The Rays took only two college players in the first two days of the draft, and that was their first and second choices. From there it's been a slew of college relievers with great depth pieces mixed in with an OF and a C to round out what could be a stronger draft than recent years.
Why can I say that? Because I'm unfortunately optimistic, yes, but also because I like these draft picks. To highlight why, here's a recap of the high picks for the Rays and the reason each stands out, plus a few stand outs from the lower rounds.
1. CF Garrett Whitley (13th overall)
Best Attribute: Bat Speed
It's curious to me that Whitley fell to the Rays based on questions of his hit tool. He was a worthy choice toward the top-five, and Ian recently said he thought Whitley could have gone first overall. That's a bit generous, but other than the murky reports on the current state of his contact, Whitley is that kind of talent.
The kid is huge, and the kid is fast, but his bat speed is incredible, and that salves my worrying over contact. Baseball America's report also includes "loose wrists" in his swing, which should provide better bat-to-ball skills with time.
Whitley hasn't faced much high-level competition as a high schooler from the north east, but the Rays believe in his ability to adjust. Improve some pitch recognition with time, add in great bat speed, and the contact should follow.
At least, that's my logic.
2. C Chris Betts (52)
Best Attribute: Power
Betts has an impact bat that the Rays rarely target in the draft, at least with success. His bat projects well enough to carry to first base even if catching doesn't work out. That's a good bat! His power is plus by all reports, one of two stand out tools for this physically dominating player. As for the other tool?
Honorable mention: Arm
The reason Chris Betts, the second highest ranked catcher in the draft (and considered in the same range as Whitley on mock boards) fell into the second round was forearm tightness, possibly associated with his elbow. That's an issue when one of your best attributes is plus raw arm strength. His motion could be shortened, but he makes up for it with great pop times.
Scouting Director R.J. Harrison said the team wasn't concerned with the arm injury being structural, and Betts having motivation to start his professional career now will let him get the best possible attention in order to heal as quickly.
The Rays could have two star athletes in these high schoolers, with tools that immediately look like they can carry.
3. 2B Brandon Lowe (87)
Best Attribute: Hitting!
The Rays followed the two long-play talents of high school draftees by drafting straight out of college for the next thirteen picks, and they started that run by going bat-first with a second baseman. I'll let Baseball America chime in on his report:
With elite pitch recognition skills and a disciplined approach at the plate, [...] plus bat speed and the potential for average power, with the ability to pull the ball out to right-center field. Lowe has a high offensive ceiling, especially for a player who projects to stay up the middle.
Dude recently broke his leg, which fits the theme of the 2015 draft as a whole. Great players getting injured scrambled all draft boards. Personally, I felt this pick was a bit early, but if the Rays believe in his bat enough, then I'll defer to the scouts who see all the accolades in the quote above.
4. RHRP Brandon Koch (118)
Best Attribute: Slider
Despite a violent delivery, the Rays took Koch high for his 84-87 mph slider. According to mlb.com it categorically grades among the best breaking balls in the draft, and Baseball America said it might be the best slider in the country. That's a neat trick. Kiley's board ranked him at 101 overall, the Rays took him shortly past that mark.
You can watch his delivery here:
5. OF Joe McCarthy (148)
Best Attribute: Raw-ness
McCarthy's raw power was strong enough to grade him in the top-100 of multiple leaderboards, grading to be a second round pick, and he was undoubtedly the biggest name to be taken in the fifth round. He fell due to back surgery last winter. His swing mechanics leave much to be desired in terms of getting kinetic energy behind the bat, his lower half is quiet, but if his power already impresses then imagine what could be next.
Putting the bat aside (should everything heal up nicely), it may be his foot speed that wows us down the road. He's raw, a blank canvas with a dent in the frame, but he could be something special. Love this pick.
6. RHP Benton Moss (178)
Best Attribute: Potential
Benton Moss has lived. Concluding his senior year, his highs have been a four pitch mix with a fastball at 95, a plus curve, a fooling change, and a slutter to round out the repertoir, but forearm/elbow tightness scuttled his mix down the stretch. The college senior has the building blocks, though, and could be stretched into a starter ready to rise for the Rays.
7. 2B/RHP Jake Cronenworth (208)
Best Attribute: Splitter
Jake Cronenworth is a second baseman.
According to mlb.com, Jake Cronenworth has the best splitter in the 2015 draft.
Baseball is a funny thing, and while (for me) college ball can often feel like amateur hour, it can be quite fun to see guys play the field and then close the game. Cronenworth is cut from that cloth, and the Rays might see a pitcher in him. If they don't, he's a college second baseman who can hit well enough.
