential long-term answer, but behind him, the minor league depth is thin.
In recent years, the Rays have shied away from trying to find a long-term catcher in the draft. Tampa Bay spent significant draft capital on Justin O’Conner (first round, 2010), Nick Ciuffo (first round, 2013) and Chris Betts (second round, 2015) in the first half of the 2010s, but since the Betts pick, the Rays have not spent $200,000 on signing a backstop in the draft from 2016-2019.
DRAFT TRENDS: The Rays have had 16 first-round picks in the 2010-2019 drafts. That’s the most of any AL East team, topping the Blue Jays (13), Red Sox (12), Yankees (11) and Orioles (10). The last time the Rays didn’t pick in the first round was 1998, the year that they made their MLB debut.