The MLB Draft was a week ago. Are you familiar with all the players the Tampa Bay Rays drafted? You may heard about the players in the top five rounds or maybe even the top ten, but eventually the information trailed off and you stopped reading. But here’s the thing: the information is out there and worth reading. James Shields was a 16th round pick and Kevin Kiermaier was selected in Round 31. You never know when another player like that wil come around, and you want to be able to say that you had an inkling of how good he would be. With that in mind, here is our Rays Colored Glasses analysis from myself and Drew Jenkins on all 41 Tampa Bay Rays draft picks from 2014.
Round 1: Casey Gillaspie
The Tampa Bay Rays have selected 21-year old Casey Gillaspie, one of college baseball’s best pure hitters this season, at 20th overall in the 2014 MLB Draft. Gillaspie is a switch-hitting college first baseman from Wichita State.
The Rays have not had much success drafting position players early in the MLB draft lately, but that didn’t stop them from taking Gillaspie’s polished bat. The younger brother of Chicago White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie, Casey put up an outstanding .389/.520/.682 line this year in his junior season, including 15 home runs and 50 RBIs in 59 games. He also led the uber-competive Cape Cod summer league with 8 home runs during the summer of 2013. Gillaspie has above-average power on both sides of the plate, but unlike a significant amount of players that have power, there isn’t much swing and miss to his game. He put up an impressive 58-28 BB-K ratio this season, showcasing an advanced plate approach. His hit tool is also just as good as his power, and he could develop into a consistent .280 hitter with 20-25 home runs a year while drawing plenty of walks and not striking out much. Thanks to his polished bat, he should be quick to the big leagues. This pick is a safer pick, but doesn’t sacrifice much upside. Gillaspie’s ability to make contact and draw walks should carry him to the majors, even if he doesn’t reach his power ceiling. But if he does reach is potential, he should be a valuable switch-hitter in the middle of the Rays lineup for years to come.
From a mechanical standpoint, Gillaspie has a beautiful swing on both sides of the plate. He uses his lower half nicely to take advantage of his 6’4”, 235 pound frame. Unlike so many power hitters, he does a good job of keeping his hands and arms loose and letting his hips power his swing, which is what allows him to make such consistent contact without sacrificing pop. He is a smart hitter and this leads to quick adjustments at the plate when needed. What caused him to fall to 20th overall is his limited defensive profile. He is a below-average runner, and that will limit him to first base for his entire career. However, he is a solid defender there thanks good instincts. These instincts also helped him to go a perfect 8-8 in stolen bases this year despite the poor speed.
Overall Casey Gillaspie is a solid pick by the Rays. They did bypass some higher upside, higher risk players, like high school pitchers Grant Holmes and Sean Reid-Foley. But, Gillaspie has all the skills needed to be a quick to the big leagues, middle of the order hitter. Sound instincts and plus intangibles will also increase Gillaspie’s chance of reaching his full potential.
Round 2: Cameron Varga
With their second pick of the 2014 MLB Draft at 60th overall, the Rays have selected Cameron Varga, a RHP from Cincinnati Christian Academy in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Varga, a University of North Carolina commit, has a nice pitchers build at 6’3”, 205 pounds. His fastball already sits in the 90-95 range, but there is a bit of projection in his frame, so he should add another tick of velocity in the future. He also has a curveball that has flashed plus potential, but as with many high school pitchers he has to work on honing in its consistency. His final pick is a changeup that he has shown a nice feel for, though currently it is behind his other two pitches. However, it has above-average potential, and the Rays are generally adept at teaching the changeups. Varga has a high-effort delivery, and that affects his command and also makes him an injury risk. He is an athletic player, even being committed to the University of Florida as a shortstop in the past, and those type of players generally can hone in mechanical issues much easier than the less athletic players. All-in-all, Varga has the potential to be a frontline starter down the road.
There are two main reasons that Varga fell all the way to 60th. The first is that he has experienced injuries in the past thanks to the aforementioned high-effort delivery. He missed all of the 2013 summer with a biceps injury and a cyst on his abdomen, costing himself valuable chances to pitch in showcase events in front of scouts. Secondly, Varga is one of the older high school players in the draft, as he will turn 20 in August while most high school players taken will be 18 or 19 at that time. Those issues make him a tad riskier than your average high school pitcher.
These two red flags are not insignificant, but after taking a safer pick at 20th in Casey Gillaspie, the Rays could afford to take the risk. The potential return of a number 1 or 2 starter is an incredible value at 60th overall, and the Rays will be looking smart if Varga can reach his ceiling.
Competitive Balance Round B: Brent Honeywell
With their final pick of day 1, the Rays have selected Brent Honeywell, a JUCO RHP from Walters State Community College in Tennessee at 72nd overall.
This pick is a reach, as Honeywell was only ranked 195th in Baseball America’s top 500 draft prospects, and he failed to make MLB.com’s list of top 200 draft prospects. That being said, Honeywell is not without upside. As a freshman at Walters State this year, he put up a 10-3 record, a 2.81 ERA, and 102 strikeouts in 83.1 innings. His fastball currently sits at 89-93, but he can dial it up to 95 MPH on occasion. At 6’3”, 180 pounds he has plenty of projection in his frame and could eventually sit in the 92-95 MPH range. Also, he has a short stride and follow through in his delivery, meaning he could add even more velocity through mechanical adjustments. His best secondary pitch is an unconventional screwball that has above-average potential, though he rarely has thrown it and it is inconsistent. He throws a changeup that grades as average, as well as a breaking ball that is below-average and needs significant refinement. From a stuff standpoint he is currently underwhelming, but there is plenty of potential for his stuff to become slightly above-average down the line. His father, also Brent, played in the minor leagues, and thus he has inherited plenty of baseball smarts. He has a good feel for pitching, and overall is a good strike thrower, which leads to him getting the most out of his stuff. A ceiling of a number 3 starter that eats plenty of innings seems a fair evaluation, but the Rays may see something more by taking him this high in the draft.
Signability could be an issue with Honeywell. With this pick being a reach, the Rays could be expecting to receive a bit of a discount. However, Honewell can simply return to Walters State for his sophomore season to continue his development, so there is no huge incentive for him to take a well below slot deal. This will be an interesting development in the weeks to come.
It looks like the Rays might have found a diamond in the rough in Honeywell. He has a nice four pitch mix that with development could turn out quite nicely. He also has outstanding instincts and ability to command his pitches, which will allow his stuff to play up in the future. Also, playing at a small school means scouts did not have as many opportunities to get a look at him, so maybe the Rays see something that other people haven’t. This could turn out to be the most interesting pick of the draft, so we will just have to wait and see how Honeywell pans out to truly judge it.
Round 3: Brock Burke
Among the pitchers drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays between the third and fifth rounds are Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis, and Jake McGee. Brock Burke, a left-hander out of Evergreen High School in Colorado, is the latest high-upside pitcher with the potential to be an impact starting pitcher in the major leagues.