8. RHP Reece Karalus (238)
Best Attribute: Command/Control
His offerings may not be plus, but what he does with them outweighs for this sinker/slider pitcher. He's been a reliever for most of his college career, and does well by keeping baseballs in the glove or on the ground. The sinker should play as a professional, so the Rays might have something nice in this college reliever.
9. C Danny De La Calle (268)
Best Attribute: Working with pitchers
When he transferred to Florida State from junior college, the reports on his arm were high, but a more ringing endorsement may be his ability to be the everyday catcher for a college with high standards behind the dish (Buster Posey, Stephen McGee). According to minor reports, he receives well, and his bilingual capabilities are helpful for any catcher. Don't expect him to hit, but this catcher seems competent enough to trudge through the minors.
10. RHP Sam Triece (298)
Best Attribute: ???
Reports say this college senior has a fastball that's wildly effective in the low 90's, and he has the ability to drop in a change, but I haven't found any write ups that say he's a pick worthy of the first ten rounds. Perhaps this was a cost saving maneuver to push more draft pool money to the earlier players like McCarthy and Lowe, who might be tempted by a senior year, or their High School picks at the front of the draft.
11. RHP Ian Gibaut (328)
Best Attribute: FASTBALL
Here's a guy I would have pegged as getting drafted ahead of Sam Triece on paper, but the Rays trust their scouts so let's leave it at that. A closer for his college team, he was ranked at 130 overall by mlb.com and can throw some high heat. A nice get on the third day of the draft. For his part, he looks ready to sign.
13. RHP Nicholas Padilla (388)
Best Attribute: Time
Padilla is 19-years young and a freshman in junior college. He's got a pitcher's body, already 6'2" and all of 225 lbs. but recently underwent Tommy John surgery. His delivery is described as deceptive, and he reportedly has a lively fastball and a mature change, but he snuck through last year's draft without any selections.
Perhaps he went undetected due to his north east status, graduating from high school in the Bronx. Still, the Rays tabbed him for a low-money slot in order to bet on an under-valued player that might have gone in the top ten rounds next season. The team's press release notes Padilla is a JUCO team mate of Dave Martinez's son Dalton.
22. RHP Justin Marsden (658)
Best Attribute: Curveball
Baseball America had this pitcher ranked in the 7th-8th round range, as his breaking ball stands out in the spread sheets. No really, according to their write up, he produced the highest spin rate in any of the four years of data gathered by TrackMan at the Arizona Senior Fall Classic showcase. That'll turn some heads, and so will his attitude.
His heater touches 94, but that steam is coming out of his ears, not off his hand. Take this article for example:
Justin Marsden is steaming with anger as he heads to his seat in the corner of the dugout. He entertains the coaches trying to calm him down, but he's not really listening. This is how he wants it.
He calls it his "Warrior Zone."
"Everybody backs off," the Auburn Mountainview High School senior said. "I go down to the end of the dugout and I just sit there ... nobody comes over and tries to mess with me. It's my zone. And people know — don't get me out of it."
That's the zone he needs to pitch his curve at it's highest potential, more than 3,000 RPM's. The major league average on a curve is 2,400 RPM's. His teammates call him "Warrior." His tattoo of a cross has baseball stitching on it. A quick worker on the mound and a possible nutcase, this kid could be really fun to watch.
High School Power Picks
16. C Joe Davis (478)
27. C Joey Bart (808)
29. 1B Shane Potter (868)
Finally, each of these three players listed has some tantalizing reports for their power, starting with Davis. The home run derby champion of last summer's Area Code games is a DH-prospect, but may be motivated to wait it out and honor his commitment to Houston. His bat projects like a fifth round talent.
MLB.com ranked Bart 134 overall, and Baseball America agreed with a 183 ranking, making him a 4th round talent. Bart is committed to Georgia Tech, and doesn't plan to sign with the Rays, having already turned down offers by teams wanting to pick him up as high as the third round, but it was worth the flier. He has a far more legitimate chance than Davis to stick at catcher.
Finally, Potter was the standout first baseman from the Perfect Game showcase in 2014, and has plenty of thump for a high schooler. He's committed to San Diego State so I'm guessing he's a no-go. Would much rather live there than on a minor league bus.
My other players to watch include:
- 15. RHP Ethan Clark (448) - kid is tall, 6'6"
- 18. CF Landon Cray (538) - strike-zone savvy
- 19. LHP Porter Clayton (568) - former NYY pick
- 21. 3B Matt Dacey (628) - power, probably will sign
- 38. 1B Steven Sensley (1138) - power, probably won't sign
Also worth noting, of the 22 position players taken in the draft two-thirds hit left handed (14), including one switch hitter.
Check out our round up of all 40 picks by the Rays, with some fun facts along the way.