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Draft, Day 1: Rays may be looking at college bats

This year’s draft is thin on college pitchers; look for Rays to target position players

Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The Major League Baseball amateur draft starts tonight at 7:00 PM and will be aired on MLB Network. The draft is an important day for any team, but for a low revenue team it is even more important.

Day one consists of the first two rounds where the Tampa Bay Rays hold four picks. The Rays first round pick comes in at 22nd overall. The team received the second pick of the Competitive Balance Round A at number 36 overall and received the 40th overall pick from the Oakland Athletics in addition to Emilio Pagan in a three way deal that sent Brock Burke and two other minor leaguers to the Texas Rangers. The final pick of day one will be the Rays second round pick at 61st overall.

The Rays bonus pool sits at $10,333,800, good for the tenth largest.

Last year, the Rays had five day-one picks and were in the enviable position of making their second and third picks before any other team got their second. This year Tampa Bay has three of the top 40 picks, but the Diamondbacks will be the busiest team; they select four times in that span including three picks between the Rays first and second picks of the night.

It will be tricky to play any games with pool money considering the teams that have two picks before Rays make their second selection this year.

Last year the draft went about as well as the decision makers could’ve hoped. Matthew Liberatore fell to the Rays first pick at 16th overall without the Rays having to spend over slot. Earlier he’d been projected as a top five pick.

If a player drops the Rays this year, they should have the money to pick up anybody, but with their first pick not coming until number 22, they are unlikely to find such a highly regarded prospect still on the table.

This year’s draft is lacking in arms, but it is deeper in college bats. Even if the Rays won’t have a chance to draft one of the most touted players they are likely to have a number of good options.

Baseball America says, “we’ve heard that the Rays are targeting college performers” in their latest mock draft. The mock draft projects the Rays to take University of North Carolina 1B/OF Michael Busch saying, “His lefthanded splits might be a concern for Tampa, but his exit velocities are consistently elite.”

It isn’t that likely that a worthy pitcher is there for the Rays first pick, so a college bat does make sense. The Rays have gone with college performers quite often in recent years with Shane McClanahan (31st pick) in 2018, Brendan McKay (4th pick) in 2017, and Brandon Lowe (87th pick - 3rd round) in 2015 among many others.

Options that would fit this type and might be available at the 22nd pick are Texas Tech 3B Josh Jung, Tulane 3B Kody Hoese, Clemson SS Logan Davidson, UNC Wilmington SS Greg Jones in addition to the aforementioned Busch.

Early in the process, the Rays were connected to the biggest helium prospect of the draft, 3B Keoni Cavaco out of Eastlake (California) High School. Current chatter is that Cavaco likely gets drafted closer to the tenth overall pick.

Other athletic position players like SS Brooks Lee of San Luis Obispo (California) High School, SS Nasim Nunez of Collins Hill (Georgia) High School, SS Gunner Henderson of Morgan Academy (Selma, Alabama) High School, and SS Matthew Lugo of Beltran Academy (Florida, Puerto Rico) High School have been connected to the Rays.

High school pitchers the Rays could end up selecting include Brennan Malone of IMG Academy (Bradenton, Florida) High School, JJ Gross of Cypress Ranch (Texas) High School, and fireballer Daniel Espino of Premier Academy (Statesboro, Georgia) High School.

The college pitcher selection looks to be very thin. Seth Johnson of Campbell University and Drey Jameson of Ball State University look to be the most reasonable option, but they are probably available with their second or third pick if they decide to go that route.

Last year the Rays did their homework and were well positioned to take somebody that unexpectedly fell like Matthew Liberatore. This year their later draft pick makes such a high level find unlikely (the downside, if you will, of winning 90 games) but the Rays will be prepared for anything.