Rays Have Choices with 1st Overall Pick

May 29, 2007 at 8:40 pm 12 comments

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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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12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tim Hays  |  May 29, 2007 at 9:09 pm

    Jonathan,

    If the Rays have all these pitching prospects, why can’t we take a shot with putting some of them in the bull pen to help the big league team? Currently, Juan Salas is the only middle reliever on our team with an ERA under 4… and it is purely luck being that opposing hitters are batting .286 against him. By the time we get all these pitchers in the majors and heping the organization, our great lineup will be past its prime. Is there a reasn we don’t take a chance on letting our young guys get some relief work? thanks.

    -Tim

    Reply
  • 2. Tim Hays  |  May 29, 2007 at 9:12 pm

    Jonathan,

    I was looking at the wrong line for Salas, who has thrown well and his BAA is actually a tremendous .192, but we still need more, sorry for the error on my part.

    -Tim

    Reply
  • 3. MikeMcGinnis  |  May 29, 2007 at 10:13 pm

    you will notice this as a trend with me jonathan. but i would go with the lefty david price. i always take pitching before hitting especially with the way the game has evolved these days. let’s look at david price and what he bring to the table here: he’s a pitcher, he’s lefty and he isn’t represented by scott boras. bingo! we have a winner!

    i am also under the belief that you can never ever have enough pitching and given the pampering (way too much if you ask me) and injury troubles pitchers have nowadays it makes the choice to go for david price even all the more logical. add him to a fine crop you have developing down on that tampa farm and you could really have something there, hopefully.

    Reply
  • 4. Jonathan C. Mitchell  |  May 30, 2007 at 7:55 am

    Tim, I’m not sure why the Rays do this. I’ve been crying for the Rays to get rid of Jae Seo and Casey Fossum all year. They are terrible. Fossum has the highest ERA of any active starter. There are a few factors in not allowing the kids to come up yet.
    1. Salary (of course). Fossum is making $2.75M and Seo is making $1.2M. Trade them for a case of baseballs and get their salary out of the way.
    2. Arbitration eligability. The sooner the kids come up the sooner their clock starts for arbitration. If they bring a kid up before mid-June then he starts his 1st year towards arbitration. If they wait until after mid-June then he won’t start his first year until the next year. It takes players 3yrs to become arbitration eligable. If theRays can make it 3 1/2 yrs they will.
    3. Fear of showing they have given up on the season. I don’t agree with this. To me, they have shown they have given up by allowing these pitchers to stink it up and allowing Elijah Dukes to keep playing.

    I agree they need to bring the kids up soon, but I do agree they need to wait until mid-June for some of them. They should have already brought Hammel and Howell up since they already have major league srevice time. I hope this made sense!

    Reply
  • 5. Jonathan C. Mitchell  |  May 30, 2007 at 7:58 am

    Mike, I agree with you and the concept of never having enough pitching. I still think the Rays will take Price because, well, the Price is right! Ok, that was stupid. Anyways, he fits into their plan and they seem to be patient with Dioner Navarro becoming the catcher of the future. I still think they should go for the Joe Mauer type because they only come along once in while.

    Reply
  • 6. K. G.  |  May 30, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    Tim, Navarro needs a lot of seasoning and I have not seen anything from him to tell me that he is the future for anyone. What about Navarro has he shown you that is so like-able? He doesn’t hit for multiple games at a time and is an automatic out and then once in a while he has a decent game on offense. He’s like a younger worse Toby Hall. At least Toby was good in the community. Neither calls a good game and Toby did not put up a very good target putting up his glove at the last second. Toby threw guys out at second better than Navarro though…. Both are really slow on the base paths.

    Sean Riggans has been the best Rays catcher out of spring training for the past two seasons. I’ve been saying that, but it was nice to hear the Rays TV announcers say that the other day as well. The only reason I can think of that he hasn’t started out with the big club is as you mentioned the service time issue if that applies to him. I thought for sure Riggans would start with the big club this year and I was very happy for him and the Rays, but apparently I under estimated their ability to think cheaply.

    Have you not seen Riggans? Riggans is not a liability on the base paths, calls the best game and has some intangibles kind of like Wigginton, Harris and Aki.

