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Rays top prospects of all-time: No. 3

After 20 years of Rays baseball, we’re counting down the top prospects in franchise history.

NCAA Baseball - 2007 SEC Baseball Tournament - Mississippi State vs Vanderbilt - May 24, 2007
David Price was an easy choice as the No. 1 pick in 2007
Photo by Matthew Sharpe/WireImage

The No. 3 prospect in Rays history was the third No. 1 overall pick the team had. He had the best career out of all of them, and he’s not finished yet. He’s the only player on the list who was traded for a prospect who also appeared on the list.

20. SS Reid Brignac
19. RHP Matt White
18. RHP Chris Archer
17. RHP Wade Davis/LHP Jake McGee
16. RHP Jeremy Hellickson
15. 1B/LHP Brendan McKay
14. SS Tim Beckham
13. RHP Brent Honeywell
12. SS Willy Adames
11. OF Desmond Jennings
10. LHP Blake Snell
9. OF Wil Myers
8. LHP Scott Kazmir
7. 3B Evan Longoria
6. OF Rocco Baldelli
5. IF/OF Melvin Upton Jr.
4. OF Delmon Young

3. LHP David Price

Acquired: No. 1 pick by Devil Rays (2007)

Baseball America Top-100 ranks: 2 (2008), 10 (2007)
(Devil) Rays Top-30 ranks: 1 (2008), 2 (2007)
League Top-20 ranks: 2 (2008 Southern League)

(Devil) Rays best tools: Best slider (2007, 2008), Best fastball (2008)
League best tools: Best pitching prospect (2008 Florida State League)

After the 2008 season, it probably wasn’t a difficult choice for Baseball America to name Price as the top pitching prospect in baseball and No. 2 overall behind Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters. His pro debut was excellent, and he was dynamic out of the bullpen late in the season, helping the Rays to an American League pennant.

Price started the 2008 season with Class A-Advanced Vero Beach in the Florida State League. He actually got a late start to the season due to elbow tenderness (BA, $). He only made six starts, but he made enough of an impression to be named the best pitching prospect in the league. He struck out 37 and walked seven in 34 23 innings.

He continued to pitch to an ERA below 2.00 with Double-A Montgomery, although he did allow seven homers in 57 innings. After nine starts there, the Rays moved him up to Triple-A Durham, where he made four mediocre starts — he had a 4.50 ERA and 1.72 WHIP — before getting the call to the majors.

In the regular season, Price made four appearances out of the bullpen, including two in excess of one inning. He struck out nine and walked just one, previewing what kind of weapon he would be for the team in the postseason. He also made his first start. He wasn’t credited with a win, but he struck out three and only allowed an earned run in 5 13 innings against the Orioles.

The postseason was when Price became a star. He made five appearances between the ALCS and World Series, none more memorable than his save in Game 7 against the Red Sox. With the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth, he was summoned to face J.D. Drew. Price struck him out to end the threat. In the ninth, after Jason Bay led off with a walk, Mark Kotsay and Jason Varitek struck out, and Jed Lowrie grounded out to Akinori Iwamura to send the Rays to the World Series.

After signing on Aug. 15, 2007, Price wouldn’t make his pro debut until the next season. He just finished up an unbelievable amateur career with Vanderbilt. In his junior season, he pitched 13313 innings with 194 strikeouts, breaking the school record of 155, which he set in his sophomore season. He won the Golden Spikes Award for the best amateur baseball player and Dick Howser Trophy for best college baseball player.

He was an easy choice as the No. 1 pick for the Devil Rays. In addition to his statistical feats and list of accolades, Price had the stuff to be an ace. His fastball, which could reach the mid-90s, and hard slider gave him potential for two plus-plus pitches. His changeup had plus potential, he was athletic, and threw strikes. It was just a matter of signing him, which they did with an $8.5 million major league contract.

Success in the majors, at least in the rotation, did not come immediately, though. Price started the season back in Triple A, but he made his season debut for the Rays on May 25, allowing two runs and walking five in 313 innings. His next time out, he was fantastic, striking out 11 and only allowing a run in 523 innings against the Twins. It was the first regular season win of his career.

The rest of Price’s 2009 season went like that. On July 4 in Texas, he allowed six runs and walked five in 113 innings. His final start of the season was his best. He struck out five and only allowed a run on two hits and two walks in seven innings against the Yankees. He finished the season with a 4.42 ERA in 12813 innings.

After that, however, Price settled in and pitched like the ace he was expected to be. From 2010-12, he made three All-Star teams. In that three-year stretch, he was one of the top-10 pitchers in baseball. He was 10th in innings, ninth in ERA, and ninth in strikeout rate. In 2012, he became the Rays’ first Cy Young winner. He led the league with a 2.56 ERA and 20 wins. He struck out 205 batters in 211 innings.

With the success he had, naturally, his salary quickly rose. After he won the Cy Young, he earned $10.1 million in 2013. The next season, he was paid $14 million. With free agency approaching, it was becoming an untenable situation for a small-market team like the Rays. They could not sign him to an extension, so at the deadline in 2014, they sent him to Detroit in a three-team trade, landing prospect Willy Adames along with Nick Franklin and Drew Smyly.

Price met and exceeded every expectation the organization could have had when it drafted him with the No. 1 pick in 2007. He’s the franchise leader in WAR for pitchers (21.4), ERA (3.18), WHIP (1.14), ranks second in wins (82), innings (1,14323), strikeouts (1,065), and complete games (10). The economic realities of baseball prevented him having a longer career with the Rays and leading all those categories by wide margins.

That 2014 season split between the Rays and Tigers may have been the best of his career, although he strangely finished just sixth in Cy Young voting. He led the league in innings and strikeouts and posted a 3.26 ERA.

It came in different uniforms, but Price has had plenty of success in recent seasons. In 2014 and 2015, split between the Rays, Tigers, and Blue Jays after another midseason trade, he remained one of the best in the league. In that span, he led the league in innings, was fourth in strikeouts, and third in WAR.

After the 2015 season, he signed a seven-year, $217-million contract with the Red Sox. It’s the largest contract ever for a pitcher, and it’s hard to say he didn’t earn it. Despite the added pressure of pitching in a big market and earning a ton of money, he has continued to pitch well. He can opt out of his contract and became a free agent again after this season, but with lingering concerns about his elbow after he was limited to a career-low 7423 innings in 2017, it’s unclear if he will do that.

With five All-Star appearances, a Cy Young, two seasons leading the league in ERA, and a giant contract, Price has accomplished a lot, and he’s only 32 years old. The only thing that has eluded him so far is consistent postseason success. As a rookie, he pitched well as the team reached the World Series, but he has only pitched past the ALDS once since then. He has a 5.03 ERA in 7313 career postseason innings, and he has not yet won a postseason start. Given more opportunities, it’s probably only a matter of time for a pitcher as talented as Price.