The Tampa Bay Rays know their baseball. They put together another dominant draft with a great story at the end.
I recently wrote about how the Tampa Bay Rays operate as the Mr. Spock of Major League Baseball, shutting out the emotions of the Jim Kirk in us all and relying on logic.
"Tampa Bay Rays: Draft is example of how Rays are Spock of the MLB"
Their reliance and trust in their analytics and information led them to draft a future ace when no other team had the courage to do so because he had never pitched beyond his sophomore year in high school.
Despite the reliance on cold, hard logic, there was one heartwarming tale that was told on Thursday night.
Jeff Hakanson grew up rooting for the Rays, attending games at Tropicana Field, and pitching for Jesuit High School in Tampa.
As a high school reliever, the Rays didn’t know he existed, but he knew they did. You have to imagine he would leave “The Trop” and daydream about playing there someday.
Hakanson went on to the University of Central Florida where he continued to come out of the bullpen. He found that he had an aptitude for shutting opponents down in high-pressure situations. He eventually became their closer, and even shut down ninth-ranked Auburn in back-to-back outings in spectacular fashion earlier this season.
"“I actually became a reliever in high school, as weird as that is,” Hakanson said. “I really just had a knack for it to get out of tough spots. So, it just kind of stuck.”"
With just 160 total picks in the 2020 draft, Hakanson entered the final day undrafted and uncertain about his future. As teams mowed through their selections, Hakanson was mowing through his fingernails with his teeth.
"“I was definitely getting a little nervous there towards the end, definitely starting to sweat a little bit.”"
The team may not have noticed him while he was pitching for Jesuit High, but they certainly took notice when he emerged as one of the top collegiate relievers in the nation.
In 2019 he struck out 52 batters in just 26.2 innings and in the abbreviated 2020 season he added 20 more Ks in just 8.1 innings. He was tied for the lead in saves with six when the season abruptly came to an end.
His favorite team, his hometown team, the Tampa Bay Rays were up with the 155th pick of the 160-pick draft.
“With the 155th pick of the 2020 Major League Baseball Draft, the Tampa Bay Rays select Jeff Hakanson. We look forward to seeing him back at Tropicana Field, only this time it’s on our dime!”
Those were not the actual words, but I’m sure it seemed like something along those lines in his head. It was a heartwarming story, but Jeff Hakanson is no sentimental draft choice. This kid is nasty on the mound.
Over his last two seasons at UCF he struck out 72 hitters in just 35 innings with 12 saves. In the abbreviated season of 2020, he showed extreme improvement in his command and struck out an astonishing 21.6 batters per nine innings.
The Rays were thrilled to take him in the fifth round and he was thrilled to become a part of his favorite team.