A few days ago a small discussion broke out in the comments over the struggles of the Durham Bulls who are just 9-19 on the season. And one reason given is that most of the Rays’ best prospects are now in the big leagues, with players like Matt Moore and Desmond Jennings. And a couple of the better prospects still in Durham (Chris Archer, Alex Torres) have struggled. In fact, Torres has been so bad, he was recently moved to the bullpen permanently.

Another reason for the lack of top-level talent in Durham is the slow pace of prospects from recent draft classes.

Here’s a look at players drafted by the Rays in the first ten rounds since Andrew Friedman has been running the show. The numbers on the right represent the number of draft picks that have reached at least the double-A level. Numbers on the left represent players that have not, including players that did not sign with the Rays…

The concern starts with the 2008 draft class. Just one of the players selected in the first ten rounds has reached triple-A. And that player (Tim Beckham) is currently suspended.

And things start getting very bare in 2009. We are now three years removed from that draft, and only one player (OF Brett Nommensen) has reached double-A, and he has been on the DL all season, and is not considered a big-time prospect. And the one player from the 2010 class (Merrill Kelly) is now a reliever.

We’re not saying the Rays have failed in these drafts. There are some good reasons for the slow pace of prospect progression including a preference for drafting high school players (e.g. the top 5 picks in 2009), as well as the Rays’ extreme patience, especially with pitchers.

The good news is, one of the Rays’ best prospects, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee should be in triple-A by the end of the season. Also, the Rays had 12 picks before the end of the second round last year. And just out of sheer luck, a few of those guys should fill out the upper-levels in the next few years.

Still, as this season moves along, it will be interesting to see if more of the players from 2008 and 2009 start to step up. Otherwise, things might be bleak in Durham for a while.

[NOTE: there have been players from these draft classes selected outside of the top ten rounds to reach double-A. However, these players typically are not legit prospects, and success in the later rounds of the draft is at least in part luck. If the Patriots really thought Tom Brady was going to be a Hall of Fame quarterback, they wouldn't have risked waiting until the sixth round to draft him.]

(Data via TheBaseballCube.com)

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18 Comments

  1. Michael says:

    Most of this is just because of the high school bit, like you said, and also they've run a lot of guys through the minors really fast since 08.

    So you've got slow developing talent on the rookie end, and fast-trackers on the other end... a void is to be expected.

    The 09-11 draft clases hitting AA yet does not signify that the draft was weak by any means, in my opinion. Just that they pick young and they make them spend time in rookie ball, right?

    It IS concerning, because we can all see some serious short term depth problems at the MLB level... but who is to say that it doesn't sort itself inside of 18 months with advancing a group of players on top of a Garza-esque trade of another pitcher.

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      And that is pretty much my only point, and i do expect it to fill out at some point. But for the time being, there is a lack of depth at the upper levels.

      Another part is maybe we are just spoiled. We are so used to having 2-3 big-time prospects right around the corner, that things seem a little more thin than they really are.

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  2. Gus says:

    Aren't some of those drafts also limited by the facts that we didn't sign top guys drafted? (I'm thinking specifically of the kid from Gainesville Buchholz HS (Washington?), but I think there were others.)

    The way the Rays move guys through the system so slowly, it is a very long hall for high school prospects. I'd like more of a focus on older players, especially when the big club is so close to a championship.

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  3. Dave L says:

    Doesnt it also coincide with the fact that the decline started when we started drafting lower since we didnt suck horribly virtually overnight?

    But its true that the Rays braintrusts drafting isn't what has sustained us. This evidence points to that

    Its more the knowing when to let go mature players and get great young value in return and finding great situational players off in other teams castoffs and injured guys coming back

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    • Beth says:

      2008 we still "enjoyed" early draft picks.

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      • Amanda says:

        Heh ... one of these days I'm going to learn to read others' comments fully before I completely write what they say, too. (See below. *sigh*)

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      This is definitely a factor. But also consider that Jennings was a 10th rd pick in '06 and Moore was an 8th rd pick in '07. We haven't seen anything like those two since.

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      • Jason C. says:

        Not to mention the best value ever in James Shields...i think he was in the 16th round or so (going from memory though, dont shoot me.)

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        • Gus says:

          Chuck LaMar would like to add a "Yes Sir" to your comment.

          The truth is that to the extent this team is built from internal players, most of them come from the LaMar era.

          All of the returns aren't in on the Friedman drafts entirely, but the early precincts are not looking too good for Andy. Beckham turns out to be a huge opportunity missed. Look at that 1st round -- filled with major leaguers like Posey and Lowrie and Ike Davis. Beckham's failure to make the bigs stands out, and absent a Josh Hamilton-like turnaround, seems he never will.

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          • Jason C. says:

            It definitely appears that the current regime is much better at finding value in FA. I do like a few of the players we've drafted recently. I think Vett, Mahtook, and Taylor G all look like major league starters to me. I would be looking to shop Torres and Archer as soon as they have a good start or 2...I am disappointed in both of them.

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  4. Patrick says:

    The Rays could fill this void by trading some of our surplus of pitching

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  5. Amanda says:

    Also, you can factor in the turn-around in the draft order starting in 2009. The Rays were picking "lottery" picks before 2009. The last few years, they've picked at the bottom of the first round.

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  6. brianknowsbest says:

    I will feel better when Taylor Guerri pitches... i think that guy is going to be a stud.

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  7. Rudy says:

    Very thoughtful analysis. However, it doesn't mean much unless compared with the draft successes/flops of other MLB teams.

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      But comparing to other teams is not relevant to the question. We are more concerned here with the trend within the Rays, with the point being that there is a big drop-off starting in '08, but really hitting in '09.

      What would comparing to other teams accomplish? Do other teams show the same trends? Some probably do and others probably don't. It is not like every team in baseball is lacking big prospects at the upper levels.

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      • Rob says:

        I do think that looking at other drafts as a whole is relevant. For whatever reason some drafts as more good or great players in it than others.

        Also, you are going to have less players in the upper minors from your more recent drafts. That's not a trend that's just simple common sense.

        The problem isn't so much where the rays prospects are playing, but they don't seem to be as accomplished or highly touted.

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        • Cork Gaines says:

          1) again, nobody said the Rays failed these drafts. the point was just that the production is not there (yet) from 2008 and on. If that is also happening to other teams is again irrelevant to the simple point that it IS happening to the Rays. If it is also happening elsewhere, then that would be the reason why. But it doesnt change that it is happening.

          2) nobody is disputing this. But you would also expect the curve to be more gradual. Nobody expects any AA/AAA players from the 2011 draft. And maybe no AAA guys from the 2010 draft. But 2008 and 2009 probably should have a few more AA/AAA guys. As many as 2006 and 2007? No. But a few more.

          3) I'm not sure those two points are mutually exclusive.

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