Tampa Bay Rays First-Round MLB Draft History
By Kasey Kuhrts
It’s draft day in the NFL and I imagine lots of Tampa Bay Rays fans will be tuning in, especially since the Rays played this afternoon.
I imagine most who read on Rays Colored Glasses are Tampa Bay Bucs fans, and Bucs fans will likely have to wait all night to see their first-round draft selection, unless they trade up.
As for me, I am a Jaguars fan. It’s an exciting day here in Duval as Jacksonville turns to Trevor Town.
But that’s enough of that, I thought it would be fun on the day of the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft to look back at the past ten Tampa Bay Rays first-round draft selections. Now I should mention beforehand, this list might make you sad.
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With the 25th pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, the Tampa Bay Rays select Richie Shaffer.
The first selection we are looking at is Richie Shaffer. Shaffer was picked as a third baseman out of Clemson University and is one of the few players on this list who made an impact.
Shaffer made his debut in 2015 for the Tampa Bay Rays. Most will remember this moment, Shaffer’s first MLB hit.
Shaffer went on to play only 51 games in his MLB career, all for the Tampa Bay Rays, where he hit .213 with 5 home runs, and 10 RBI’s.
Players selected after Shaffer? Jose Berrios, Mitch Haniger, Joey Gallo, and Lance McCullers.
With the 21st pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, the Tampa Bay Rays select Nick Ciuffo.
Nick Ciuffo was selected out of Lexington High School in Lexington, South Carolina in what was a “need pick.”
At the time the Tampa Bay Rays had no catching depth, or a decent major league option. Ciuffo was a bit of a reach in my opinion, and apparently, I wasn’t wrong.
Ciuffo made his debut in September of 2018 and played 16 games in 2018. Ciuffo would play three more games in 2019, totaling to 19 in his Tampa Bay Rays, and MLB career. Ciuffo was a career .186 hitter, with 1 home run, and 5 RBI’s.
Players selected after Ciuffo? Aaron Judge, Sean Manaea, and Corey Knebel.
With the 29th pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, the Tampa Bay Rays select Ryne Stanek.
Finally, a household name, sorta. Ryne Stanek was selected out of the University of Arkansas with a compensatory first-round pick. The Tampa Bay Rays received the pick after losing B.J. Upton in free agency.
Stanek made his MLB debut in May of 2017 and was a staple in the Rays pen through 2019.
In his career in Tampa Stanek pitched to a 3.55 ERA in 121 games.
Stanek became well known as “The Opener” by Tampa Bay Rays fans. Something that took the rest of the league by storm.
The Tampa Bay Rays even gave away a Ryne Stanek Bottle Opener.
At the trading deadline in 2019 Stanek, along with highly-rated prospect Jesus Sanchez, were traded to the Miami Marlins in exchange for Nick Anderson and Trevor Richards.
Stanek became a free agent after the 2020 season with Miami, and signed a deal with the Houston Astros this past offseason.
So far on the season Stanek is pitching to a 2.19 ERA in 12 games with Houston.
With the 20th pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, the Tampa Bay Rays select Casey Gillaspie.
Finally, a guy with a great name.
Casey Gillaspie was selected as a first baseman out of Wichita State University.
In his first couple minor-league seasons Gillaspie looked promising. He hit .278 with 16 home runs in 2015 with single-A Bowling Green.
In 2016 split between AA and AAA Gillaspie hit .284 with 18 home runs, and 64 RBI’s. Gillaspie looked like we would be a member of the big-league club sooner rather than later.
However, something happened in 2017. Gillaspie hit only .210 in 95 games with AAA Durham, and that was enough for the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Tampa Bay Rays traded Gillaspie at the deadline in 2017 to the Chicago White Sox for Dan Jennings.
Gillaspie spent the entire 2018 season in the White Sox AAA organization, hitting only .220.
Gillaspie was released after the 2019 season and has played Independent League ball since 2019.
Players drafted after Gillaspie? Matt Chapman, Jack Flaherty, and Alex Verdugo.
With the 13th pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, the Tampa Bay Rays select Garrett Whitley.
You might be thinking, who? Yeah, pretty much.
Garrett Whitley was selected by the Tampa Bay Rays as an outfielder from Niskayuna High School in Niskayuna, New York.
