AL East Clubs Face Varied Challenges In 2011 Draft

When you hear talk of disparity in baseball, people often point to the AL East, home to two of the biggest spenders in MLB and one of its poorest teams. But as the Rays have shown, small market clubs can offset uneven payrolls by drafting and developing players successfully.

After an offseason in which Tampa Bay saw one ranked free agent after another sign elsewhere, including Boston and New York, the Rays face what could be the most critical amateur draft in their franchise's history. This June, the Rays have an unprecedented number of early picks – they select 12 players in the first two rounds (90 picks). The challenge for executive VP of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and scouting director R.J. Harrison will be selecting future major leaguers with those picks.

Though the Red Sox and Blue Jays aren't close to matching the Rays' record total, they have considerably more picks than average. The Blue Jays have seven picks before the third round and the Red Sox have five, so they face a similar challenge to the one the Rays do: convert their extra picks into potential major leaguers.

Tampa and Boston are two of the six teams (along with the D'Backs, Nationals, Padres and Brewers) that have multiple first round picks, which means seven of the draft's first 33 selections will head to what's arguably baseball's best division.

The Yankees, on the other hand, are one of four clubs that don't select before the supplementary first round (along with the White Sox, Phillies and, last but not least, the Tigers, who don't select until 75 players are off the board). The Orioles select fourth overall, but, like the Yankees, only have two picks in the first two rounds. 

That's not to say that the O's and Yankees can't acquire young talent, however. They can, in theory, spend more money on fewer players in an attempt to lure a select number of top amateurs to their organization. Or they can sign players on the international market and build their farm systems with an aggressive approach abroad (the Yankees recently committed supplemental round money to Dominican righty Juan Carlos Paniagua).

The Rays, Blue Jays and Red Sox will select 24 of the first 90 players in this year's draft (27%). That doesn't mean they'll have productive drafts or that the Yankees and Orioles won't. But for at least a couple of days this June, the Yankees will watch and the Rays will be the ones with the power to acquire top players.

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