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Rays 2019 MLB draft preview: High school pitchers

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Last year, the Rays took advantage of a surprising opportunity when they drafted Matthew Liberatore. Will they get another chance in this draft?

Baltimore Orioles v Minnesota Twins Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

We finish our draft previews with a look at some high school pitchers. Last year, the Rays drafted Matthew Liberatore with their first pick. That was actually the first time they drafted a high school pitcher in the first round since 2011, when they selected Taylor Guerrieri and Blake Snell with two of their numerous picks.

Could they make it two years in a row? If they go with a pitcher early in the draft, it’s possible since this draft isn’t known for its college pitching.

As always, some of these players have been associated with the Rays in mock drafts, but some haven’t.

College pitchers preview
Corner bats preview
Up-the-middle bats preview

RHP Matthew Allan, Seminole High School (Sanford) (6’3 210, 18 years old)

Baseball America rank: 16
ESPN rank: 11
FanGraphs rank: 17
MLB.com rank: 13

Allan is widely viewed as the top high school pitcher in the draft. For the Rays to get him, it would probably require a surprising draft-day tumble, maybe due to a higher price tag.

He’s achieved that status thanks to his great curveball, which is rated by some as a plus-plus pitch and the best breaking ball in the draft. His fastball’s a good pitch too — sitting in the mid-90s — and he throws it for strikes. He’ll have to develop his changeup.

He looks the part of a starter already and should be able to handle the workload. His mechanics are regarded as fine.

LHP Hunter Barco, Bolles High School (6’4 212, 18 years old)

Baseball America: 32
ESPN rank: 35
FanGraphs rank: 42
MLB.com rank: 34

While Allan may be the top overall high school pitcher, Barco may be the best left-handed high school pitcher. But he’s probably not quite a first-round pick.

His stock may have dropped a bit over the last year, though. He’s been inconsistent in many areas. His velocity has come and gone, sometimes he didn’t throw enough strikes, and his arm slot varied.

That arm slot is talked about quite a bit. When he’s at his best, he does create some deception to go along with his impressive stuff. His fastball can touch the mid-90s and is seen as an above-average pitch, as are his slider and changeup.

RHP Daniel Espino, Georgia Premier Academy (6’2 200, 18 years old)

Baseball America rank: 25
ESPN rank: 23
FanGraphs rank: 35
MLB.com rank: 23

Espino is one of the most well-known players in the class thanks to his stuff. He’s touched 100 mph, and his secondary pitches are good too. His curveball and slider are both potential plus pitches.

Why is he not a projected top-10 pick then? He’s believed to be smaller than his listed height, and teams are often wary of shorter righties. He has a high-effort delivery, and he doesn’t always throw strikes.

Espino is the kind of pitcher teams are more concerned about these days (BA $). Despite the risks in his profile, there should be a team at the end of the first round who loves his stuff and believes it can iron out his flaws.

RHP JJ Goss, Cypress Ranch High School (6’3 185, 18 years old)

Baseball America rank: 33
ESPN rank: 14
FanGraphs rank: 29
MLB.com rank: 24

According to BA, Goss was previously viewed as a projectable strike thrower, but his stuff has improved this spring. They’re not particularly comparable, but that aspect of his report reminds me of Liberatore last year.

He now throws in the low-90s, and he can get stronger to maintain and add to that velocity. He already had a feel for an above-average slider and changeup.

With those improvements, he should be a first-round pick. He’s the kind of pitcher teams are looking for more and more in the draft now. It’s fine that he doesn’t throw a high-octane fastball. He can grow into some more velocity, and his secondary pitches are already good.

RHP Brennan Malone, IMG Academy (6’3 203, 18 years old)

Baseball America rank: 18
ESPN rank: 21
FanGraphs rank: 22
MLB.com rank: 20

Malone’s fastball isn’t quite as good as Espino’s, but it’s a quality pitch. He could still get stronger and add even more velocity to it too.

He’s apparently made improvements this spring and is no longer viewed as a pure arm-strength prospect. With his athleticism and reported clean mechanics, it’s not a surprise that he would be able to improve his command.

His slider has also improved, and it’s a potential plus pitch. He throws a curveball too, but it’s regarded as an average pitch. He’ll have to improve his changeup.

He should be a first-round pick.

RHP Quinn Priester, Cary-Grove High School (6’3 198, 18 years old)

Baseball America rank: 23
ESPN rank: 20
FanGraphs rank: 14
MLB.com rank: 19

Priester is an advanced high school pitcher, and it’s possible he’s not even available to the Rays. Although he’s from Illinois — a cold-weather state — he’s proven himself in the summer showcases, so teams are likely going to be comfortable spending an early pick on him.

He’s considered advanced because he has good mechanics and throws strikes. He has one of the better curveballs in the class, and his fastball sits in the low-90s. He does have some room to get stronger and add velocity.

BA’s report notes that in some aspects of his game, he’s self-taught, and he’s already very good. He can probably achieve even more with professional instruction. His changeup could use some work.