Rays’ Record Top-Round Baseball Picks Might Cost $10 Million

The Tampa Bay Rays’ record 12 picks in the first two rounds of the Major League Baseball draft may cost around $10 million in signing bonuses, almost a quarter of the payroll of the franchise’s big-league team.

The Rays, whose opening-day salary total was $41 million, hold 12 of the first 89 picks this year, the first team to have a dozen selections in the first two rounds of the draft. Jim Callis, executive editor of Baseball America, said that probably will cost the team around $10 million, based on the contracts comparable picks last season signed. The glut of picks may also be a negative surprise to Rays fans with big expectations.

“If you get three good big leaguers out of an entire draft, that’s a really good draft,” Callis said in a telephone interview. “I think the average fan would say, ‘Three for 12? Boy, they blew a lot of picks.’”

The 50-round draft begins today at 7 p.m. New York time, with the first round and compensatory picks, 60 selections in all. The final 49 rounds begin tomorrow and conclude on June 8. The New York Mets have the No. 13 and No. 44 picks today; the New York Yankees pick for the first time at No. 51.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have the No. 1 pick; the Rays’ initial pick is 24th. UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole is forecast by Baseball America to be taken first.

Top Prospects

The magazine lists Rice University third baseman Anthony Rendon as the draft’s best hitter and Virginia pitcher Danny Hultzen as the player closest to being major-league ready. Other high ranked prospects include Georgia Tech pitcher Jed Bradley and Dylan Bundy, a high school pitcher from Oklahoma.

Of the 12 teams that have had eight or more of the first 100 picks, three produced a class with a majority of major leaguers, according to an e-mailed release by the Rays. Of the 101 players drafted by those teams, 35 reached the major leagues and three became All-Star selections.

“A reasonable expectation for the Rays is two good players, solid regulars if not better, a couple pretty good complementary players, three to five guys that make the majors but don’t have much of an impact, and the rest don’t make it at all,” Callis said.

Last season the Rays won the AL East, the second division title in franchise history, with an opening day payroll of $72 million. The team lost in the first round of the playoffs, and in the offseason parted ways with its six highest-paid players, including outfielder Carl Crawford, now with the Boston Red Sox, and pitcher Rafael Soriano, now with the Yankees.

The Rays were awarded four first-round picks when Crawford and Soriano signed with their new teams. They got more compensatory picks for the departure of other free agents, including Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit.

Prepped for Draft

Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman, a former Bear Stearns & Co. analyst, said that team has prepared for the financial impact of this year’s class.

“It is not lost on us how significant this process is for us and our future success, and so we’re prepared to do what we need to do,” Friedman said in a conference call with reporters. “I’m very confident that with the guys who actually want to go out and start their pro careers we’ll be in a position to sign them all.”

The Rays, who had the league’s second-lowest opening day payroll this season behind the Kansas City Royals, spent $10 million in signing bonuses on their draft class in 2008, when the team drafted shortstop Tim Beckham with the No. 1 pick. The team spent $7 million in 2010 and $8 million in 2007, when they drafted pitcher David Price at No. 1, Callis said.

Eight Stars

Each year the baseball draft typically has eight star players and a couple dozen role players, said Callis, who has covered baseball for 20 years. It works out to about one successful career per team. Tampa Bay scouting director R.J. Harrison said that he didn’t expect any of the team’s picks to have an impact at the major-league level this year.

“One thing we’ve been consistent with since ‘06 is that our mentality in the draft and in player development is not about how soon we can get them to the big leagues,” Harrison said in a conference call.

The Rays, who have the MLB’s No. 2-ranked farm system behind the Royals, according to Baseball America, are also not concerned with the historical success of comparable draft classes. Rather, the team is excited at the possibility that the sheer number of picks presents, Friedman said.

“The more arrows you have, the more likely you are to hit the bull’s-eye,” Friedman said. “It gives us more of a chance to get guys that can impact a major league game for us.”

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