It's too bad the Rays don't have DirecTV. Otherwise, they could listen to Bon Jovi's advice and go back in time to their 2011 amateur draft, in which they had an unfathomable 12 picks in the first two rounds. 12 picks!!! With the new CBA in place, it's just about guaranteed that no team will ever have close to that many early-round picks again.
Thankfully, we can go back in time, virtually, and look at whom the Rays could have taken with those picks. Despite the fact that this is just a theoretical exercise, it's important to note that nothing in life is apples-to-apples. Maybe a certain player would have responded to different coaches, teammates, and/or home ballparks. Maybe a different organization would have handled the player's promotion schedule differently or afforded him more or less playing time at the major league level. We'll never know what a player would have turned into with a different organization; we have only this current iteration of each player to evaluate. With that in mind, we're going to take a look at the best possible players the Rays could have gotten with their selections, assuming each of the players developed exactly the same way with Tampa.
The only rules we're going with:
1) The player had to be available at this selection (duh).
2) We're assuming that, if the Rays take Player X at pick 32, who was originally selected by Team X at pick 35, Team X will take the player the Rays actually took at pick 32. No other selections will be moved; rather, it's a one-for-one swap.
3) We're not re-doing the draft for all 30 teams, only the Rays. Pick 32 doesn't mean the 32nd-best player in this draft.
4) I'm including only players that were taken before the Rays' pick in the third round. Otherwise, this turns into a simple ranking of "who were the best non-first-rounders from the 2011 draft?" Late-round selections excluded from this exercise include Mookie Betts, Kevin Pillar, Greg Bird, Cody Allen, Kyle Hendricks, Jerad Eickhoff, Ken Giles, Anthony DeSclafani, Carson Smith, Matt Wisler, Carter Capps, Mallex Smith, and Billy Burns.
24 -- Blake Swihart (picked 26th in real life)
This one was the most difficult decision among all of the picks. There were multiple quality choices between this pick and the Rays' slot just seven picks later, including Joe Ross, Blake Swihart, Robert Stephenson, and Joe Panik. However, I went with Swihart because the Rays could really use a catcher of the long-term future. Ross was intriguing, but Tampa Bay already has a logjam in the rotation as we speak.
It's also important to note that the Rays' actual selection wasn't too bad, either. They went with Taylor Guerrieri in real life, and despite injuries, suspensions, and 2016 struggles, Guerrieri has been very highly regarded heading into this season. There is still a non-zero chance that he ends up with a better career than any of those other four listed.
31 -- Jackie Bradley Jr. (40)
This pick wouldn't have been so obvious were it not for Bradley's supernova-like explosion over the last two years. As recently as 2013, he looked like a player whose outstanding defense could never trump the black hole that his bat represented, posting a 46 wRC+ in 2013. However, Bradley exploded for a 121 wRC+ last year and a 147 mark this season. In 147 games combined over the last two seasons, Bradley has accumulated 5.6 fWAR and 5.8 bWAR.
To be fair to the Rays, they took Mikie Mahtook here, who could be quite a useful player. A fourth-outfielder/fringe-starter with above-average defense and a decent hit tool is more than the expected value of a 31st pick, and the Rays are really 2-for-2 in their actual selections so far.
32 -- Michael Fulmer (44)
There's not much to argue about here. Even before Fulmer's great rookie season this year, a stretch that has garnered him attention from the national media, Fulmer has been legit. He's produced everywhere he's gone, and he was dealt with Luis Cessa for Yoenis Cespedes last season. The scouting reports back it all up, and if his violent delivery doesn't lead to injury, he could be set for a long MLB career.
Tampa Bay took high school SS Jake Hager here. Despite advancing to Triple-A this season, he's looking like a non-prospect at this point.
38 -- Trevor Story (45)
There are two divided camps on Story. Some see the historic debut week and the eye-popping 19 HRs out of a rookie shortstop in half a season and immediately proclaim him to be the next Troy Tulowitzki. The other side sees someone who has dropped off dramatically since the first week, spent five years in the minor leagues, owns a sky-high strikeout rate, and has benefited from Coors Field. The truth lies somewhere in between, and it equals a very valuable asset. Story is a rookie shortstop who has posted a 115 wRC+ on the season and comes with five more years of control, and that's something that Tampa would jump all over.
