The draft begins tomorrow, and while I haven't written nearly as much on it as I've wanted to, I think now is a good time to talk strategy.
In the first three rounds, it's simply about best player available. Take everything into account: Current tools, projection, positional value, etc. Certainly cost is a factor, and few teams are in position to pay over-slot for top talent in the first three rounds. That's fine, but I'm still against "safe" signability picks. These tend to be college players with limited upside. In recent Rays drafts, Josh Butler and Will Kline are pretty good examples of this. Both were second round college pitchers with not a whole lot of room for projection. Contrast them with 2008 second rounder Kyle Lobstein, a projectable lefty. It's not a high school/college thing either; there are college players with projectability left(Jordan Danks in 2008 is a good example).
In rounds 4 through 8 or 10 or so, I think teams should be looking for upside. I think the Rays' have done an okay job here. Of course, I understand that they have been paying top picks a lot of money so they've taken guys who are sure-fire slot signees. Going back to the 2006, the Rays took Desmond Jennings in the 10th round. Jennings had some slight character issues, but he's as athletic as anyone, and the perfect guy to take in this range. Does taking athletes with tools always work? Of course not, and there's a long list to prove it(Dustin Biell, Shawn O'Malley, Ryan Royster, etc).
After that, I think the best plan is to look for guys who have a strong or standout tool. This is something the Rays do, but in my opinion they start too early with it. For example, in 2008 they took Mike Sheridan in the 5th round. Sheridan did one thing really well in college: Make contact. The idea is that they aren't prospects based on the tool, but if they develop a more well-rounded skillset, then they are. Sheridan has shown more power this season, although his batting average has gone in the tank and he still needs more patience. If he can pull things together, then he's a legitimate prospect. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of guys like this don't put things together(remember we're talking later-round picks). A good example of someone who did is Andy Sonnanstine, a 13th rounder with good control who developed his stuff enough to become a major-leaguer.
The later rounds is also where area scouts can really shine. If there's a guy who's been under-scouted or a late riser, having good scouts helps out. Outfielder Kyeong Kang(15th round) and personal favorite of mine Jason McEachern(13th round) are two good examples, although they're still a long ways away from the majors.
A lot of times if you're drafting for upside, you may be drafting a guy later than you'll be able to sign him and he'll go to college. This happened last year in the 15th, 21st, and 29th rounds(Brandon Meredith, Ryan Carpenter, and Brandon Magee, respectively). That's the risk, but the reward is maybe you get someone like the late Nick Adenhart, who was a top prospect before injuring his arm. The Angels took a chance on him in the 14th round and he signed out of high school.
And course, the best piece of advice for drafting in baseball: Get lucky.
RaysProspects Draft Coverage
Here's what you can expect from us over the course of the draft:
Tuesday: In the afternoon, I'll post candidates(with some scouting info on each) for the #30 pick, as well as some guys I'm eyeballing as potential round 2 and 3 picks. In the evening, real-time coverage of the picks, and since it's at night, some minor-league game action too.
Wednesday: In the morning, a post about guys I like in the 4-10 round range along with some possible sleepers. During the day, more real-time coverage.
Thursday: Some reaction to the first 30 rounds along with more coverage, although maybe not in real time.
Throughout, I'll be "shadow drafting." I started this last year at raysbb, where I took Pedro Alvarez, Ross Seaton, Adrian Nieto, Brent Warren, and David Duncan.