With the fourth pick in the MLB draft, the Tampa Bay Rays select…..
This is the question I will attempt to answer in this article. If you have followed along with this piece so far, I have expected Hunter Greene to the Twins, Jeren Kendall to the Reds, and Kyle Wright to the Padres.
I will start where I always do, looking at the person who calls the shots for the team in question. For the Rays, it is Matthew Silverman, who took over in 2014 when Andrew Friedman left to take the president job for the Dodgers. Of the teams I have profiled so far only one, the Reds, have a president of baseball operations who has held the position for more than two drafts. Of course, teams picking at the top are likely to have had more recent turnover, but I still want to note it.
This gives me two drafts to look at for the current Rays front office under Silverman. Yet, after just one draft, I was able to infer enough information about the Rays that I successfully predicted who they would take in the first round in 2016 and had the pick correct in my final three mocks.
In 2015, the Rays went with upside early. They took Garrett Whitley, who had been talked about as a potential number one overall pick because of his upside. The toolsy outfielder was naturally compared to Mike Trout because, you know, he’s an outfielder from the general New York area. If you read my articles, you know how much I dislike these regional comparisons. I thought the Trout comparison was awful then and looks even worse now.
Next they took Chris Betts, who had one of the best prep bats in the class at a premium position of catcher. Everyone I talked with projected Betts to move to first base down the line. In addition, Betts required Tommy John Surgery when drafted, which meant he would not play at all in 2015. Yet he was still paid nearly 1.5 million dollars, which is a nice bonus for an injured second round pick. There is no bigger risk than a prep catcher, and to take one with defense questions and an injury issue really illustrates how unafraid of risk the Rays have been the last two years. After those two players, though, the Rays did not draft another high school player until the 16th round.
In 2016, they again went for upside bat with Joshua Lowe, the third baseman. Then they went back and forth, taking two college players then two high school players. They ended up with six college players, four high schoolers, and one junior college player in the top ten rounds.
Now, in terms of pitcher or hitter breakdowns in 2015, the Rays spent their top three picks on bats. They ended up taking six bats and four arms in the top ten rounds. In 2016, the Rays again spent their top three picks on bats before taking ten straight pitchers in a row between rounds three and twelve. They ended up taking three bats and eight arms in the top ten rounds.
I will be the first to admit that this is a small sample size, but it is interesting to see as the Rays had been coming off a three-year stretch of very conservative drafting before this change.
Looking at this information, I am going to lean towards prep bats until I get information that changes this view. A month ago, I would have put Jo Adell here and forgotten about it. He is still very much in play here and his ceiling fits with the picks they have made earlier. I am tempted to still put him as the likely pick here because of his power potential, which is something he has in common with the high prep picks that have been made under Silverman.
For now, though, I am going with Royce Lewis, the California prep outfielder/shortstop. Lewis is one of the best athletes in this draft. He is a plus runner with at least average projected tools across the board. His hit tool is his second best tool after his speed, which is an easy plus skill (maybe plus-plus) for Lewis. His swing shows some power now and, with his age, I could see him growing into above average power. Lewis won’t turn 18 until June, which makes him a young player in this class. Lewis is a true five-tool player with a chance to play shortstop or second base, with his defensive floor right now being centerfield. The defensive profile with the offensive tools makes Lewis a contender to go in the top five picks and, right now, the top candidate for the Rays based on the current scenario.