The Rays took another high school shortstop here by the name of Brandon Martin. Martin has not appeared in a professional game since 2013.
41 -- Joe Musgrove (46)
For one reason or another, Musgrove is criminally underrated among prospect circles. He's a former first round pick with size, stuff, and results. Musgrove owns a career 7.45:1 K/BB ratio in the minors and broke out with a 1.88 ERA last season with a 99/8 K/BB ratio in 101 innings. He then proceeded to post a 0.34 ERA in Double-A this year, and despite recent struggles in Triple-A he appears to be on the cusp of the Astros' rotation.
2016 Rule 5 draftee Tyler Goeddel was taken here. A player who made the majors and is desirable enough to be taken in the Rule 5 draft can be considered a success with pick 41. On the other hand, he wasn't desirable enough to the Rays to be protected from the draft, and picks 44-46 of the 2011 draft were Fulmer, Story, and Musgrove in order.
42 -- Blake Snell (52)
The Rays nailed this selection, taking him with their next pick in real life. Snell pitched to a 1.41 ERA across two levels last season with a cartoonish 5.6 H/9 allowed. The common complaint with this draft is that Tampa Bay didn't hit on a good percentage of their many high draft picks, and that isn't entirely false. However, in a draft with a normal number of picks, a team nabbing Snell alone would make for an A+ draft. He's looking like the anchor to a deep Tampa Bay rotation for a long time or an incredibly desirable asset should they market him on the trade front (hint: they won't). His stuff, lack of command, and statistical profile are very reminiscent of a young Scott Kazmir or Erik Bedard, and before you groan at those names based on their recent seasons, remember how brilliant their careers have been. Snell was an awesome value for a supplemental first-rounder.
The original selection here was community college pitcher Jeff Ames. Ames has made his way to Triple-A this year and sports a 2.45 ERA on the season. However, he also sports a very ugly 32/26 K/BB ratio and is probably a non-prospect at this point.
52 -- Josh Bell (61)
Bell is interesting in that he was drafted five years ago, hasn't made his MLB debut yet, but is still desirable. He has never shown the power required for a first baseman, yet his awesome control of the strike zone has led to consistently positive results and high rankings on the national prospect lists. This season, he's maintained his control of the zone while increasing his power output to an all-time high, slashing .323/.409/.526 in Triple-A and looking to be about ready to assume the mantle of Pirates first baseman of the future. This is definitely an asset that TB would love to have under their control. However, it's important to note that Josh Bell had extremely high bonus demands at the time, and it's possible that Tampa Bay actually did consider him but decided to pass because of financial reasons.
Blake Snell was selected here.
56 -- Brad Miller (62)
Miller has kind of been a disappointment after his gaudy minor league numbers, but if you evaluate him just for what he is, then you're looking at a pretty decent player. He's a shortstop who is above league average at the plate (105 wRC+ both in 2015 and 2016) and is under team control for a long time.
However, the defensive metrics don't like him, and he has shown some platoon issues in his career. He's the type of player that would be a great get with a supplemental pick, but not someone that a team would be kicking themselves for passing over him. Ironically enough, the Rays did regret not drafting him and decided to deal for him.
Outfielder Kes Carter has not appeared in a game this season after appearing in just 15 games last year with a .590 OPS.
59 -- Adam Conley (72)
Many casual baseball fans don't know who Conley is. Part of that is because he wasn't a big prospect coming up. Part of that is because you're a nerd if you know a Marlins pitcher besides Jose Fernandez. But I recommend that you familiarize yourself with Conley. As far as results go, he's been a middle-of-the-pack starter. In 154.2 career innings across the last two seasons, Conley has posted a 3.84 ERA and 3.89 FIP with plenty of swings and misses (8.38 K/9) but questionable control (3.43 BB/9). He's not an ace, but there's value in a consistent #3/4 starter.
However, in terms of stuff, Conley gets a bit more intriguing. Batters have posted just a 62 wRC+ versus his slider and a 47 wRC+ versus his changeup this season. His fastball has been hit around, but he touches 95 mph with it, and the location is really the main culprit. Lefties that can hit 95 and have two above-average secondary pitches aren't exactly a dime a dozen, and if he can take the step forward in command that we've seen with other young hurlers in the past, then we may be looking at a very good pitcher.