    So far Navarro looks like a bust to me at least in the short term. Riggans calls a better game and he did so better than Toby Hall when he was here as well. I think Riggans is pressing a little now that he is up finally due to J. Pauls injury, but if he gets the chance he will settle down and should stay up as the starting catcher and when Paul gets healthy it’s Navarro who should go down. Riggans should have started with the big club and looks like the catcher of today and the future and if I was pitching Riggans is the guy I’d want as my catcher.

    After the year if they don’t want to keep all of these guys they can try to trade who they can or let go who they must, but Sean Riggans is excellent and won awards for his play in the minors last year and was hitting nearly .300 there this year and has nothing left to prove in the minors.

    The pre-season fantasy baseball info that I saw had Riggans rated way above the other Rays catchers and he was being looked at like a possible Rookie of the Year candidate.

    That catcher in the draft better be better than Mauer and then the Rays would have to decide if they want Riggans and he to compete and otherwise would have to trade or do something with Navarro or whomever they decide not to keep. Cassanova looked better than Navarro in Spring Training.

    But these are the same guys who decided to give away Josh Hamilton because they had to keep people I never heard of like Elliot Johnson. Hows Elliot doing now and where in the plans does he fit? We can only hope the Reds can’t find away to keep Josh all year and that he has to be given back to the Rays who can play him at first base or where ever they want. But that doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

    Of course the Rays need tons of pitching and have locked up the third base situation with Longoria, so that said they will no doubt draft the third baseman (or the catcher with Riggans already ahead of him).

    When Longoria comes up which should be later this year or next year (but probably won’t be for three more years) he of course should play third, but I believe Aki should move to second and eventually trades need to be made for bullpen and possibly starter help as I don’t see all of those kids coming up and being ready all at once and at the same time. So between Cantu, Gomes, Dukes, and (I hate to say this) Baldelli etc, somebody or some of them need to be traded for pitching.

    Then Upton (unless he’s the one or one of the ones who’s traded) goes to CF with Dukes in the rotation. Pena plays first and Wiggy becomes the DH/super utility guy. For Upton to stay at second the Rays will have to trade Aki which perhaps was their idea anyway figuring Longoria could come up and by then Aki’s value would have gone up (with more MLB clubs having had a chance to see him and pay more attention to him) and they would make out well on their “investment.” They are investers and perhaps want to run a baseball team that way. Aki might make the best trade bait and if the Rays are going to continue to act like they don’t plan to try to win until the big club is stocked with young winning pitchers from the farm system then they might feel they don’t need to keep (relatively from their perspective) high priced free agents if they can turn them into multiple talented prospects.

    I’d hate to see Aki go as guys with intangibles like that don’t come around everyday and somebody has to lead the Rays by example and leaderships is not coming from the dugout.

    I foresee a big sale on Rays again this July as well.

    But until the Rays get a major league pitching staff (a veteran to lead the staff of kids might be necessary, like a Maddux) we are doomed to be in the race for the number one pick every year.

    If the Rays would have kept Todd Jones (couldn’t make the Rays and went on to do well everywhere he’s been before the Rays and since), Joe Borrowski, perhaps even Roberto Hernadez (he’s better than everyone they have except perhaps Reyes) they would not have the bullpen problems they have now and the Rays would have a lock on second place right now in the AL East. But the Rays probably figure what’s the use in winning a little bit now since they won’t make the playoffs and will only hurt their chances at drafting higher next year which apparently is the only way they plan on improving the team. Plus I don’t think they believe they have talented scouts so by picking so high they don’t need good scouts because everyone tells everyone who the top prospects are. That’s why we see all of these young talented kids who the Rays had a shot at drafting tearing up the MLB with other teams like Lirano (last year when he was healthy and will do again), Verlander, Papelbon, Lincecom, their old ball boy now with the Blue Jays etc.

    Of course winning some now would put more people in the seats, but I guess they can be patient since this is only year two for them.

    I’m sure other teams are hoping the Rays don’t draft Price just like when they didn’t draft Beckett.

