05/28/2004 8:00 AM ET
Devil Rays draft preview
Best move might be drafting a pitcher
By Paul C. Smith / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Devil Rays have traditionally taken the best player available in
the First-Year Player Draft, and this year that philosophy might fit perfectly with their
needs as well.
|Delmon Young was the Devil Rays' first overall pick in 2003. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
The Devil Rays need pitching, for the immediate future and beyond, and that's just what
is at the top of most teams' list.
"There is some real good depth early in the draft," said Cam Bonifay, the Rays'
director of player personnel and scouting. "Yes, there are many fine college pitchers, but
there are some very good high school pitchers as well.''
The Rays have taken position players with their top pick all but two times since they
started drafting in 1996. Only once in the past six drafts (RHP Dewon Brazelton in 2001)
have they gone for a pitcher. They have never taken a high school pitcher in the first
"We don't try to get too smart," Bonifay said. "We try to keep an open mind going into
The Rays pick fourth this year, after having one of the top two picks in each of the
last two drafts. Tampa Bay has had one of the top six picks every season since 2000, when
outfielder Rocco Baldelli was selected from Bishop Hendricken High in Warwick, R.I.
Bonifay and his staff have pared the list of their potential first-round picks to six.
He declined to be specific but said it included pitchers and position players from high
school and college.
The Padres, Tigers and Mets have the picks in front of the Rays and the projections are
that Long Beach State right-hander Jered Weaver will not make it to the fourth pick. The
Rays also might not get a shot at Old Dominion right-hander Justin Verlander or Rice
right-hander Jeff Niemann.
If any of those three pitchers drop to the Rays' pick, they will be very interested.
The Rays also like the two other Rice right-handers, Philip Humber and Wade Townsend, with
Humber maybe their favorite of the two. All three Rice pitchers are juniors who are very
big, throw hard and have good control.
Any of those pitchers would fit well with Tampa Bay's long-term plan to develop young
position players first and then go after pitchers. The time to switch would appear to be
now. On their 40-man roster, the Rays have at least seven position players, 27 and under,
who have the potential to become Major League All-Stars.
| Past five No. 1 picks|
|| Delmon Young, OF
|| B.J. Upton, SS
|| Dewon Brazelton, RHP
|| Rocco Baldelli, CF
|| Josh Hamilton, OF
Brazelton remains a top pitching prospect, along with 23-year-old right-hander Seth
McClung, but the Rays do not have enough depth of quality starters. They most likely will
try to trade for or sign one or two starters this off-season, but this draft offers an
"Our philosophy has always been that we're going to take the very best player
available," said general manager Chuck LaMar. "Whether that player is a pitcher this year
remains to be seen."
The Rays could consider a high school pitcher, such as right-hander Homer Bailey of
LaGrange, Texas. He might be on their list of finalists. But they probably would want a
pitcher who could help them sooner than Bailey might be ready.
Or, of the position players in the draft, the Rays might consider Florida State
shortstop Stephen Drew or shortstop Chris Nelson of Redan High in Decatur, Ga.
But with shortstop B.J. Upton now in Class AAA and Julio Lugo playing well, the Rays
should be set in the middle infield for a while.
No matter whom they take, the Rays will know the player well. Most of their top scouts
and front office personnel, including Bonifay and LaMar, have been studying the best players
up close for quite a while. They have spent a lot of time at college tournaments and
individual workouts as well.
"Our people have done an outstanding job," Bonifay said. "Along with our
cross-checkers and (special assistant to the GM) Tim Wilken and (assistant GM) Bart Braun,
we have had as many guys out working as ever before. They haven't taken any days off in the
last month. And our scouting supervisors have done a good job with recommendations."
Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.