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Sticking With Process Pays Off For Rays In Draft

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Shane McClanahan, the No. 31 overall pick (Photo by Mike Janes)

With three picks in the first round and more bonus pool money to spend than any team other but the Royals, it was an important draft year for the Rays.

That reality changed the entire feeling of the draft for scouting director Rob Metzler.

“There is certainly more pressure and there is certainly more tension or anxiety in the process,” Metzler said. “When you have the extra picks, it creates a great opportunity, but also challenges you.”

While the stakes were higher in 2018, the Rays built their draft board the same way they always do. The emphasis is it’s simple: Trust the evaluations of scouts, crosscheckers and front office analysts who have been working on the draft class for the past year.

“I have a lot of trust in our people,” Metzler said. “So using that as a foundation for building a board and then following that, I think that turned out to be the approach that we used and that we were comfortable with. We’ll see how it plays out over time.”

The Rays came away from the first day of the draft with a promising collection of talent. Arizona high school lefthander Matthew Liberatore (16th overall) and South Florida lefthander Shane McClanahan (31st) were the two top-ranked southpaws in the class. Tampa Bay added to its their first-round haul with hot-hitting Indiana high school outfielder Nick Schnell (32nd).

Metzler was pleasantly surprised that all three players fell to the Rays.

While McClanahan was rumored to be slipping in the days leading up to the draft, no one thought he would get past the first 30 picks, and Liberatore was considered a favorite to be the first prep pitcher off the board throughout the spring. Because the Rays had so many selections, they knew they had to be ready for a wide range of scenarios.

“You really have to be ready for all outcomes,” Metzler said, “all potential strategies and incorporating everybody’s viewpoint and each evaluation. It makes it a challenge, but you put together a game plan before you start and try to follow it as best you can.

After getting Liberatore, McClanahan and Schnell in the first round, Tampa Bay drafted Florida Atlantic shortstop Tyler Frank in the second round, California righthander Tanner Dodson in the supplemental second and Rice shortstop Ford Proctor in the third.

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“It’s nice to have some balance (between hitters and pitcher), but it wasn’t anything that was choreographed,” Metzler said.

The selection of Dodson was particularly notable. He was drafted as a righthander but was the top, true two-way player in the 2018 class, which echoes the Rays’ choice of Louisville’s Brendan McKay last year. McKay has continued to work as a lefthander and first baseman in pro ball this season.

Metzler said the Rays are comfortable trying the McKay development plan with Dodson in pro ball. Rays scouts were not unanimous in what they envisioned as Dodson’s best role: pitching, hitting or doing both.

“(Dodson) will be very different. We’ll see,” Metzler said. “I think that’s an area where scouting, player development and the front office are all open-minded”

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