This past week, the Tampa Bay Rays captured the AL East Division title, making it their second in three years. Considering how competitive the AL East Division is and how short their tenure in the MLB has been, makes this feat all the more impressive. Their ascent to the top of the league has been sparked by more than just a change in team name from the Devil Rays to the Rays, and a change in team logo from a manta ray to a ray of sunlight. In 2008, the Rays made it to their first World Series, just ten years into the franchise’s existence. To put this in perspective, the Cubs have been in existence since 1903, and their last World Series appearance was in 1945. So, you’re probably asking me how a team is able to be so successful in such a short time period with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, right?
Teams with low payrolls cannot typically afford to bid for the high-priced free agent, so a much emphasis is placed on player development. Some teams succeed in player development, others don’t. The Rays were able to take advantage of making good draft selections in both the first round and the later rounds of drafts, but more importantly developing the players. Key players who the Rays have selected in the past are: Aubrey Huff (5th round), Wade Davis (3rd round), Carl Crawford (2nd round), B.J. Upton (1st round), Delmon Young (1st round) and the list goes on. It’s easy to draft high profile players coming out of college or high school, but developing them is another thing.
The Rays have been able to develop all of those players listed above, plus many more. Part of their success in developing their players is their approach. The Rays are extremely patient with handling their prospects, making sure that the players can handle the upper minor leagues, rather than jumping them from AA to the big leagues. With all of this said, the Rays were able to, in a sense, get lucky in 2006 and in 2007. Two of the premiere players in the league right now, were available to them in their respective draft positions, Evan Longoria and David Price. Both players weren’t rushed, but selected in the draft so that they could make immediate impacts, while also having star potential long-term. This is a testament of how strong the Rays scouting and player development truly was/is.
Furthermore, the Rays have more young talent on their way, Jeremy Hellickson and Desmond Jennings to name a few. While the Rays have a ton of young talent on their major league roster, they have a ton of talent in their minor league systems, which have consistently been ranked as one of the best by Baseball America. The Rays will be an American League powerhouse for the next decade, and this is all tied back to the strength of the Rays’ player development.