The Rays have become baseball's model franchise when it comes to drafting and developing players from within. Four-fifths of their 2010 starting rotation was homegrown (all but Matt Garza), as were sixth and seventh starters Andy Sonnanstine and Jeremy Hellickson. Homegrown products Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria batted three-four in their lineup for much of the season while B.J. Upton roamed centerfield and John Jaso handled most of the catching duties. Jason Bartlett was just traded to the Padres to clear room for Reid Brignac, another homegrown player.
Tampa is going to have to continue to operate this way to contend at the big league level given their financial situation, and there is plenty of more help on the way from their strong farm system. The Rays will also have a tremendous opportunity to replenish the pipeline in the 2011 draft because they are loading up on compensation picks this offseason.
In addition to their own first round pick (32nd overall), the Rays also received Boston's first rounder (24th overall) when Crawford headed north, and they also pocketed three supplemental first round picks for Crawford, Joaquin Benoit, and Randy Choate. That's not it though. They can still receive six more compensation picks if Rafael Soriano (Type-A), Grant Balfour (A), Brad Hawpe (B), and Chad Qualls (B) all sign elsewhere. That's 11 potential first or supplemental first round draft picks, the last of which can be no worse than 64th overall.
Of course having a lot of early draft picks means the Rays will have to spend a lot of money to sign those players. The Angels led the way with five of the first 64 picks last year and spent over $6.2MM to sign those players. That's more than 15 teams spent on their entire draft class. The Blue Jays had eight of the first 100 picks and spent more than $6.55MM to sign those players. No matter how many picks Tampa ultimately ends up with, this will clearly be a costly venture.
The Rays are not shy about spending money on draft picks though. They gave David Price the largest major league contract out of the draft in six years in 2007 and signed Tim Beckham to what was then the largest minor league contract in draft history in 2008. Over the last three seasons Tampa has spent over $21MM on draft picks, the seventh most in baseball.
Tampa has already lost the best player in franchise history as well as basically its entire bullpen via free agency this offseason, but landing all of those extra draft picks will be a nice consolation. The 2011 draft class is widely considered one of the best and deepest in years, and they're well positioned to reap the benefits thanks to scouting director R.J. Harrison and his staff.
Click here to see the current 2011 draft order.