Reports on Burke’s height differ–MLB.com has him at 6’2″, 170 while Perfect Game says he’s 6’4″, 180. The Rays would clearly prefer the latter, but either way he is a projectable pitcher. The reason he slipped this far in the draft is that his fastball has not been clocked too high thus far–he has mostly been 88-90 MPH, touching 92. But what you like about pitchers who don’t throw particularly hard in high school is the way it forces them to develop the offerings they do have. Burke gets good run on his fastball towards right-handed batters and does a good job throwing the offering for strikes as a high school pitcher. His slider, though, may be his best offering at this time, flashing sharp late break. The Rays do often switch out sliders for curveballs, but Burke’s may be promising enough for them to keep. He has also thrown a changeup sparingly, and you know the Rays will have him throw the pitch a whole lot more. With Brock Burke, the Rays are getting a projectable pitcher with good stuff now, who will only improve moving forward. He is exactly the type of pitcher the Rays to develop, and we will have to check back in a few years to see if he is their latest development success story.
Round 4: Blake Bivens
We saw in the first round that the Tampa Bay Rays took a safer player in Casey Gillaspie with a better chance of developing as expected. In the 4th round, the Rays followed the same strategy as they selected Blake Bivens, a 6’2″, 205 right-hander out of George Washington High School in Virginia. Bivens is not a projectable player and may never hit much higher than the 90-93 MPH range he’s at now with his fastball. However, he is a more advanced high school player than we ever see the Rays see, and he just may move more quickly.
Upside is a great thing to throw out there. You always want to dream of a player being a number one starter or a five-tool centerfielder. But Bivens has what it takes to be a strong number three starter. He has a repeatable delivery that helps him generate run and sink on his fastball. He throws a lot of strikes already, and his command could end up being plus in the future. Then his secondary pitches make him stand out even more. A lot of high school pitchers are still working to find shape on their breaking pitches, but Bivens throws a high-70′s breaker with sharp 11-to-5 break. He has shown the ability to both spot it for strikes and use it to put hitters away, and it has a chance to be his out-pitch moving forward. He even has used a changeup to keep hitters off-balance, although he needs work to match his fastball release angle and arm speed. Bivens possesses very good pitchability, and while his stuff–or at least his fastball and curveball–might not improve all that much, Bivens isn’t a project like other pitchers the Rays have selected. Bivens is a player who can pitch next season at Low-A and be a positive influence on some of the Rays’ other prospects who are still trying to figure out who they are as pitchers. And even if we can’t throw out “upside” like usual, Blake Bivens is a talented pitcher with the ability to be a strong starting pitcher for the Rays someday. He may be exactly the shift in strategy the Rays need to turn their recent draft history around.
Round 5: Michael Russell
After taking some higher upside high school arms, the Tampa Bay Rays have turned to the college ranks in the 5th round to draft Michael Russell, a shortstop from the University of North Carolina.
Defensively, Russell is a classic scrappy infielder. He has played short in college, but at 6’2”, 200 pounds he likely doesn’t have the profile to plate there everyday in the pros. If he were to play one position everyday, it would likely be second base, where his average arm and fringe-average reactions profile much better than short. Knowing the Rays though, Russell is more likely to become a utility man. He can handle shortstop when needed, and could play second and third decently. His slightly above-average speed would also do well in left field, though he doesn’t have the arm to be more than an emergency option in right. He has a savvy for making plays and scouts love his all-out mentality and work ethic. The Rays love their versatility, and they have a scrappy player who profiles well at multiple positions in Russell.
Offensively Russell’s swing is a bit awkward, but he has still been a solid producer in three years at UNC, leading to comparisons with Hunter Pence. He has good bat speed, better than you would normally find with a 5th round college middle infielder. He hasn’t hit for much power in college, but this season he finally started to learn how to pull the ball with authority, and he will continue working on that as a pro. That combined with a solid plate approach should make him an adept hitter in pro ball. He is also a smart runner and will bring some value on the base paths moving forward. Overall Russell may not have huge upside, but the Rays could have a hard-working, versatile player that hits a but better than your average utility man.
Round 6: Mac James
After years of struggles at the catching position, the Rays have finally found some answers. Before he got hurt, Ryan Hanigan looked as good as we have ever seen from a Rays catcher, and more catching prospects are coming. Curt Casali has been incredible since coming over in a trade from the Detroit Tigers, and Luke Maile has also impressed since the Rays drafted him in the 8th round in 2012. Then in the lower minors, Nick Ciuffo and Oscar Hernandez have emerged as high-upside prospects, and the Rays still have hope that Justin O’Conner will come together. And now, the Rays have one more option after selecting Mac James out of Oklahoma in the 6th round of this year’s draft.
James, 6’1″ and 195 pounds, is the rare catcher to lead his team in hitting and still have a chance to remain as a backstop. This season, James hit to a .330/.398/.477 line with 15 doubles, 5 homers, and 41 RBI. He showed excellent plate discipline, drawing 21 walks against just 13 strikeouts. Meanwhile behind the dish, he threw out 35.5% of attempted basestealers while allowing just 4 passed balls. James stands out for his abilities on both sides of the ball. At the plate, he shows solid bat speed, good plate discipline, and flashes of power. Then behind the dish, he shows solid arm strength and decent receiving ability, although he still could use work on the intricacies of the position. James does not have one standout tool, but when you have a catcher who can throw runners out and do something at the plate, that is something worth following. James also comes with good versatility, playing third base and first base as well for the Sooners. James is not fast by any stretch, but he moves well enough that playing those two positions and maybe even left field could be options on a part-time basis. Former Ray Chris Gimenez is 6’2″, 220, and James could end up with a similar frame when it is all said and done. The Rays hope that James will hit more than Gimenez, but a future in a backup catcher/super-utility role could be a realistic scenario for James in the future.
In Mac James, the Rays have complemented their promising young catchers with a college player who also does a lot of things well. If the Rays can develop him successfully, their organizational logjam at catcher could get even crazier.
Round 7: Mike Franco
After taking three high school arms in a row early in the draft, we knew the Tampa Bay Rays would likely have to take a discount player/players to ensure they get all their high schoolers signed. They are hoping to receive a discount with their 7th round pick, as they took Mike Franco, a college right-handed pitcher from Florida International. However, Franco does not come without skill.
Ranked 431st on Baseball America’s top 500 draft prospects, Franco has seen his fair share of ups and downs as a college pitcher. He spent two years at Howard Junior College, being named NJCAA most valuable pitcher in 2011, but undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing 2012. He then had a rocky first year at Florida International in 2013, but this year everything finally clicked. He would post a 1.09 ERA, 10.2 K/9, and 2.5 BB/9 as a 4th year junior.