    A little off subject is: I guess Joel Guzman will have to wait awhile as well. Why did they let go the International League MVP Kevin Witt for nothing? I’m sure some team could use his services and they could’ve gotten something for him. They’re lucky they got Pena, Reyes and Harris. Two years ago they were lucky when they got Borrowski and they let him go. Last year they were lucky the got Wiggy and I’m glad they did not make that mistake again and kept Wigginton.

    Reply
  • 7. Jonathan C. Mitchell  |  May 30, 2007 at 9:48 pm

    Well put K.G.! I agree with a lot of what you said. I personally don’t see Riggans as the catcher of the future. I do think he is better than Navarro and Paul though. I personally like John Jaso (currently hitting .317/.399/.511 at AA) but he’s not quite ready on defense. The Kevin Witt deal was that he was a free agent and chose to go elsewhere. We really do need to sure up our bullpen and I believe we need to deal a Cantu, Gomes, or Dukes for a reliever that we can use for a couple of years. As for Elliott Johnson, he is hitting only .194 in AAA and needs to cut down on being caught stealing (caught 18 times in 38 tries last season in AA).

    Thanks for the comment! Keep em coming!

    Reply
  • 8. K. G.  |  June 1, 2007 at 7:39 am

    I don’t know what anyone who’s seen Riggans play would not like about the way he plays. Unless after plenty of time Riggans proves that for some reason he can hit very well at AAA, but not at the MLB level and Jaso (who I’ve not seen and I don’t know much about – which is why I read pages like this – has he been to the Rays Spring Training?) comes along and plays as quick and well defensively and calls a game as well, but out hits Riggans (which is a lot of ifs and as you said quite a while away) then of course he’d be more of the catcher of the future for the Rays. The only downside I could imagine is Riggans might have a little tougher time blocking the plate since he’s not huge like some catchers, but then because of that he is not a liability on the base-paths and that comes into play more of the time.

    All I know is I’ve followed the Rays from day one (I had been waiting for the MLB to put a franchise in the Tampa Bay area for many years prior since moving down as a kid from the championship city area, but since I want pro sports here I feel the need to support the teams from here) and Riggans is the best I’ve seen followed by Flahrety, Difelice, Paul, Hall, Navarro…(o.k. maybe it’s a little early to put him above Flaherty but he still seems more energetic and into the game then any of them at this point).

    So if Jaso is that good (and if you can follow all of the Rays at all levels that’s awesome – or are you just following their stats on-line?) that’s all the more reasoning that the Rays don’t need a catcher unless he’s better than (or at least as good as) Mauer.

    I think the question that has to be asked is if the Rays had Mauer or Verlander (or some other talented successful pitcher like that) which one would help the Rays win more? I realize the pitcher only plays once every five days, but one like that wins much of the time and the Rays offense is doing quite well already and Longoria etc, are already on the way.

    If they wait too long for pitching because this year they feel the need to stock the catching position, eventually they will be too late with pitching to be successful for players like CC. Eventually they’ll need to add a couple of free agent pieces if they are ever to seriously consider contending and what is harder to get pitching or position players? I would think pitching is harder and more expensive to acquire and more of a crap shoot. Look at how Zito’s been doing and how Wilson Alvarez etc, have done for the Rays.

    It does appear that the Rays are hurting more for pitching more desperately. It seems they went way too far with the “lets draft our position players first then we’ll get around to the pitching” strategy. Either that or obviously they are either very poor at scouting pitching and or worse at developing pitching or both.

    Are there anymore older pitchers that are currently coaching at a school somewhere ready to try the big leagues? Nice Disney story, but the Rays need more talented pitching to put in the core players category. I think the really talented players don’t need someone else to develop them that much. That’s why they stand out as really talented. The talent already shows and doesn’t have to be cultivated out of the player.

    So therefore how can the Rays not pick Price? It sounds like even the price is right since he doesn’t have the wrong agent.

    The question then becomes how quickly should he be brought up and where in the rotation will he pitch? Third? Who gets bumped and does another pitcher or more move up from the minors and if so whom?

    I can’t wait for Price’s arrival and for the Rays to be stocked with hidden gems as well from this draft. Where do you see the Rays drafting next year?

    I hope you all and others rate the Rays draft (as deep as you can and way beyond the first round).

    How much difference do you see in the first two Rays Front Offices and how much input do you see coming from Hunsicker and Zimmer and how would you rate them and the Rays scouts?

