Sports Outside the Beltway

Rays Have Choices with 1st Overall Pick

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*Live from ESPN the 2007 MLB Draft*

“With the first overall pick in the 2007 MLB draft the Tampa Bay Devil Rays select…

Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said they have narrowd their pick down to three finalists: Vanderbilt lefty David Price, Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters, and California high school third baseman Josh Vitters. “I’ve gone and had lunch or dinner with all three of them and the area scouts that are involved, and that’s where we’re at in the process,” Harrison said.

The Rays also aren’t worried about drafting someone who has to be on the “fast track”.

“I think that when you start talking about any of these amateur players being close or immediate help, I think you’re making decisions based on the wrong thing,” Harrison said. “I guess conventional wisdom would say, OK, I guess an advanced college player is a little bit closer to the big leagues than a high school player, but I don’t think you make that choice based upon thinking that guy’s going to be catching for us a year from now or whatever. I think you’ve got to get them in the system and let development take its course.”

If the Rays go with David Price, most experts say they will, he won’t be on the fast track to the majors but might pitch his way on quickly. Price has been very impressive for top ranked Vanderbilt this year. As of last week Price was 10-0 with a 2.76 ERA in 15 starts, he has only walked 29 and struck out 164 in 114 innings. Plus Price is not a Boras client. Price seems to be the best selection here.

“I think that our goal all along has been that we’re going to take the guy that we think’s the best prospect in the draft,” Harrison said. “That’s what we’ve narrowed this down to. “…Funny things can happen. … So to stand here and say, ‘That’s our guy,’ I think, is a little premature.”

With that said, could the Rays go after high school 3B Josh Vitters? Some scouts believe he has the most raw power (I think Micheal Burgess does), and most agree that he is the best overall hitter at the high school level. He can handle the leather and is a good athlete. What’s not to like? I can’t think of anything. The only problem is that the Rays have their 3B of the future in Evan Longoria and they currently have Japanese import Akinori Iwamura blocking him. I personally don’t see Vitters going to the Rays with the first pick. He will go in the first 4 picks though.

“My pick for the best player in this draft, Wieters is 92-94 mph off the mound, but he’s a prospect as a catcher: a switch-hitter who sprays the field with line drives and shows home run power from the left side, and a capable catcher with a laser arm.” – Scouts Inc’s Keith Law.

Why not Matt Wieters? I know, the first thing that comes to people’s minds when people discuss the problems the Rays have is pitching. So the obvious choice is to grab David Price. Right? Not so fast. If the Rays select Wieters, who could be up in the majors as early as September or by mid-June next season, the Rays could have a lineup from top to bottom that would look like this (asuming they re-sign Pena and Wigginton):

1. Rocco Baldelli – CF
2. B.J. Upton – 2B
3. Carl Crawford – LF
4. Ty Wigginton – 1B/DH
5. Delmon Young – RF
6. Evan Longoria – 3B
7. Carlos Pena – 1B/DH
8. Reid Brignac – SS
9. Matt Wieters – C
Bench – Akinori Iwamura – 3B/2B

That is a lineup that could bop with the big boys. Wieters is also a very good defensive catcher, timed around 2 seconds from home to 2B, sometimes under 2 seconds. He calls a good game, and is an offensive force. One scout said he is the closest thing to Joe Mauer at catcher around. Not something to be taken lightly. The one bad thing on his resume: he is a Scott Boras client.

The Rays aren’t as far away in their pitching as some people think. They have Andy Sonnanstine (6-3, 2.35, 65/13 in 65 IP) Mitch Talbot, Jason Hammel (2.85, 61/22 in 66.1 IP), Jeff Niemann (57/20 in 53.1 IP), and J.P. Howell (64/18 in 63.2 IP) in AAA. James Houser (3-0 2.39), Chris Mason (7-1, 2.39, 59/14 in 64.0 IP), Chuck Tiffany, and Chris Seddon in AA.

The best is in Vero Beach (HiA Ball) with two guys I think will be Cy Young contenders: Wade Davis (3-0, 1.69 and 58/16 in 58.2 IP), Jake McGee (4-1, 1.84 and 61/21 in 53.2 IP), plus Matt Walker and Michael Wlodarczyk. Then there is Jeremy Hellickson (2-1, 2.79 in 29.0 IP with 24 SO), Heath Rollins (6-0, 1.04 and 66/14 in 60.1 IP), and Joshua Butler (3-1 2.41 ) in LoA.

Wow! That is a ton of pitching on its way for the Rays. The popular saying is “you can never have too much pithching” but how often does a Joe Mauer-esque catcher come along? I think the Rays should take a shot and draft their catcher of the future.

…Matt Wieters, catcher out of Georgia Tech.”

-Jonathan C. Mitchell

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