Even Tampa Bay Stumbles Sometimes in Baseball Draft’s First Round

From 1999 to 2008, seven of Tampa Bay’s ten number one picks in the Major League Baseball amateur draft were in the top three, with four being overall number ones. The other three picks were top ten. After years of picking near or at the top of the draft, the perennial loser Devil Rays changed their name to the Rays and won 90 games four out of five seasons starting in 2008. Tampa’s recent success demonstrates the value of having high draft picks. But it also shows how even a team with the drafting success of the Rays can also have its share of draft stumbles, something to think about when it comes to cash fantasy baseball.

In 1999, the Devil Rays made Josh Hamilton the first overall pick. While Hamilton eventually became an All-Star, the pick was a failure for Tampa, who saw Hamilton miss 2003-5 with drug problems and lost Hamilton in 2006 in the Rule 5 draft.

In 2000, Tampa took outfielder Rocco Baldelli with the sixth pick.  Baldelli did show potential, but injuries and illness curtailed his career.

In 2001, Tampa took pitcher Dewon Brazelton with the third pick. Brazelton won just eight games. The next two picks in the draft were Gavin Floyd and Mark Teixeira.

In 2002, the Devil Rays took B.J. Upton with the second pick. Upton was a starting outfielder for six seasons for Tampa and sometimes seemed to be on the verge of stardom.  That year, Zack Greinke went sixth and Prince Fielder went seventh.

In 2003, Tampa took Delmon Young with the first overall pick.  Young was runnerup for AL  Rookie of the Year in 2007. That winter, he was traded to Minnesota for Matt Garza. The 2003 first round has not produced many stars. The player with the most WAR to date is Nick Markakis.

In 2004, the Devil Rays took Jeff Niemann with the fourth pick. Niemann had double-digit wins each year from 2009-11, but has mostly been sidelined by injuries since then.  Jered Weaver, Billy Butler and Stephen Drew would all be top-15 picks that year, but Weaver and Drew were Scott Boras clients who would be difficult for a small-market team to sign.

In 2005, Tampa took pitcher Wade Townsend with the eight pick. Injuries have derailed Townsend’s career. He is the only player drafted in the top 16 that year who has not pitched in the majors. Players drafted after Townsend include Andrew McCutchen (11) and Jay Bruce (12).

Andrew Friedman took over as Tampa GM before the 2006 season.  The Devil Rays took Evan Longoria with the third pick in 2006 and David Price with the first overall pick in 2007. Not too shabby. Both are not just great players, but great cash fantasy baseball picks.

But in 2008, Friedman may have stumbled by taking shortstop Tim Beckham with the first overall pick.  Beckham is the only one of the top 14 picks that year to fail to make it to the majors. Beckham is still only 23, so it’s too soon to write him off.  The two players picked right after Beckham, Pedro Alvarez and Eric Hosmer, are both struggling to reach their full potential, as are many of the other players from 2008’s first round. The one member of this group who has reached stardom so far is the draft’s fifth pick, Buster Posey.

In 2009, the newly-successful Rays, now picking 30th, took second baseman LeVon Washington, but failed to sign him.

In 2010, the Rays took outfielder Josh Sale with the 17th pick. In late May, Sale was suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the organization.

For more information on the Rays and Major League Baseball, click here.

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