Left-handed pitcher David Price – the number one overall pick in the 2007 Major League Baseball First Year Player Entry Draft – agreed to a six-year, $8.5 million contract with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays today, according to several media reports. The 21-year-old also received a $5.6 million signing bonus – the second largest in draft history, trailing only Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton, who was the first overall selection in 2005.
The deal, which came less than six hours before Major League Baseball's deadline for signing players from the 2007 draft, marks a milestone for the embattled Tampa Bay franchise. In addition to sending the right message to fans by signing Price, an All American this season at Vanderbilt University, the Devil Rays were able to lock up, long-term, one of the premier college pitching prospects in the last five years.
Price becomes the third player in franchise history to sign with the Devil Rays after being selected first in the draft. The other two players – Josh Hamilton, who is now with the Cincinnati Reds after battling drug addiction for years, and Delmon Young – are both enjoying fine rookie seasons in the major leagues.
During a remarkable junior season for the Commodores, the 6'6 southpaw who led Vanderbilt to one of its best finishes in school history, compiled an outstanding 11-1 record, a minuscule 2.63 ERA, and 194 strikeouts, which led the nation, in 133 1/3 innings pitched. Following the season, he was rewarded with the Golden Spikes Award, given annually to the nation's top amateur player.
A year earlier during his sophomore season, with lofty expectations set before him, Price helped guide Vanderbilt to the NCAA Regionals, but struggled through what many scouts considered to be a disappointing season. He finished his second collegiate season 9-5, 4.16 with 155 strikeouts in 110 innings.
But the following summer, Price emerged as the top overall prospect in this year's draft class after an outstanding campaign with Team USA – a roster filled with the elite collegiate players in the nation. As the ace of the national team's pitching staff, Price, who was elected as Baseball America's Summer Player of the Year Award for his efforts, went 5-1 with a 0.21 ERA and 61 strikeouts – compared to only seven walks – in 44 innings to lead the United States to a gold-medal finish at the World University Games in Cuba.
With even more pressure put on him as a junior, Price shattered nearly every school pitching record – career or single season – and established himself as the nation's top pitcher. In the process, he was one of the biggest reasons why Vanderbilt, the top ranked team in America for 15 of 17 weeks this spring, made an appearance – as the number one seed – at the NCAA Nashville Regional Tournament and won the 2007 Southeastern Conference Championship. In 17 starts, which Vanderbilt ended up winning 16 of, he averaged 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings, good for second in the nation, and amassed 12 Double Digit strikeout games for 194 total – breaking his school record, 155, from 2006. His only loss of the season came in a rare relief appearance, two days after making a start in the tournament opener, against the University of Michigan in the regional final.
Price ended his career at Vanderbilt with a 22-10 record, a 3.31 ERA, and a school-record 441 strikeouts.
In addition to being named Collegiate Baseball's National Co-Player of the Year and taking home the Golden Spikes Award – the Heisman Trophy of college baseball – Price added a plethora of prestigious hardware to his trophy case in 2007, including: the Brooks Wallace Award (College Baseball Foundation's Player of the Year), the Dick Howser Award (awarded to college baseball's most outstanding player), and the Roger Clemens Award (given to the nation's top pitcher). He was also selected as the Southeastern Conference Male Athlete and Pitcher of the Year.
Depending how much time he spends in the big leagues for the duration of the contract, Price could earn up to $11.25 million, which is the third highest in draft annals in big-league history. But for the Devil Rays, who appear have a permanent reservation for last place in the American League East division, he was well worth the investment.
"We are thrilled to add a player of David's caliber to our organization," Rays Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman told the team's official website. "Not only was he the most outstanding amateur player in the country this year, we see him as one of the best pitching prospects to come out of the draft in some time. In addition to his remarkable talent, David's character is exemplary. He is an important building block and a potential upper-echelon starting pitcher for many years."
Tampa Bay already possesses two of the top young starters in the American League – Scott Kazmir and James Shields – and with the addition of Price in the near future; the Devil Rays could end up with one of the most dangerous starting rotations in all of baseball. The possibility of a Kazmir, Price, Shields trio at the top of the rotation – three potential aces, similar to the once-lethal combination of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito for the Oakland Athletics – should give Tampa Bay fans a lot to look forward to. And for an organization without a winning season in its 10-year history, that means a lot.
To make room on the 40-man roster for Price, the Devil Rays moved catcher Shawn Riggans, out for the season, to the 60-day disabled list. But there is still no word yet on when or where Price will make his professional debut.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.