    Do you all also post these article notices and otherwise post and answer threads on the Rays official web site message board?

    Thanks for your insight (and who are the three guys in addition to Tim who started the article and do you each focus on different sports or do you all focus on them equally?) and keep up the good work.

    Reply
  • 9. K. G.  |  June 1, 2007 at 7:42 am

    My mistake. Jon wrote the original article.

    p.s. …this site posts on pacific time…hmmm….

    Reply
  • 10. Jonathan C. Mitchell  |  June 1, 2007 at 10:58 am

    K.G., you really do love your Rays! I honestly like Riggans a lot. I think he should play over Navarro. But I do think the Rays need a “catcher of the future” and I’m not sure Riggans fits teh bill. Riggans is about to turn 27 and he doesn’t posses a very good BB/K ratio (27/88 last year in AAA and 4/27 this year in AAA). I also don’t think the Rays will take Wieters, but I really think they should. This year is stacked with good catching but it will all be gone before the Rays pick again at 65!

    I have followed the Rays throughout for a while. Jaso is legit at the plate but needs more time behind it. He hit .309/.362/.451 last year with 22 doubles, 10 homers, 55 RBI, 58 runs, 31/48 BB/K ratio in 366 AA at-bats at age 22. He is currently at .329/.407/.517 in 143 at-bats 21 runs ,30 RBI, 12 doubles, 5 homers, and a 17/25 BB/K ratio. He is very similar in build to Riggans (6’2 205, Riggans 6’2 215) but is almost 4 years younger. The only reason I can’t tab him as the catcher of the future is his lack of defense. He may end up at 1B before it’s all said and done.

    The only other catching prospect I can think of is Matthew Spring and he is opposite of Jaso. He can play behind the plate and call a good game but can’t hit.

    Ultimately I think the Rays will chose Price because of signability and the fact that pitching is expensive and hard to come by these days.

    The other guys that write are Mike McGinnis (radio host from NY), Buddy Wood (working on his first article, he focuses on college football and the NFL), and Mike Hall (he is probably the best writer of us all but is two semesters away from finishing up at the University of South Florida and is pressed for time. He has currently only done one article since the launch of the site, he did many prior to it on our Myspace last year.

    Thanks again for your comment! Keep em coming and I honestly hope you are right on about Riggans!

    Reply
  • 11. K. G.  |  June 4, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    Greetings,

    I look forward to your review of the draft hopefully including grades and what if anything differently the Rays should have done in the draft and if you think they are heading in the right direction, going nowhere or going backwards.

    If you think the Rays are heading in the right direction what year do you think they’ll make the playoffs, who do you think will be on the roster and how far do you think they will go and when do you think they will be serious contenders…?

    Cheers. Keep up the good work.

    p.s. I’m not sure if I asked this already but do you know what is going on with Chuck Tiffany and what do you expect will happen with him?

    p.p.s. well if that is the case and you believe the Rays will choose Price, hopefully a catcher deeper in the draft gets picked and develops or this year the Rays get stocked with more than enough pitching and next year they find the next Mauer….

    p.p.p.s. …again like most people who live here I moved here from up north, but since I want pro-sports here I feel the need to support the current hometown team and not just take the easy way out like the so many fair-weathered fans we have down here that root for their old team when they are doing well and then say they were Tampa Bay fans the whole time once the Tampa Bay team (Bucs, Lightning and hopefully the Rays) does well. Of course they don’t show much support and when they do it’s mostly to support their old team when they show up, but if pro-sports did leave this area they would be mad, but have no one to blame but themselves (and cheap non-supporting local team owners and in the case of baseball the ridiculously unfair system of allowing certain to teams to spend what ever they want while other teams either can’t or don’t want to and so they should have a real salary cap and perhaps a salary floor as well, but also the schedule should also be like the NFL fair system of the weaker teams getting weaker schedules and the stronger teams getting harder schedules etc).

    Reply
  • 12. K. G.  |  June 7, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    The Price was right! The Orioles picked the catcher you mentioned and I understand he is a Boras client as was Wade Townsend who did not sign with the O’s and then signed with the Rays the following year, so perhaps that can happen again…!

    Reply

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