Vandy LHP Grayson Garvin was selected here. He sat out all of last season with a torn lat, but he owns a respectable career minor league ERA of 3.63 with a K/BB ratio of almost 3:1.
60 -- Daniel Norris (74)
As a lefty with good stuff and control issues, Norris is basically Adam Conley with a prospect pedigree. While there's a decent chance that he ends up as a reliever, the industry has indicated through trade rumors and the David Price deal that teams value him pretty highly, and he would've been a more-than-decent pick at number 60.
Outfielder James Harris is no longer with the Rays organization. He has yet to make his MLB debut and is currently in A-ball with the Oakland A's.
75 -- Peter O'Brien (107)
I almost went with Austin Hedges here, but since I chose Swihart over Ross with the first pick, I opted away from another catcher. Hedges' defense looks elite, but the bat still has a long way to go to become even passable at the major league level. O'Brien is the antithesis of Hedges. His glove was so bad that he had to be moved away from the catcher position, but his bat could be very legit. The Rays have a knack for filling out their bench with quality pieces on the cheap, so I went with the player who would have a greater chance of starting for Tampa Bay. Hedges is looking like a probable backup, but the Rays could hide O'Brien's glove by deploying him at first base or DH.
Granden Goetzman, despite his awesome name, is currently sporting a .274 OBP in Double-A and looks like a non-prospect.
89 -- Matt Andriese (112)
Despite already being 26 years old, Andriese is still coming into his own at the major league level. It's hard to tell exactly what he is. He's posted huge strikeout numbers in the minors over the last two seasons, but he can't seem to punch out MLB hitters at a rate anywhere close. He's been effective in terms of run and home run prevention with the big club in 2016, pitching to a 2.96 ERA, 3.09 FIP, and 0.33 HR/9. However, he's been fortunate with a HR/FB of 3.7 percent, and that is reflected in his 4.36 SIERA and 4.26 xFIP. This is another player whom the Rays ended up acquiring in real life anyway, as he was part of the return from the Padres in the Wil Myers trade.
Pitcher Lenny Linsky has not appeared in a professional game since 2013.
Going through these picks, it appears that a lot of the criticism of this draft is well-founded. Snell, Guerrieri, and Mahtook were solid-to-great picks, but the other nine have returned basically nothing of value. It's true that the draft is basically a crapshoot, but many top two-round picks either make at least 40-man rosters or are promising enough long enough to be used as a trade chip and net something in return.
On the other hand, it was clear to me when doing this exercise that this was an exceptionally weak draft. Even going through this draft with 20/20 hindsight, there weren't many bona fide stars to replace the original selections. It's easy to criticize Tampa Bay for their selections, and they have had a pretty poor track record with their high selections over the course of the Friedman era.
But in this particular case, the alternatives weren't great either, and many of their slots were surrounded by other landmine picks. Jackie Bradley Jr. was the only star that they missed on, and even he took a lot of time to develop. Story, Fulmer, and maybe Swihart look promising too, but none of them has established himself as a surefire quality major leaguer yet.
For comparison, in the 2010 draft just one year prior, Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Taijuan Walker, Nick Castellanos, Vincent Velasquez, Jedd Gyorko, Jake Thompson, Drew Smyly, Andrelton Simmons, Chad Bettis, Derek Dietrich, and Justin Nicolino were all drafted in this range, while Christian Yelich missed by one spot. The 2009 draft was just as good if not better, with a 24-89th slot range that included Randal Grichuk, Mike Trout, James Paxton, Tyler Skaggs, Garrett Richards, Brad Boxberger, Mychal Givens, Billy Hamilton, Nolan Arenado, Trayce Thompson, Jason Kipnis, Steven Matz, JR Murphy, DJ LeMahieu, Patrick Corbin, and Kyle Seager, with Wil Myers slotting in just two picks away at 91.
In other words, the tragedy wasn't really that the Rays chose poorly with all of their extra selections. Rather, they happened to choose a poor draft to have all those extra selections.
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Austin Yamada is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score.
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