The 2015 MLB Draft will begin on June 8th and mock drafts are already in full swing. The Tampa Bay Rays will have their first selection at 13th overall, the earliest that they have picked since 2007, after moving up one spot when the San Diego Padres gave up their first rounder to sign ex-Ray James Shields. They have selected a position player with their first pick in each of their last three drafts, but this time, they could be eyeing a starting pitcher.
In their second mock draft, Baseball America has the Rays selecting Missouri State right-hander Jon Harris. That was quite a shift from the first mock, where high school outfielder Garrett Whitley was the Rays’ projected pick. The Rays have liked taking prep players in the first round for a long time, but they have been leaning more towards the college ranks early in the draft in recent years. Should we expect that trend to continue?
If the Rays were to select a high school player, an outfielder would make sense. Their system is loaded in the middle infield, but the outfield is another story, with Mikie Mahtook, Boog Powell, Tyler Goeddel, and Johnny Field headlining a questionable group. It is also worth noting that all four of those players are at Double-A or above–Thomas Milone, Justin Williams, and Bralin Jackson are the best the Rays have at the lower levels, but each of them has clear flaws.
Baseball America says that scouts are souring on Whitley, who at his best was considered to have impressive tools across the board other than his throwing arm. A prospect who could stick in centerfield with a quick bat, power potential, and blazing speed is always impressive, but the question is always going to be how much better Whitley is than the prep outfielder the Rays could get in the second round. Whitley could also demand an above-slot bonus while a college pitcher could fill a need while also signing for less to facilitate higher-upside picks later in the draft.
Jon Harris is an example of one such pitcher that the Rays could target. The 21 year old is a 6’4″, 190 right-hander that is 6-1 with a 2.08 ERA for Missouri State this season, striking out 99 while walking 29 in 82.1 innings pitched. He stands out for a fastball in the 91-95 MPH range, a big-breaking curveball, and two more solid pitches in his slider and changeup. He throws all four of his pitches out a deceptive motion that makes them seem to jump at hitters.
The negatives for Harris, meanwhile, are that he has some effort in his delivery and doesn’t always command his pitches well. He is a college pitcher with more room to grow than most of his peers–especially if a team like the Rays can continue refining his changeup–but he also may need a little more time in the minor leagues. Other college arms that the Ray could consider include Walker Buehler, James Kaprielian, and Kyle Funkhouser. The former two are safer but have less upside while Funkhouser has better stuff but is more enigmatic.
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From the Rays’ standpoint, Jon Harris makes the most sense out of that group for a few different reasons. They want a pitcher who could enter their rotation mix relatively quickly, but they are loaded with number three and four starters and someone with more upside would be nice. Harris toes the line between safety and potential quite well. Selecting him at 13th overall might be a slight overdraft in the eyes of some, but if that would be enough to get him to sign for below slot value, that could be worthwhile. After all, the Rays are hoping to target plenty of high-upside high school players between the second and tenth rounds, and they need all the money they can get in order to do so.
We will have to see what changes between now and the draft, but Jon Harris seems like a good fit for the Tampa Bay Rays’ selection at 13th overall. He is worth checking in to see how he is doing in the coming weeks, although we will certainly hear plenty of other names connected to the Rays as well. Do any other players stand out to you as potential Rays picks?