Despite the stellar performance, Franco’s overall stuff is underwhelming. His fastball sits around 88-92, though he can dial it up to 95 MPH on rare occasions. At 5’11”, 200 pounds he has no projection and will have to watch his conditioning in the future. His changeup is currently an average pitch. He also throws a breaking ball that flashes average potential, but it is an inconsistent pitch for now. What he lacks in stuff he makes up for in deception. He hides the ball well behind his head, which causes his stuff to play up a bit. He also made vast improvement with throwing quality strikes this year. At most he is a back-end starter or middle reliever, but it will be interesting to see how his deception holds up against better competition.
Round 8: Daniel Miles
The Tampa Bay Tays took what was likely a discount pick in the 7th round with Mike Franco, and they took another one in the 8th round in college senior 3B Daniel Miles from Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tennessee. This pick allows the Rays to ensure they can sign all their early draft picks, but Miles does not come without intrigue.
Daniel Miles started his career at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where he first established himself as a solid hitter during his sophomore year. He would then transfer to Tennessee Tech, where he hit .337/.411/.603 with 12 homers in 2013. He followed that up with a .380/.481/.599 line this year, including 11 home runs and 54 RBIs. As these stats show, Miles has nice contact ability and has pop in his bat, and at 6’2”, 190 pounds there is room to add a few pounds of muscle. However, he stands out from typical small school power bats because of his sound plate approach. Many small school guys with power numbers do not have plate approaches that hold up against much more rigorous competition in pro ball. But as evidenced by his 39-21 BB-K ratio this season, Miles’ plate approach could hold up against better pitching. Defensively his frame means he could stick at third, and he put up a .945 fielding percentage there in 2014, a solid mark for a college 3B. The poor competition that he faced in college, as well as the fact he is a senior rather than a junior, is what caused him to be considered an underwhelming prospect in this draft. Maybe he is a reach pick from a small school, but you can do a lot worse than a guy with some pop and a sound plate approach that will sign below slot.
Round 9: Chris Pike
The Tampa Bay Rays took their 5th college player in a row in the 9th round of the 2014 MLB Draft, selecting senior RHP Chris Pike out of NAIA Oklahoma City University. This is likely another move to get a bit of a bargain, but Pike still has the potential to make a big league impact some day.
Pike’s stuff doesn’t jump out at you, but it is solid enough and he does a good job of getting the most out of it. His fastball sits in the 90-94 MPH range, but at 6’1”, 185 pounds there is room to add a little more muscle and the pitch could end up slightly above-average in the future. He also gets a good angle on the pitch, which makes it play up a bit. He features an average curveball, as well as a changeup that needs plenty of work. In 2014 he walked just 1.8 hitters per nine innings while striking out 12.5 hitters per nine en route to a 1.89 ERA. He also posted a .182 batting average against, and overall dominated any competition he was faced with. As his walk and numbers show, he has great command of all of his stuff and he knows how to use it. What caused him to drop down to the 9th round was a combination of underwhelming secondary stuff, the fact he’s a senior, and the poor competition he’s faced in college. That being said, if the Rays can develop his changeup he could have three at least average pitches, which given his pitchability and command could turn out quite nicely. He doesn’t have huge upside, but a quality back-end starter or a middle reliever could be in the cards for Pike.
Round 10: Bradley Wallace
The Tampa Bay Rays continued their run on college players in the 2014 MLB Draft, selecting Arkansas State University senior right-hander Bradley Wallace in the 10th round. Their third senior pick in a row, drafting Wallace is likely a move to save money to spend on their earlier picks, as well as potentially some later picks. That being said, Wallace isn’t without potential.
Wallace is known for his pure arm strength, and that trait alone led the Rays to be attracted to him. As a whole his stats this season were underwhelming, as he posted a 4.37 ERA with a 69-25 K-BB ratio in 78.1 innings as a starter. However, there is plenty of room for improvement. He currently has a high-effort delivery, and improving that can improve his pitch location moving forward. His 25 walks shows he has decent control, but as his 86 hits allowed proves, he needs to work on making his pitches in the zone less hittable. Given his hard throwing and unimpressive stats as a starter, it seems a move to relief is likely in the cards for Bradley Wallace. Converting to the ‘pen should automatically increase his performance. If the Rays can hone in his delivery and work on turning him from a hard-thrower into a more rounded pitcher, he could become a solid reliever down the road.
Round 11: Spencer Moran
The most major leaguers are going to come out of Round 1, but the most interesting round of the MLB Draft as its currently set up could very well be Round 11. In the first 10 rounds, teams face a lot of pressure to sign their picks because their bonus pool money goes to waste otherwise. For instance, if a team doesn’t sign its first round pick with the slot value being $1.6 million, that team can’t allot that money to any other player–it’s simply gone. With that in mind, managing money has become a much bigger part of the draft than ever before. If you draft a player who will take an over-slot bonus to sign, you have to compensate by selecting a player who will sign for less than his assigned number. In Round 11, though, suddenly that restriction is gone. You can draft the most talented player available knowing that there is no penalty if you don’t sign him. There are still plenty of money issues to deal with–if the player signs for more than $100,000, the difference goes against your bonus pool–but teams are more willing to take chances nonetheless. It is in that vein that the Rays selected right-hander Spencer Moran out of Mountain View High School in Arizona, and it will be quite the coup of they do find a way to sign him.
There is projectable, then there is Spencer Moran. He is 6’6″ but just 180 pounds, and he very well could have several more MPH on his fastball once he fills out. Considering he has touched as high as 93 MPH already, that was a proposition the Rays could not look past. Moran’s fastball is more consistently in the high-80′s at this point, and while he does get good a good downward angle on it thanks to his height, he needs to do a better job throwing it for strikes. Then there are his secondary pitches: a curveball and changeup, both of which remain very raw. He has shown some aptitude with the former pitch, occasionally showing good 11-to-5 break, but the Rays will have to work with him extensively on both pitches if they do get him signed. The bottom line is that Moran will be a project. However, he is exactly the type of starting point that the Rays like to go off of, and his potential is incredible.
Spencer Moran clearly slipped this far in the draft because of signability–based on ability alone, he easily would have gone in the top five rounds and maybe even the top three. Not only is money a question, but also the matter of his development. Even if the Rays offer him $500,000, Moran could easily say that he wants to develop physically and as a pitcher knowing that he has the ability to be a first round pick in three years. That may be too much to overcome. On the other hand, the Rays are giving him a chance to become a professional baseball player based purely on potential. If he does not develop as hoped, his prospect stock will be significantly worse. It will be an interesting decision for Moran based around a lot more than money. For the Rays, all they can do is try to get the money available to sign him and see what he decides.
Round 12: Braxton Lee
Once you’re up to the 12th round of the MLB Draft, the players around have one of three general issues: they will be very difficult to sign, have no specific tool that stands out, or they have a fatal flaw with their game. Every player has his issues, but the question is going to be how easy those issues are to fix. In Braxton Lee, the Rays found a player with one excellent characteristic–his speed–and they will hope to hone in the rest of his game and see what happens.