We won’t spend much time on this. Whitley played parts of three seasons in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, never above single-A Bowling Green.
Players drafted after Whitley? Walker Buehler, Mike Soroka, Ke’Bryan Hayes, and Austin Riley. Pain.
With the 13th pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, the Tampa Bay Rays select Josh Lowe.
Josh Lowe is a name Tampa Bay Rays fans should be familiar with. Lowe is currently the 12th prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays organization according to MLB.com, and the brother of Nate.
Lowe was drafted as a third baseman out of Pope High School in East Cobb, Georgia. A baseball hotbed.
After coming to the Tampa Bay Rays Lowe has moved to the outfield and has been playing center field.
Lowe has yet to play above AA ball, but likely would have started the season in Durham last year, if there would have been a minor league season.
In 2019 with AA Montgomery Lowe hit .252 with 18 home runs, and 62 RBI’s. Along with that, Lowe got on base at a .341 clip, and stole 30 bases.
Lowe will likely start the 2021 minor-league season in AAA and might even make it to Tampa at some point this season.
Also, something to mention. Although Lowe was selected in 2016, he won’t turn 24 until February of 2022.
Players drafted after Lowe? Justin Dunn, Gavin Lux, and Will Smith.
With the 4th pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, the Tampa Bay Rays select Brendan McKay.
I’m sure you know the story, so I’ll just give a quick refresh.
Brendan McKay was selected as a first baseman/pitcher out of the University of Louisville.
McKay flew through the Tampa Bay Rays system making his debut just over two years after he was selected.
After the call-up in 2019 McKay both hit and pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays.
McKay hit in seven games in 2019 for the Rays, going 2-for-10 with a home run.
On the mound McKay pitched in 13 games, 11 starts, with a 5.14 ERA. He also did this, which was pretty cool.
McKay was expected to be a big part of the 2020 Tampa Bay Rays, but that didn’t go as planned.
McKay missed the first part of 2020 after a positive COVID-19 test. McKay was able to begin workouts again in early August, but was shut down quickly after shoulder tightness.
McKay underwent surgery in August to repair a labrum issue and hasn’t been back on the mound since.
McKay will likely be a part of the 2021 Tampa Bay Rays at some point, and although he looked promising at times in 2019, the jury is still out on McKay.
Players selected after McKay? Kyle Wright, Keston Hiura, and Jo Adell.
With the 16th pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, the Tampa Bay Rays select Matthew Liberatore.
This one will be quick.
Matthew Liberatore was selected as a pitcher out of Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale, Arizona.
Liberatore was the key part of the trade that brought Randy Arozarena and Jose Martinez to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Players selected after Liberatore? Brady Singer, Nico Hoerner, and Shane McClanahan.
With the 22nd pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, the Tampa Bay Rays select Greg Jones.
Greg Jones was selected as a shortstop out of the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
After Jones was signed the Tampa Bay Rays sent him to short-season A ball in Hudson Valley. In 48 games with Hudson Valley Jones hit .335 with 19 stolen bases.
Now obviously a couple things here, with no 2020 minor league season, Jones is a long way away from the show. But in the little time we have seen him, he has looked promising.
Jones is currently 9th overall prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays system according to MLB.com.
With the 24th pick of the 2020 MLB Draft, the Tampa Bay Rays select Nick Bitsko.
Nick Bitsko was drafted as a right-handed pitcher out of Central Bucks High School in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
Without playing a single minor-league game Bitsko is ranked as the 11th best prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays system according to MLB.com.
Shortly after signing with the Tampa Bay Rays Bitsko experienced some soreness in his throwing shoulder. This led to the team shutting him down, and eventually having surgery.
Bitsko should return at some point in the 2021 season, but it will likely be 2023-24 before we hopefully see Bitsko in the show.
Well, there it is. Some good, some not so good. Obviously first-round picks in the NFL play a much bigger role immediately than they do in the MLB.
If they so choose, the Tampa Bay Rays players can watch the NFL Draft tonight. They won’t have to travel after the conclusion of a four-game set with the Oakland Athletics. They will await the Houston Astros to come into Tampa, and start a three-game set with them Friday at 7:10 PM EST.