March 21, 2012; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; A detail of a Tampa Bay Rays hat and glove in the dugout for a spring training game against the New York Yankees at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Beard, Tools Will Make Rays 13th Rounder Jace Conrad Surprise

Jace Conrad is a junior second baseman at Louisiana-Lafayette who possesses solid tools across the board. Why was he still on the board for the Tampa Bay Rays’ pick in the 13th round? That is a pretty good question. One thought: maybe they think he’s a little crazy.

Conrad has become best known for the Ragin’ Cajuns for his beard. As detailed by Tim Buckley of The Advertiser, Conrad has grown his beard out and refused to shave it ever since his team started going on a run. It has gotten wild and crazy (and, by all accounts, does not look very good), but he has let it stay that way, not even trimming it (at least as of May 20th). Do teams think that Conrad is a little off his rocker? Do they think that he might be crazy enough to return to Louisiana-Lafayette for his senior season? Maybe one or both of those is the case. But Conrad’s abilities are real, and he could be a steal if all these concerns turn out to be overblown.

This season for the Ragin’ Cajuns, Jace Conrad hit to a .366/.442/.559 line with 19 doubles, 7 homers, and 55 RBI. He also walked 21 times versus 17 strikeouts, but most impressive may have been his speed–he stole 21 bases without getting caught. Add in very good defense at second base, and Conrad truly had a spectacular season. He certainly isn’t quite that good, but there is reason to believe he can turn into something in pro ball. At the plate, the lefty-swinging Conrad features good bat speed with a gap-to-gap approach. He does a very good job using the entire field, and can occasionally punish mistakes for home runs. Then, once he gets on, he shows excellent instincts on the basepaths and could be a threat to steal a boatload of bases at a higher success rate. But despite his solid strikeout to walk ratio, Conrad is too aggressive at the plate and needs working on his patience and pitch recognition. He won’t get nearly as many mistakes to hit moving forward, and finding the right offerings to swing at will be something he needs to work on. That being said, combine his aptitude at the plate with blazing foot speed, and it is not hard to imagine him turning into a solid top-of-the-order hitter.

Defensively, meanwhile, Conrad truly shines in every facet of second base. He uses his speed well to give him excellent range, and he also shows very good hands and a strong arm. He fields quite a few more hits than the average second baseman, but he is also a sure-handed thrower who does not make many errors. That combination is not something you see all that often. Conrad is a clear above-average defender, and his defensive tools may be good enough for the Rays to give him a try at shortstop, at least on a part-time basis. Conrad’s bat will determine his future, but he may always be a glove-first player and there is nothing wrong with that at all.

There is nothing about Jace Conrad that should have forced him to the 13th round. Is it something with the beard or him wanting an over-slot commitment to sign? We will find out in the coming weeks, but Conrad is talented enough to overcome whatever issue dropped him this far.

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