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Rays draft 2016: Up-the-middle position targets

A look at some of the best players at the premium positions.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays hold four of the first 90 picks in Thursday's MLB draft, and while this class is thought to be somewhat weaker than years prior, there are still plenty of intriguing prospects. Many teams believe in drafting 'up-the-middle' position players, and given that the best prep players are usually deployed at catcher, middle infield, and center field, this probably makes sense. Here are some of the most interesting prospects across those positions.

Stay tuned for more draft previews this week in advance of its June 9 start.


Zach Collins

The crop of college catchers is relatively weak in this year's draft. Collins, the 21-year old Pembroke Pines, Florida product, is widely thought to be the most advanced college hitter in the draft. As a junior at the University of Miami, Collins has slashed .353/.528/.607 and hit 12 home runs. He's regarded as a patient hitter -- he's walked far more than he's struck out in 2016 -- and has a large frame that projects 25-plus home-run potential in the major leagues.

The question mark regarding Collins is whether he can remain a catcher. Some scouts believe he can -- he has a good arm and moves well enough, but there is some consensus that his bat is well ahead of his defense. Given that he seems only a few hundred minor league at-bats away from contributing in a big way in the major leagues, it's unclear that anyone will give him the time to develop into a competent defensive catcher. He's drawn comparisons to Kyle Schwarber in this way.

It may be a moot point for Tampa Bay -- Collins is likely to be off the board when the Rays 13th overall pick comes up, but if the Rays do select him, chances are he'll make his debut as a first baseman or designated hitter. If he does develop into a Schwarber-type hitter, no one will mind.

Chris Okey

The Rays won't use their first pick on Okey, but if he's still available in the second round, he's worth some consideration. The Clemson junior doesn't have a single tool that jumps off the charts, but he doesn't have many weaknesses either. He's maybe slightly above average at receiving and throwing. He's not a great athlete behind the plate, but he's good enough and scouts like his ability to call a game and manage a pitching staff.

His defense should allow him to get to and stick in the majors, but the arc of his career will be based on how well he can swing the bat. He might not hit for a ton of average, but Okey could develop into a decent home run hitter, though he's likely to be more of an on-base and gap-power threat.

The floor for Okey is pretty high -- his worst case scenario perhaps looks something like Curt Casali, but his ceiling isn't all-star caliber and teams will have to weigh the value of using their first or second pick on a player who can only develop into an average catcher. Still, as one preview put it, his profile could afford him a solid 15-year career. Given how thin the Rays organization is behind the plate, Okey might be worth the gamble.


Delvin Perez

Like catchers, the shortstop crop in this class is also pretty thin. Fortunately for Tampa Bay, the Rays upper minors are loaded at shortstop.

Once considered a potential first-overall pick, Perez's draft stock has fallen in 2016. Yet he will be just 17 years old on draft day, and he will eventually grow into his 6-foot-3 frame. Because of his size, and the fact that he hails from Puerto Rico, Perez can't help but draw comparisons to Carlos Correa. But the two are very different players.

Perez is an excellent defender with a plus arm. He has been known to fall asleep and botch a routine play now and again, but he's only 17 and is among the most developed defensive shortstops in recent memory. An excellent athlete, he displays 70-75 grade range on a 20-80 scale, and has remarkably soft hands.

How much Perez will hit is unclear. His pitch recognition needs work, and he will have to cut down on the swing and miss. Still only 165 pounds, he may yet develop a power stroke, but already displays good bat speed, and has the ability to become a high-average, gap-power hitter.

Scouts have also wondered about Perez's maturity. He burst onto the draft scene only in the past year and hasn't always handled himself in the most professional manner. Still, his tools are undeniable, and he has the most upside of any infielder in the 2016 draft. Keith Law, of ESPN, has the Rays taking Perez with their first pick in his most recent Mock Draft. If Perez's falls to the Rays, I think Matt Silverman takes him off the board without a second thought.

Center Fielders
Blake Rutherford

Rutherford, an athletic high schooler from California, is projected by some outlets to be a top-five pick. has the Rays taking Rutherford in the first round.  He has a large build -- 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds -- but runs well and could stay in center field. He has above-average raw power and could become a serious power threat, particularly if he continues to bulk up.

While not having a cannon for an arm, his arm strength is good enough, and his range in the outfield and speed on the base paths make him a good candidate for an early selection. He's a long way away from the major leagues, but has the upside you look for in a high school outfielder.

Mickey Moniak

Moniak, yet another high school player, is projected by some to be the first-overall pick on Thursday. Yet there is little consensus among scouts in their mock drafts, and he could fall to the Rays. Like Rutherford, Moniak is also 6-foot-2, and also bats left handed and throws right handed. He doesn't have the same raw power Rutherford has shown, but is a better pure hitter -- perhaps the purest high school hitter in this class.

He projects to be pretty good at everything, and maybe even a great singles/doubles hitter. If all develops for Moniak, he could turn into a better defensive version of Christian Yelich.

Buddy Reed

Reed, the Rhode Island product and current Florida Gator, is perhaps more interesting than he is exciting. He's a switch-hitter, very fast, and throws well from center field. He's listed at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, and he could develop into a true power threat. Yet he's prone to the swing and miss, and his OPS ranks seventh on his own team.

His ceiling his high, maybe even a better version of Dexter Fowler. But his floor is equivalently low and he represents a gamble for any team. He has the tools, and someone is going to take a shot on him in the first three rounds. If all develops, he could be the steal of the draft. The Rays may be just the team to give Reed his shot.