Rays Select Beckham With Top Pick
For the first time in history, the same organization was granted the right to choose the number one pick in the draft for the second consecutive year. While it is the last time the club will get the chance to choose this early, the Tampa Bay Rays once again had the luxury of leading off the first round. In 2007, Tampa Bay added yet another difference-making arm to its stacked farm system by selecting phenom left-hander David Price out of Vanderbilt University. This year, the team went a different route, taking a middle infielder with tremendous upside, Tim Beckham. Beckham made a name for himself by tearing up the showcase circuit last summer, inching himself up nearly every top prospect list. While he is a long way from reaching the majors, he has perhaps the most realistic chance to become a perennial All-Star at the highest level, when compared to any of Thursday's draftees, at a premium position.
On Wednesday night, Tampa Bay narrowed its list for the top spot to two players, Beckham and Florida State catcher Buster Posey. Posey reportedly turned off the Rays' brass by asking for approximately $12-million guaranteed, a number which, if granted, would shatter the previous signing bonus record given to an amateur prospect. Considering Tampa Bay executives were divided on which player to choose, anyway, perhaps Posey's lofty asking price made the decision that much easier for Andrew Friedman and the rest of his staff. The organization, however, disputed this train of thought, saying that Posey's reported demands did not factor into its ultimate decision.
Beckham had a strong senior season, posting a line of .500/.782/.795, with five home runs and 31 RBIs, in only 78-at bats. It was his performance in the summer of his junior year, though, when he established himself as a surefire first-rounder. The Most Valuable Player of the Aflac All-American High School Classic, the then -17-year-old flashed his amazing tools—he ran a 6.33 60-yard dash time at the Perfect Game USA National Showcase—and consistently hit high-level pitching at many prestigious events to emerge as the premier high school player in the nation.
Many scouts feel that he has the skills to remain at shortstop in the professional ranks, as he has advanced defensive actions for a player of his age. Still, it would not be a surprise if he ended up shifting to the outfield, similar to the path taken by the Upton brothers.
Overall, he is a tremendous athlete with plus power potential and lighting-quick hands with the bat, in addition to strong actions at shortstop. It will take some time for him to develop, which is why it is premature to read too much into the draft choice when thinking about the future of Triple-A Durham infielder Reid Brignac. Brignac, an above-average defender, is viewed by many as the organization's long-term answer at shortstop.
Beckham was a solid selection, as the Rays did what they had to do by drafting the most talented player available. Although Posey, who fell to the San Francisco Giants at number five, is closer to making an impact at the highest level, he projects as a solid major leaguer, not a superstar. An above-average defensive catcher with 15-to-20 homer potential, the Seminoles standout—currently tearing up the NCAA tournament—has the chance to be a consistent regular for the Giants in the near future, but Beckham is a stronger long-term prospect.
There was hardly any suspense going into the first announcement of the day, as scouting director R.J. Harrison had tipped the Rays' hand earlier in the morning. However, when Commissioner Bud Selig trotted his way to the podium on the stage to announce the much-anticipated first pick, the crowd of around 400 predominantly Tampa Bay fans, cowbell and all, erupted with a thunderous ovation. With such a strong showing among the Tampa Bay faithful, in fact, it appears as if the club's attempt to build up a fan base in the central Florida region is working according to plan. Fans, though, began to disappear with every Selig announcement towards the end of round one, with the total dropping to about 50 people when Tampa Bay snagged left-handed high school pitcher Kyle Lobstein with the first selection of the second round. Still, when looking up into the crowd, all one could see was a sea of blue and green.
Other Day One Selections:
Excluding Beckham, the Rays made five other picks on day one of the draft.
2. Lobstein, a left-handed starting pitcher out of Coconino High School in Arizona, was one of the first high school pitchers whose name was called on Thursday. Also a standout basketball player, he adds another solid southpaw to one of the premier minor league systems in baseball.
3. Jake Jefferies, a left-handed hitting catcher from UC Davis, came out of nowhere to turn in a breakout performance in his junior campaign for the Aggies. He hit .387/.444/.524, with four home runs and 54 RBIs, while setting the single-season school record for base hits (96). For his efforts, he named the Big West Conference Co-Player of the Year. He does not project to hit for a great deal of power, but is a solid line-drive hitter who hardly ever strikes out—11 Ks in 248 at-bats this spring. All-in-all, he brings another intriguing bat into the system. Defensively, his arm grades out borderline below-average, but he has decent receiving skills behind the plate.
4. Ty Morrison, a center fielder taken by the Rays at pick 113, was regarded as one of the premier high school prospects in the Northwest entering the draft. According to scouting reports, he has above-average speed, and was "the highest-ranked prospect in Oregon," writes Marc Topkin.
5. Michael Sheridan, whom the Rays picked at 143, is a left-handed first baseman from the College of William and Mary in Virginia. Despite a plethora of other slugging collegiate corner infielders in this year's draft class, the junior garnered his fair share of attention on the diamond this spring for his producing some of the strongest numbers in the Colonial Athletic Conference. He hit .423/.474/.744, with 15 home runs and a conference-best 72 RBIs, while only striking out 11 times.
6. The last selection on the day for Tampa Bay was Shane Dyer, a right-hander from South Mountain Community College in Phoenix. Dyer, who was drafted by Colorado in the 24th round out of high school in 2006, spent his freshman season at the University of New Mexico, where he posted a 2-2 record and 4.28 ERA in 10 appearances. After transferring to South Mountain as a sophomore, he grew a lot as a pitcher this season. He finished the spring with a 6-5 record, 3.05 ERA and—perhaps most impressive—a 91-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has a low-90s fastball and excellent stamina, though his mechanics are unorthodox. If he signs—he has a scholarship to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the fall—he adds yet another great arm to the Rays' stable of pitching prospects.
Despite the fact that the Boston Red Sox put the finishing touches on a three-game sweep at Fenway Park tonight—not to mention that huge brawl, which will likely lead to suspensions for Jonny Gomes and James Shields—today marked an important step in the franchise's future.
Other observations: From TCU reliever Andrew Cashner—click here for Scout.com Q & A with the right-hander— to Georgia closer Josh Fields, selected by the Seattle Mariners at pick number 20, there were several prominent relievers taken early on Thursday. It would not be a surprise if one or several of this group—Cashner, Fields, Ryan Perry picked at 19, 20 and 21, respectively—make an impact in the majors later this season. Perry, who has held batters to a .218 average against in 29 appearances (six starts) at the University of Arizona in '08, has a mid-90s fastball with a plus slider. It does not take a large stretch of the imagination to picture him joining an injury-riddled Detroit Tigers' bullpen in the near future. His current Wildcats teammate, Daniel Schlereth, who will stay in-state after the Diamondbacks used their first-round pick on him, will perhaps have a short path to the majors as well.
The Philadelphia Phillies used their top pick on Anthony Hewitt, a high school shortstop from Salisbury School, a boarding school in Connecticut with an excellent baseball program. Hewitt, though, is the ultimate high-risk, high-reward prospect. He is still a bit raw at this point, but he has the chance to to be special if he is able to refine his baseball skills. If the Phillies offer him enough money to forgo heading down to Nashville, he will join Pat Bresnehan and Mark Rosen as former Salisbury baseball players in the minors.
Will the Boston Red Sox persuade Sarasota High School (FL) two-way prospect Casey Kelly to give up the chance to play quarterback at the University of Tennessee? If there is an organization with the resources to do it, to take such a risk, it is definitely the Red Sox.
To contact Tyler Hissey, send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.