Lee, an outfielder out of Ole Miss, is listed at 5’10″, 185 by MLB.com. However, that actually may be a stretch as the Mississippi website has him at just 5’8″, 165. Lee is not a big guy, and he doesn’t have surprising Dustin Pedroia-esque power either as he managed just seven extra-base hits, all doubles, for Ole Miss in 236 at-bats. That aside, he really is coming off a nice season for the Rebels. He hit .297 with a .387 on-base percentage, drawing 29 walks against 28 strikeouts. Then there was his speed–he stole 30 bases in 35 attempts, and also proved himself an excellent bunter. His 30 steals led the SEC, and the fact that he played so well in such a well-regarded conference says something. Lee isn’t quite a burner, but he has well above-average speed and uses it well in games. Then defensively, Lee has a chance to stay in centerfield thanks to good range, and he has an above-average arm by centerfield standards. Lee’s lack of power is a major issue, but he does a lot of different things well, and that gives him a chance to exceed expectations.
As a player without much power, the rest of Braxton Lee’s game will be put to the test. He will have to continuously improve his patience and plate discipline to get on base, and he better be able to consistently lay down perfect bunt singles. He has to find a way to hit the ball with enough authority that he can hang in there against upper-level pitching. However, speed-first players are out there and can be quite successful, and we will have to see if Lee can follow suit. For the 12th round, the Rays found a good value, and we will have to see what he turns into.
Round 13: Jace Conrad
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.
Round 14: Trevor Lubking
The MLB Draft lasts 40 rounds, with over 1200 players selected each season. That is an extremely large number, and teams have to get creative to arrive at it. In a sense, though, the number of picks in the draft represents an opportunity for players in every possible situation to be selected and play professional baseball. Tampa Bay Rays 14th round pick Trevor Lubking is certainly a beneficiary of that as the Rays made him the first Division III player chosen in this year’s draft. Going with a player without a Division I background is a risky proposition for teams in their early picks, but with a selection period that lasts as long as it does, teams can pick players that interest them no matter where they’re from and see if they can surprise.
Trevor Lubking is a filled-out 6’0″, 205 lefty out of Pacific Lutheran University, and he is coming off a tremendous junior season at PLU. Lubking went 6-2 with a 2.12 ERA, striking out 111 while walking only 27 in 89 innings pitched. If there is any Division III pitcher that you want to select, it is the one the leads the division in strikeouts as part of a dominant year. That is exactly what Lubking pulled off.
Lubking isn’t going to be a power pitcher against better competition. He is a lefty who fooled D3 hitters primarily with excellent command and deception rather than an overbearing arsenal. His fastball is in the 88-90 MPH range, and neither his breaking ball nor his changeup is a swing-and-miss pitch. But a future as a lefty reliever is not so crazy for Lubking thanks to his pitchability, and everything could change if the Rays can find him an effective secondary pitch. Trevor Lubking may be coming out of Division III, but the Rays see a player with a chance to help them in the future, and we will have to see how he transitions to pro ball.
Round 15: Brian Miller
Vanderbilt has become known as one of the best schools in the nation at developing pitching. The Tampa Bay Rays have certainly reaped the benefits of that, with David Price heading their rotation and Grayson Garvin working his way through the minor leagues. But it is a testament to just how impressive the Vandy staff is that a reliever who wasn’t even their primary closer this year is good enough to be a 15th round pick. If that isn’t enough to catch your attention, Brian Miller is a 15th round pick with a higher chance of making the big leagues than the other pitchers in his round.
Miller, a 6’4″, 200 right-hander out of Vandy, followed up setting the school saves record in 2013 with a strong junior season for the Commodores this year. Miller went 1-1 with a 1.82 ERA, striking out 29 while walking just 5 in 34.2 innings pitched, all in relief. How he got there, is the interesting part. Miller doesn’t throw hard at all, topping out at 87-88 MPH and usually sitting in the mid-80′s. Yet that pitch fools hitters times after time thanks to how he delivers it and how he complements it.
Miller’s delivery changes dramatically from pitch to pitch. One offering, he will have a conventional three-quarters arm slot, and the next, he will be submarining the ball to the plate. He gets excellent movement on the pitch, and he somehow manages to throw it for strikes no matter what angle from which he delivers it. Then there are his secondary pitches: a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. The slider in the high-70′s is the best of the bunch, featuring huge break (and varying in how much horizontal and vertical movement depending on what arm slot it comes out of), but all of them move and he can spot them all for strikes.
Another cool thing about Brian Miller is that he doesn’t have to just be a righty specialist. Some of his release angles are tough on same-side hitters, but the way he varies his delivery can be just as effective against lefties and he also spots his slider well against them. Miller may not be anything close to a normal pitcher, but he has what it takes to succeed at upper levels if he can continue refining his arsenal. If his funk performs as expected, he will be a big league pitcher and he could move extremely quickly. In fact, he could be the first player from this Rays draft ti make the major leagues- although Casey Gillaspie will have something to say about that. We can’t be sure how pro ball will treat Miller, but the Rays found themselves a pitcher with a legitimate chance of contributing to their major league roster, and that is a great value in the 15th round.
Round 16: Greg Maisto
In the MLB Draft, the tough decision for players that you usually hear about is whether to sign or attend college. However, there is another time when a player faces quite a quandary: when he is a junior college player set to transfer to a four-year school. That is exactly what Tampa Bay Rays 16th rounder Greg Maisto faces, and they will have to hope that he has the desire to go pro.
Maisto has walked an interesting path in his collegiate career. After graduating from Carroll High School in Texas in 2012, he was at Texas A&M but redshirted his freshman year. He was still considered talented enough to make the roster of the Wisconsin Rapids in the Northwoods League. However, he then transferred to McLennan Community College, a maneuver that allowed him to pitch this season before moving on to West Virginia next year. If he had transferred directly to WVU, NCAA rules would have prevented him from playing this year.
In 2014 at McLennan, Maisto went 7-3 with a 4.70 ERA, striking out 58 while walking 32 in 76.2 innings pitched. The team’s ERA was 4.76, so he was basically average. Those numbers don’t particularly excite, but the stuff Maisto showed in the past makes him an interesting prospect. Maisto’s fastball currently sits in the high 80′s and can touch the low 90′s on occasion. At 6’1, 185 lbs (or 6’2”, 175 lbs depending who you ask), there is some projection in his frame. If he can add some more muscle, it is conceivable that his fastball could end up consistently sitting in the low 90′s down the road. He features two secondary pitches–a high 70′s breaking ball and a low-to-mid-70′s changeup. The changeup especially represents a nice change in velocity from his fastball. At just 19-years old (20 in November) Maisto clearly has potential, and the Rays are hoping they can turn it into results.
Since leaving high school, Greg Maisto has not done anything to raise his draft stock. If he doesn’t have a great junior year at West Virginia, he will be drafted even lower than he was this year. There is a price where joining the Rays, an organization known for developing pitching, will be impossible to turn down. Maisto is the type of project the Rays love taking on, but everything is going to depend on whether he is willing to sign.
