Being pounded by the Reds as of this writing, the Devil Rays have a shot at top draft picks every year by virtue of their terrible won-loss records. The St. Petersburg Times’ John Romano doesn’t think they have nearly enough to show for it.

Right off the bat, we’ll give the Rays the small-market argument. We’ll accept they are at a financial disadvantage in the pursuit of free agents.

But if they are to be weaklings in the offseason, they have to be brutes in the draft. They have to be better than everyone else.

Is that asking too much?

I mean, shouldn’t that be the tradeoff? If we cut them slack on the main course, shouldn’t they impress the bejabbers out of us with the salad?

No, they can’t outbid the Mets when it comes to signing Carlos Beltran, but they can surely hire the best scouts. And they didn’t have cash to chase Carl Pavano, but they could certainly beef up their Latin America operation.

It is too much to expect the Rays to be perfect. But it is not unreasonable to expect them to devote more resources to signing amateurs than anyone else.

Go back to 2001. The Rays knew Mark Teixeira was the best player available when it was their turn to pick at No.3, but they were scared off by his contract demands. So, instead, they took Dewon Brazelton.

Four years later, Teixeira is a star. Brazelton is an eclipse. The difference in signing bonus between them turned out to be around $300,000.

That’s not the only example of the Rays skimping on player development. They shut down their academy in the Dominican Republic and are one of only two major-league teams without a summer league in the Dominican.

That is, in a word, outrageous. How can a team pledge itself to scouting and player development and have less presence in Latin America than other franchises? Where is their Miguel Cabrera, signed by the Marlins out of Venezuela at age 16? Or Carlos Zambrano, signed by the Cubs as a 16-year-old?

Now the Rays will tell you they have some of the finest prospects in the minors, and that is true. But, really, how hard was that to pull off?

Since ’99, the Rays have been a fixture at the top of the draft. They’ve chosen, in order, first, sixth, third, second, first, fourth and eighth. Anyone with a subscription to Baseball America could make those picks.

No other organization has had seven consecutive years in the top eight. No organization has even had six years in the top eight.

So, yes, the Rays had better be hiding some jewels in their pockets. But where are the other prospects? Where are the role players?

Why are the Rays wasting time and money on Josh Phelps, Chris Singleton and Hideo Nomo? Why, if they have so much emphasis on player development, do they not have more homegrown prospects?