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Reactions to the Rays draft of LHP Matthew Liberatore

Tampa Bay lands the top high school pitcher in the 2018 draft.

The Tampa Bay Rays, blessed with a large draft pool due to five picks on Day One of the draft, were able to nab a consensus top-seven draft pick who, on aggregate, was projected to third overall.

Instead, the draft got weird, and a couple players hoping to be paid according to his talents fell. This put the Rays in position to draft LHP Matthew Liberatore at the No. 16 overall selection, a shocking turn of events.

The other such player to fall for big bonus concerns was UF’s Singer (who went to the Royals two picks later). How refreshing it is to have a Rays franchise not afraid of spending in the draft.

Here’s the head of the Rays draft room on the selection:

MLB Network’s Greg Amsinger on the broadcast of the draft called Liberatore “probably the top pitcher in the draft” later in the night, offering him as a contending name against No. 1 overall selection and helium collegiate pitcher Casey Mize.

Formally, the Rays press release provided the following details on the picked power pitcher:

Liberatore, 18, was ranked as the No. 2 overall player in this year’s draft by Baseball America and was ranked third by ESPN’s Keith Law and fourth by The Rays selected him higher than any other high school pitcher in club history, and he is the fourth high school pitcher selected by the Rays in the first round following Jason Standridge (No. 31) in 1997, Taylor Guerrieri (No. 24) in 2011 and Blake Snell (No. 52) in 2011. Only five pitchers have ever been drafted higher by the Rays: Dewon Brazelton (No. 3) in 2001, Jeff Niemann (No. 4) in 2004, Wade Townsend (No. 8) in 2005, David Price (No. 1) in 2007 and Brendan McKay (No. 4) in 2017.

Liberatore went 8-1 with a 0.93 ERA (60.1-IP, 8-ER) and 104 strikeouts as a high school senior and received Arizona Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year honors. He was named a first team Rawlings/Perfect Game All-American for this past season, and helped lead Mountain Ridge to the Class 6A state championship game. Last summer, he pitched 12 scoreless innings for USA Baseball’s 18U National Team and recorded the win in their gold medal game over Korea. He is committed to play college baseball next season at the University of Arizona.

Once drafted, Liberatore opted for the old school Devil Rays cap from the inaugural season, which many online loved:

And several leading voices in the prospect sphere weighed in by calling the selection a “steal”:

Across the board, people love Liberatore’s stuff:

As for why Liberatore fell to No. 16, the key reasons were ascribed as follows:

Though even detractors conceded this was an impactful selection for the already stacked Rays system:

It’s hard not to love this pick, as the Rays clearly got a player worthy of a top 5 selection.