Round 17: Steve Ascher
Once you start progressing into the middle to lower rounds of the MLB Draft, it gets harder and harder to find well-rounded players. Most players at this point either have a standout skill, but lack in other areas, or are projectable with little to show for it so far. But in the 17th round, the Tampa Bay Rays managed to find a pitch with some polish in Steve Ascher.
Ascher is never going to dominate with stuff, but he features a solid 4 pitch arsenal. He will come at hitters with a 4-seam fastball, and compliments it well with a slider, a slow curve, and a changeup. The changeup is the best of the three, and there is a chance he will ditch the slider as a pro. His overall stuff plays up thanks to nice pitchability. Also, his solid command makes his stuff better. In three seasons at Division III SUNY Oneonta, he has walked just 2.7 batters per nine innings. His career there likely culminated with a big junior year this season in which he put up a 1.82 ERA, 2.6 BB/9, and 10.7 K/9 in 69.1 innings. Overall he has showed nice ability and has improved in each year in college. The strikeout numbers are not going to hold up as a pro. However, command and control will play at any level against any competition. If the Rays can develop his stuff to the point that it is average across the board, Steve Ascher could turn out to be a surprisingly nice value from the 17th round.
Round 18: Alec Sole
When you’re talking about a shortstop prospect, the first question is always the same: can he stick at shortstop? When the answer is no, the prospect in question is going to have to really hit. When the answer is yes, however, then you have something to build on. For Tampa Bay Rays 18th rounder Alec Sole, the defense is there and the offense may be good enough to make him a player to watch.
Sole, a junior at Saint Louis, is a bigger shortstop at 6’2″, 200, but he has not let that stop him. He is not particularly fast, but he has a quick first step, solid hands, and a rocket for an arm. Sole was an interesting prospect as a pitcher coming out of high school, and he uses that same arm strength to make throws other shortstops can’t make. He may not be a plus defender, but his arm makes up some of his other deficiencies and he makes enough plays to stay at the position. We have seen the Rays use Ben Zobrist at shortstop despite not having your typical shortstop speed (at least these days) and not the softest hands. Sole could play shortstop in a similar vein, and that is enough for him to play the position moving forward.
Sole also impressed at the plate this season. The lefty swinger hit to a .352/.419/.436 line, and that .352 average was tops on the team. The negatives are that he hit for very little power, had a mediocre 19-15 strikeout to walk ratio, and stole only 10 bases in 16 tries. Sole was mostly an empty hitter for average, and he will have to improve his plate discipline and pitch recognition to remain such a hitter. But as a solid defensive shortstop, Sole does have a larger margin for error, and he could carve out a big league future if he can turn into just a decent hitter.
Way down in the 18th round, the Tampa Bay Rays found a player in Alec Sole with a chance to be a big league utility player. That may not be the most exciting proposition, but the Rays deserve congratulations once again for finding such a player.
Round 19: Justin McCalvin
The Tampa Bay Rays aren’t afraid to go away from the norm when making player decisions. That is what they did in the 19th round of the 2014 MLB Draft, when they selected sidearm reliever Justin McCalvin from Kennesaw State University.
McCalvin is an interesting player because he has limited movement in the fingers on his pitching hand. After suffering a hand injury in high school, he was forced to have surgery that should’ve been routine. However, a freak accident during the surgery left him with permanent damage in his hand. This factor has likely turned many teams off of McCalvin, but the Rays saw his potential and they weren’t afraid to go for it.
Switching from an overhand deliver to a sidearm delivery during his freshman year to accommodate for his hand, McCalvin has dominated as Kennesaw State’s closer. This year he has put up a 2.21 ERA while striking out 60 and walking 19 in 61.0 innings. He would also set a Kennesaw State record with 16 saves and led the entire team in ERA. Unlike most of the Rays picks earlier in the draft, McCalvin is a guarantee to be a reliever is a pro. However, he has a chance to be a good one. His fastball sits around 89-93 MPH, and thanks to his delivery it has nice movement on it. His best pitch is a wipeout slider, which he has no problem throwing with confidence in any count. He commands both of the pitches well despite command generally being a sidearmer’s biggest nemesis. At 22-years old he is a bit older than most college juniors, which combined with his health questions and inability to start games dropped him this far in the draft. However, the Rays saw a guy with the chance to be a good reliever, and they were willing to look past the questions to select him. McCalvin has defied odds so far in his career, and he could very well continue to do so as a pro.
Round 20: Kyle McKenzie
Way back in 2009, Kyle McKenzie was a right-handed pitcher at Thayer Academy in Massachusetts and was quite highly regarded. A 6’0″, 175 right-hander, McKenzie touched as high as 94 MPH with his fastball to go along with a sharp 11-to-5 curveball and a changeup that also showed potential. Baseball America actuallycompared him to Rays right-hander Brandon Gomes, then at Double-A in the San Diego Padres system. However, teams worried about McKenzie’s willingness to forego his commitment to Tulane and he slipped all the way to the New York Yankees in the 30th round. Predictably, he did not sign and did indeed join the Green Wave’s squad. It was only this year, though, that McKenzie got to hear his name called once again. Five tumultuous years at Tulane have changed everything for Kyle McKenzie, and he will enter pro ball trying to make up for lost time and opportunities missed.
After a mediocre freshman season in 2010, McKenzie had to redshirt in 2011 because of injury despite getting off to a solid start in the Green Wave’s rotation. When he came back, he was primarily a reliever and one that had difficulty throwing strikes. From 2012 to 2013, McKenzie managed a decent 3.87 ERA but just a 65-50 strikeout to walk ratio in 90.2 innings pitched across 25 relief appearances and 8 starts. But this season, in his fifth and final year of eligibility, McKenzie finally figured everything out. Though he made only 8 appearances, he was dominant within them, managing a 1.30 ERA and a 35-9 strikeout to walk ratio in 27.2 innings pitched. The Rays saw a flicker of McKenzie’s previous promise in those games, and they were willing to take a chance on him with their 20th round selection.
Kyle McKenzie is quite old for this draft class–he will turn 24 in September. He is no longer projectable, weighing in at 200 pounds or 210 pounds depending on what source you choose. There is effort in his delivery, a red flag from before that 2009 draft that led to problems for him in college. With that in mind, McKenzie will be a reliever in the professional ranks, and it will be interesting to see what his velocity is like these days. However, if his three-pitch mix is anything like it was before, McKenzie has the ability to vastly exceed what’s expected of him at this draft spot. The Rays are taking a risk on Kyle McKenzie based on a small sample size and how he was once regarded. However, that is the type of decisions that they needed to make to find upside in the 20th round, and it just might amount to something.
Round 21: Jaime Ayende-Morales
The Tampa Bay Rays love taking players with upside, and it seems that every year in the MLB Draft they can find players in the later rounds with high potential. Despite already being in the second half of the draft, the Rays found a high-upside player in the 21st round in outfielder Jaime Ayende-Morales. If they can get him signed, he could turn into one of the more intriguing prospects from this draft class.
