The Devil Rays announced on Monday that they have signed their second round pick in the 2007 draft, Will Kline out of the University of Mississippi. Kline, the highest pick yet to come to terms with Tampa Bay, will be at Tropicana Field on Tuesday to throw a bullpen session. It would be reasonable to assume that he will report to Short Season Hudson Valley.
Kline's drafting by the Rays was perhaps the team's most controversial pick of the draft. Some panned the apparent signability pick as a vast overdraft, while others criticized Tampa Bay's draft strategy that was heavy on pitchers. The Rays drafted pitchers in each of the first four rounds of the draft, and the team drafted 34 total in a draft that many wanted to see used to re-stock the farm system's position player depths.
Not all scouts disliked the Rays' pick. Former Toronto front office official Keith Law had Kline pegged as the 77th best prospect in the draft and Baseball America had him as the fifth best prospect in Mississippi, though not among their Top 200 overall.
Kline throws a fastball, slider, and change-up. His fastball touches sits in the 88-92 mph range, while the MLB Scouting Bureau grades out his 80-82 mph slider and change-up as below average and average, respectively. His fastball is reputed to have fringy-average life, and his control is deemed average. According to the bureau he mixes his pitches well but needs to be more consistent with them. Baseball America says that Kline's breaking ball has slurvy action, but praises his competitiveness, command, durability, and mechanics, as well as his ability to move the ball throughout the strike zone.
Kline's draft stock seemed to rise as the season went on, although statistically he was actually worse in the season's second half. The Rays probably got wind of him when he locked horns with 1st round pick David Price in an SEC showdown in Nashville on March 16th. While Price went 10 innings and struck out 14 for the eventual 10 inning Vanderbilt win, Kline matched him inning for inning through eight, and he finished having surrendered two runs on four hits over 8.1 innings of work, walking three, striking out six and hitting a batter over 117 pitches.
During Ole Miss' Super Regional an opposing coach was quoted as saying that his fastball is mostly a 90-92 mph pitch. That coach also said that his change and breaking ball were "really good" and "good", while adding that he had late action on all of his pitches. PG Crosschecker adds that Kline's most effective pitch is his change, especially against left-handed batters. Though his fastball is generally reputed to be between 88-92 mph as a starter, it was seen touching 95 mph in relief last year, and some scouts thing that the bullpen is where Kline eventually will be.
Kline, 23 on August 10th, had Tommy John surgery before his senior year of high school, where he was a two sport star. The Scouting Bureau says that he is fully recovered from that injury and that his mechanics lend doubt to the probability of a repeat performance. He redshirted his freshman year at Ole Miss, and made just 15 relief appearances in 2005 for the Rebels. Kline has been pitching a normal workload since moving into the rotation in 2006, when he made six starts and 16 relief appearances. He put up a 3.71 ERA over 61 innings of work, striking out a team-high 76 and walking just 22.
This season, Kline's first as a starter only, he threw exactly 100 innings of work while putting up a 4.05 ERA. He had a 9.54 K/9, a 3.42 BB/9, and an 8.55 H/9. Perhaps most impressive was the fact that he surrendered just five home runs all season. Opponents were held to a .246/.326/.326 line against Kline this year, a line that comes down to .186/.267/.214 against LHB. For whatever reason, Kline's ERA was exceptionally high at home this season, as he pitched to an ERA of six over 48 innings of work.
It is fair to say that the success of Kline will be a pretty large indicator of the success of this draft. His selection inspired more debate than any other, and the Rays' overall strategy of selecting college pitchers is exemplified by this pick. Panned as an overdraft by some, a savvy market inefficiency pick by others, Kline inspired no middle ground with his selection. It is fair to say that he is the most high profile example of the Rays' overall 2007 draft strategy, and whether he succeeds or not will be integral in determining the success of this draft.
[editor's note, by Patrick L. Kennedy] Special credit to Dan McAvoy of RaysBaseball.com for the invaluable resource that is his draft day bio posts. He does that every year for each of our picks on draft day, and if it weren't for him our knowledge of Rays picks would be at a bare minimum. A lot of the scouting info you see above comes from him. So a big thank you to him for aggregating information on nearly all of our picks, and you can see his work on each of our pick via the draft box links on our sidebar. Among the things I did in the latest site upgrades was introduce a box that displays each of our 50 draft picks with a link to their RaysBB bios, as well as an indicator of whether they have signed or not.