Ayende-Morales hails from the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico. A switch-hitter, he has shown plenty of ability on both sides of the plate. He has a smooth line-drive swing on both sides and impresses with his quick hands and raw bat speed. He does tend to be a bit pull-happy, and his swing can be too long at times. He also can get too far out on his front side. However, none of these issues are major, and they should be fairly easy fixes in pro ball. At present, there isn’t a ton of strength in his swing. But at 6’1”, 170 pounds he should be able to add muscle in the future. All-in-al,l he has plenty of present ability on offense, and as a high school draftee he has plenty of time to iron out his issues and add strength.
Defensively, Ayende-Morales profiles best in right field. He showcases decent speed at the moment, but down the road he is likely going to be an average runner. He already has a strong arm, having been clocked at 90 MPH from the outfield. He may be able to handle center at the beginning of his pro career, but he will likely eventually settle in at right field, where his arm profiles nicely. A move to third base also could also be an option if the Rays believe that he is a better fit there.
Signing Jaime Ayende-Morales might be a tall task for the Rays. He is currently committed to play college ball at North Central Texas Junior College, meaning that if he does not sign this year, he can just re-enter the draft in 2015. However, the Rays should be receiving discounts on their 7th-10th round picks, which gives them a chance. They will be able to float a big number at Ayende-Morales if they want to–but that money could also go to locking up some of their other tougher signs. It will be interesting to follow the Rays’ attempts to sign Ayende-Morales in the coming weeks.
Round 22: Ryan Pennell
One subset of pitchers that can be so valuable for teams is power lefties. With so many left-handers being soft-tossers, if you can find a player who throws harder, it can be extremely difficult for opposing teams to deal with. In addition, if you see someone with the chance to become that type of pitcher, it may be worth taking a little more of a risk to receive that opportunity. Ryan Pennell had a trying time in his four years at Elon University, but after seeing how good he looked as a senior, the Rays decided to give him a chance.
After three seasons as an inconsistent reliever in the Elon bullpen, Ryan Pennell finally came through in his senior year. A 6’4″, 225 left-hander, Pennell went 1-3 with a 3.52 ERA, a 32-19 strikeout to walk ratio, and 12 saves in 21 appearances and 30.2 innings pitched. The obvious concern in his control–he walked 5.6 batters per 9 inning–but he is a big lefty with the stuff to match. His fastball reaches the low-90′s with good late run and sink, and he also gets good depth and occasional sharp break on his curveball. Pennell is a pitcher whose command is better than his control at this point as he does a solid job keeping the ball down, but does not always make his offerings in that area look like strikes. However, the Rays see a lefty with a chance to force groundballs and miss a few bats, and that pitcher has a chance at a solid future.
As a senior sign, Ryan Pennell will not get a large signing bonus and will enter pro ball needing to prove himself at every level. However, it has to be a confidence boost for him that the Rays were sufficiently impressed to draft him, and we will have to see how he does.
Round 23: Zac Law
Among their picks in the top 10 rounds of the MLB Draft, the Tampa Bay Rays drafted three high school players and another one out community college. All of them may take some money to sign, but they were drafted early enough that inking them should not be much of an issue. For the high school and junior college players who the Rays selected later, however, it is going to be a different story. Spencer Moran (11th), Greg Maisto (16th), and Jamie Ayende-Morales (21st) will require above-slot bonuses of varying degrees to sign. Then, in Round 23, the Rays selected outfielder Zac Law out of Robinson High School in Texas and you can add him to the list. Why did the Rays select so many players that will be difficult to sign? The answer is that teams have the Rays have nothing to gain by leaving any bonus pool money left over, and they want to make sure they use all of it to sign potential impact players.
Zac Law slipped this far in the draft for two reasons: his commitment to Dallas Baptist and his size. Law is a smaller prospect listed at 5’8″, 180, and he lacks the lean athletic frame that you want from a centerfield prospect. However, every player has a price, and Law has the tools to make up for his small stature. At the plate, Law shows good bat speed, which is always a good place to start for a hitter. He is relatively raw otherwise, requiring work on his patience and pitch recognition and needing to learn not to sell out for power. Law does have some pop, but his swing gets long when he tries to hit the ball over the fence, and he may realistically end up with only gap power. Luckily for him, he plays a premium defensive position and has good speed. Defensively in centerfield, Law moves well and also has an above-average arm for the position. Overall, Zac Law has at least four-tool potential and has the type of upside the Rays always target. Whether he ends up with the Rays or not likely depends on whether Spencer Moran decides to sign, but when a player with Law’s ability is your backup plan, you are doing pretty well.
Round 24: Nic Wilson
Round 25: Tyler Wells
The Tampa Bay Rays love left-handed pitchers, and they have had success with drafting and developing them. David Price is a surefire ace in the big leagues, Matt Moore showed he was close to becoming an ace before undergoing Tommy John this year, and Jake McGee is one of the best relievers in all of baseball. All of these guys were lefties that the Rays have drafted and developed. In the 25th round of the 2014 MLB Draft, the Rays took their 6th lefty of the draft in Tyler Wells, and they are hoping he can become their next success story.
Wells, who just finished his junior year at the Nevada, put up a so-so 4.56 ERA while striking out 41 and walking 20 in 47.1 inning spent between the rotation and bullpen. He features a solid 90-93 MPH fastball that he will throw as either a 4-seamer or 2-seamer. At 6’3”, 205 pounds he gets a nice downward angle on the pitch. As an organization the Rays love changeups, and they see promise in Wells’ changeup given that it is his best secondary pitch. He also has a curveball that has shown promise as well, though it is inconsistent at this point. His stuff has potential to be average across the board, now it is a matter of learning how to use it. As his 57 hits and 20 walks allowed in 47.1 innings last year show, he has plenty of work to do on locating his pitches. He has the stuff to not get hit so hard- he just needs to be able to throw his pitches where he wants to. His frame indicates he could stick as a back of the rotation innings-eater, but he has to develop his curveball and command if he wants to have the stuff to stay there. If not, he could turn into a long reliever or a lefty specialist.
There is plenty of room for improvement for Tyler Wells, but the Rays saw a guy available in the 25th round with the potential to be a starter and they were more than happy to take him.
Round 26: Cade Gotta
Round 27: Grant Kay
There are injuries in baseball that teams aren’t scared of anymore. Jeff Hoffman went 9th overall and Erick Fedde went nine picks later even though both underwent Tommy John Surgery. Other health issues, though, are still quite sketchy. Despite being a well-regarded prospect previously, Grant Kay fell to the Rays in the 27th round after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in 2013. If Kay can recover, however, the Rays could very well end up with a steal of a pick.
After an excellent freshman season at Iowa Western CC, Grant Kay headed to the New England Collegiate Baseball League and ranked as its 4th-best prospect according to Baseball America. But everything changed when he missed the beginning of 2013 with the aforementioned knee surgery and was not the same player when he returned. Kay went undrafted last year after the surgery and was good but not great in his first season at Louisville in 2014. Kay hit to a .285/.403/.409 line, stealing 22 of 23 bases, but failing to hit for much power at all, especially compared to previous years. Kay is a very instinctual player, so he was able to continue stealing bases despite not running as well as before, but will he ever get back the previous leverage that he had in his swing?
At his best, Grant Kay showed excellent bat speed as a lefty swinger, average power, blazing speed, very good defensive skills, and a solid arm. His plate discipline and pitch recognition needed work–he was known as a bad-ball hitter–but that player is one with a chance to be a starting second baseman in the big leagues, and that’s who the Rays hope they’re getting. If not, Kay’s instincts on both sides of the ball will still give him a chance. This is a no-risk gamble for the Rays, and we will have to see what Kay can become.
Round 28: Carter Burgess
Round 29: Tomas Michelson
Down years happen in baseball. As a player, you just have to hope that they don’t occur in a big year like your free agent year or your draft year. Unfortunately for Tomas Michelson, a senior right-hander out of Illinois-Chicago, that is precisely what occurred. The good news for him, though, is that the Rays liked his overall body of work in college enough to take him in the 29th round nonetheless.
In his junior season at UIC in 2013, lean 6’4″, 185 right-hander Tomas Michelson had himself quite a season. He went 6-6 with a 3.08 ERA in 15 starts and 102.1 innings pitched–just under seven innings per start. The reason he worked so deep into games was his incredible ability to force groundballs. Michelson did not strike out many batters, just 5.7 per 9 innings, but he forced a multiplicity of groundballs and allowed only 2.3 walks and 0.2 home runs per 9 innings. With a sinker touching 93 MPH, a slider that showed sharp downward break, and a changeup that was quickly becoming a dependable third pitch, Michelson entered his senior year with a big expectations. With a strong season, he had a chance to be selected in the top 10 rounds of the draft thanks to his combination of stuff and the fact that he would not take much money to sign. Then the year started, and his results were inconsistent.
In 2014, Michelson slipped to a 6-5 record with a 4.82 ERA in 14 starts and 93.1 innings pitched. His strikeout to walk ratio was still strong at 61-20, but he allowed harder and was unable to generate the same type of results. That being said, Michelson’s struggles could have been because his style of pitching is more conducive to pro ball than to its collegiate equivalent. The defense behind him was unable to convert his groundballs into outs, and that will be different moving forward. Michelson would have loved to end his UIC career with a bang, but he is the same exact pitcher who was interesting entering the season. Tomas Michelson will enter pro ball with something to prove, but he has the ability to be quite a bit more than your average senior sign.
Round 30: Trevor Dunlap
Round 31: Andrew Woeck
Round 32: Josh Davis
With the draft rules that limit spending without incurring significant penalties, there are often players who fall down draft boards for the sole reason that teams are worried they can’t get them signed. However, these players still have tremendous upside, and they can be a steal if the team somehow gets them signed. That’s the kind of player the Rays drafted in the 32nd round with outfielder Josh Davis from Union HS in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Offensively, Davis has showed good ability. A right-handed hitter, he already has shown a loose swing and quick hands, which result in good raw bat speed. He pulls the ball well, but unlike many high schoolers he doesn’t try to do too much with his swing. He has a bit of present strength right now, and at 6’2”, 170 pounds he has room to add plenty of muscle moving forward, which will turn his raw bat speed into some in-game power. A three sport athlete in high school, Davis’ outstanding speed is only going to help contribute to his overall offense. Currently he needs to work on having a more well-rounded plate approach. But, as he focuses solely on baseball, he is only going to become better and better. When all is said and done, Davis’ bat has above-average potential, but as with most high schoolers he is raw and needs to refine his approach, add strength, and hone in his mechanics.
Defensively, Davis’ tremendous speed means he will stick as a centerfielder. On top of that, he already shows good defensive instincts, as he has quick reactions and takes good routes to the ball. Right now his arm is nothing special, but it will be fine moving forward, especially as he adds muscle to his frame. Similar to his bat, his defense is only going to get better and better as he focuses on just baseball. Like his bat, he could above-average in center field when all is said and done.
Davis has the ability to be an above-average, well-rounded player in the future. But, that means nothing to the Rays if they can’t get him signed. Davis is committed to Pepperdine University, and he can go there to boost his draft stock in hopes of receiving a bigger payday in the future. The Rays have the ability to float him a big number if they so choose, as they are likely receiving a discount on their 7th-10th round picks. But, that money could also go towards other tough signs like 11th rounder Spencer Moran, 16th rounder Greg Maisto, 21st rounder Jaime Ayende-Morales, and 40th rounder Conor Haber. It will be interesting to see which of the bunch the Rays end up prioritizing.
Round 33: Patrick Grady
In the 34th round of the 2014 MLB Draft, the Tampa Bay Rays selected Chris Knott, a senior outfielder from East Stroudsburg University. Knott is interesting, as he has performed well in college, but he still has quite a bit of room for improvement in his game.
Statistically speaking, Knott has torn up the competition at Division II East Stroudsburg. In his senior season this year, he put up a .399/.484/.667 line while posting a solid K-BB ratio of 22-21. He also showed ability on the basepaths, stealing 14 bases, and would post a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage and 4 assists from the outfield. For his performances, he would win an ABCA Atlantic Region Gold Glove Award and be a finalist for the Division II player of the year award. So far in his career, Knott has done a bit of everything by hitting well, providing value on the bases, and playing great defense. Of those three, the bat is going to be his biggest challenge as a pro.
Despite the outstanding numbers at the plate, Knott doesn’t have a particularly great swing. His front side flies open well too early, and his lower half is not used to its full potential. However, he has still posted great numbers, and that is why the Rays are intrigued by Knott. He has significant room for improvement in his swing, yet he has still performed in college. The Rays likely think that if they can fix Knott’s mechanical issues, he is going to be an even better player than the one who dominated DII competition this year. The fact that he has a good plate approach will serve him well as he transitions into becoming a pro. At 22-years old in July, he doesn’t have much time to make the adjustments if he wants to avoid getting lost in the fold.
Chris Knott is an interesting player all the way in the 34th round, and the Tampa Bay Rays hope he can make the quick adjustments necessary to see success as a pro.
Round 35: Kyle Bird
Once you get into the lower levels of the draft, you are taking quite a few projects. These players have potential, but for some reason there is a ton of work to be done and therefore they fall in draft. The Tampa Bay Rays took one of these projects in the 35th round with left-handeder Kyle Bird from Division II Flagler College.
Bird showed potential as a high schooler, having a 6’2”, 185 pound frame and signing with Florida State University. However, he has done little to improve since going to college. In two years at FSU, he would put up ERAs of 7.15 and 6.10 while walking almost a batter per inning. He then transferred to Flagler hoping to improve by playing more often. But in Flagler’s rotation, he would still post a disappointing 5.00 ERA, though his walk numbers would improve dramatically. Statistically, it is clear that Bird has been disappointing in college.
From a stuff standpoint, Bird’s fastball sits in the mid-upper 80′s. He will also throw a low 70′s changeup and a low 70′s curveball. At 6’2”, 190 pounds one would think there is some projection in his frame. But, he did little to add muscle during college, and he isn’t likely to add much velocity as a pro. To be a good pitcher with his stuff, he is going to need to learn how to create a better downward angle and deception on his pitches, as well has how to command his pitches better. That is where the “project” label comes in. The Rays are going to have to work hard to with Bird to fix his issues. But, they do love lefties, and the Rays are one of the best in the business at developing pitchers.
As a 35th rounder, the odds are against Kyle Bird from the beginning. But if there is anyone that can harness the potential he showed back in high school, it is the Rays.
Round 36: Isias Alcantar
Round 37: Matt Plitt
As much as we love statistics, often they don’t the whole story, especially in college. Matt Plitt’s regular season statistics showed an up-and-down pitcher whose future in baseball was in question. Plitt, a 6’4″, 220 senior right-hander, went 2-0 with a 3.83 ERA in 24 regular season appearances, striking out 36 while walking 25 in 51.2 innings pitched. He had his moments, saving four games and striking out at least four in four different appearances, but he also had seven different contests where he allowed multiple runs. However, Plitt turned everything around to lead Louisiana-Lafayettte to the NCAA Super Regionals, and the Rays gave him a flier in the 37th round to see if he can sustain that.
In six tournament appearances for the Ragin’ Cajuns, Plitt has a 1.69 ERA in 6 appearances and 10.2 innings pitched. He has been thrown into big spots and forced to toss multiple innings, and that has been something he has been entirely comfortable doing. He has also struck out 10 in those innings although he did also walk six. Plitt’s collegiate career is over–Ole Miss eliminated Louisiana-Lafayette in the Super Regionals–but he ended it with the strongest stretch of his career and that may just mean something. Plitt can touch the low-90′s with his fastball with good late bite, and he also has his moments with a breaking ball. He has never been a lost cause on the mound, but he just never could figure it out. Maybe this is just another hot streak by Matt Plitt before he goes back down to earth, or maybe he is hitting another gear as he enters pro ball.
Round 38: Chis DeMorais
Often in the later rounds, you take a player for one tool in hopes that the others can develop to become at least passable. The Rays did that with New Haven outfielder Chris DeMorais in the 38th round, hoping that his contact abilities can carry over as a professional.
DeMorais performed nicely with the bat in his senior season. He put up a .336/.400/.443 line in 36 games for Division II New Haven. As this line shows, DeMorais’ best ability at the plate is his knack for contact. He has smooth swing from the left side, and does a good job of putting the ball in play. He also has a decent plate approach, posting a K-BB ratio of 20-17 this season, and the Rays are hoping it can get even better in the future. As a pro, it DeMorais likely isn’t going to hit for much power. However, a good plate approach and his contact abilities will translate well to the pros.
Defensively, DeMorais isn’t anything special. This season, he would make 5 errors in the outfield en route to an unimpressive .905 fielding percentage. He would also have no assists, though that is probably more of a result of a small sample size, as he has a decently strong arm. DeMorais is better suited for a corner outfield spot given his average speed, and he does have the arm to play some right field.
Overall DeMorais is likely not going to be more than a 4th outfielder as a pro. That being said, he puts the ball in play with regularity, and he also has a good plate approach, both of which will help him out. Chris DeMorais will have to fight hard to turn into something, but the Rays liked him enough to give him a chance to do so.
Round 39: Blake Grant-Parks
Back in the 28th round of the 2011 MLB Draft, the Tampa Bay Rays took a chance on Blake Grant-Parks, a catcher from Yuba City High School in California. They knew it was going to be tough to sign him that late in the draft, but he was a catcher showing abilities across the board and they took a chance to see if they could find the money to get him. In the end, they failed to ink him and he went to Sierra. Now, three years later, Blake Grant-Parks is the same man but finds his career in an entirely different place.
Back in 2011, Grant-Parks had a chance to be a strong two-way catcher. At the plate, he showed bat speed and power, and while his approach was raw, he profiled well alongside previous Rays catcher draft picks like Justin O’Conner and Luke Bailey. Behind the plate, meanwhile, arm strength and athleticism made him stand out. He was also raw there, but that was to be expected. Grant-Parks was going to be a project- that’s the primary reason why he slipped so far- but the reward would be tremendous if he did come through in the end. Unfortunately for Grant-Parks, his upside isn’t nearly that high anymore.
It tells you everything you need to know that the Rays drafted Blake Grant-Parks in the 39th round as a first baseman. They are intrigued enough by him at the plate, but he simply hasn’t progressed enough defensively in three years to have any chance to remain at catcher. Grant-Parks will all the pressure on his bat at first base, and he still needs a lot of development there as well. However, the Rays are selecting him again because he is not yet a lost cause, and let’s see what he can do.
Round 40: Conor Harber
By today’s rules, the 40th round is the final round of the MLB Draft. With their selection there, the Tampa Bay Rays had two options: treat it like an ordinary late-round pick without much potential or take a chance on a player who slipped earlier in the draft. In 2012, the Rays chose the latter route and wound up with an interesting relief prospect in Nick Sawyer because of it. Then they did the same thing this year as they selected right-hander Conor Harber out of Western Nevada Community College.
Harber, 6’2″ and 205 pounds, just finished up his second junior college season and is set to head to Oregon next season as a two-way player if the Rays don’t sign him. The likely scenario is that he does end up a member of the Ducks. However, the Rays will try to put the money together to sign him and may just have a chance. The reason is simple: if you’re a pitching prospect, you want to be developed by the Rays.
Conor Harber’s talent on the mound is clear. Even though he has not yet committed to pitching full-time, he has already touched 93 MPH with good sink and has shown a curveball and changeup as well. His athleticism helps him repeat his delivery and command his fastball well for a player with limited experience on the mound, and his secondary pitches have come along as well. In a relatively rare twist, Harber’s changeup is better than his curveball, featuring a good arm slot and occasional late bite. His curve will require more work, but he’s shown good break on it at time and that is something he can rectify as he moves up the ranks. Harber is a real pitching prospect, and if he is signed, the Rays will surely send him out to start.
If the Rays don’t sign their 40th round pick, Conor Harber, they still made the right pick- and it is not as though they could have selected someone else who would have signed and made a major impact. If they do somehow sign Harber, though, it will be quite the coup. A maneuver like this has already worked once for the Rays, and if they find the money to sign Harber, it could very well work out again.
Hope you enjoyed reading about this year’s Tampa Bay Rays draft picks and come back to Rays Colored Glasses to see how these players’ careers progress.