The top Rays Draft pick from every season

February 7th, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays have run the gamut with their first overall Draft picks over the years, selecting everyone from franchise players and pitchers to prospects who never made it out of Class A.

Here’s a look at each of Tampa Bay’s top picks in franchise history. This list will only include the club’s top pick from each year -- not all first-rounders -- focusing only on the top picks from the Rule 4 Drafts held each summer.

2023: Brayden Taylor, INF, Texas Christian University (No. 19)
Scouting director Chuck Ricci referred to Taylor as “very much a Rays player, very well-balanced.” Indeed, the infielder came to the Rays with above-average tools across the board, profiling as a well-rounded left-handed-hitting infielder with no obvious weaknesses in his game. Taylor spent most of his final season at TCU and his entire professional debut at third base, but he can play shortstop, the kind of defensive versatility the Rays covet. Undrafted out of high school, Taylor improved throughout his time at TCU, developed home-run power later in his college career and put it on display by going deep five times in 25 games in his pro debut.

2022: Xavier Isaac, 1B, East Forsyth HS (N.C.) (No. 29)
Ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Draft’s No. 113 prospect, Isaac was a surprising first-round selection by the Rays despite hitting .578 with 12 homers and 26 RBIs in 26 games as a senior. He was the highest-selected first baseman in the 2022 Draft and only the second first baseman picked by the Rays in the first round, joining Casey Gillaspie in 2014. Nevertheless, the Rays were confident in the lefty-hitting University of Florida commit’s prodigious raw power and natural hitting ability, and they didn’t expect he’d be around the next time they were on the clock, leading them to select a high school player with their first pick for the third year in a row.

2021: Carson Williams, SS, Torrey Pines HS (Calif.) (No. 28)
Williams boosted his stock with a big offensive performance in the spring. The 6-foot-2, 180-pounder hit .495 with 11 homers, 34 steals and a .979 slugging percentage during his senior season. That was another good sign for scouts after Williams raised his profile as the MVP at Perfect Game’s World Wood Bat Association World Championship last October.

2020: Nick Bitsko, RHP, Central Bucks East HS (Pa.) (No. 24)
Initially considered the top prospect in the 2021 Draft class, Bitsko reclassified and signed for an above-slot $3 million bonus rather than attending the University of Virginia. Unfortunately, he was dealt a significant setback right away, as he underwent surgery to repair a labrum issue in his right shoulder six months after he was selected.

2019: Greg Jones, SS, University of North Carolina at Wilmington (No. 22)
The highest Draft pick ever out of UNC Wilmington, Jones went to the Rays as a sophomore-eligible prospect and made his debut at age 21 with a .335/.413/.461 slash line and 19 steals in 48 games in ’19. The Rays remain high on Jones’ combination of speed and power, believing he’ll put it all together at shortstop, even as scouts believe he’d be an impact center fielder.

2018: Matthew Liberatore, LHP, Mountain Ridge HS (Ariz.) (No. 16)
Liberatore was well known as one of the top high school pitchers in the 2018 Draft class and only boosted his stock as a senior, leading the Rays to take him 16th overall. He pitched well for Class A Bowling Green in his first full season, then wound up being dealt to the Cardinals in January 2020, with Tampa Bay bringing back that year’s postseason hero in the trade: Randy Arozarena.

2017: Brendan McKay, LHP/1B, University of Louisville (No. 4)
McKay was about as decorated as college players come, having won the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award in each of his three seasons, along with the Golden Spikes and Dick Howser Awards as a junior. Regarded as the best two-way Draft prospect since Dave Winfield in 1973, he signed for $7,005,000 and debuted as a two-way player two years later.

2016: Josh Lowe, OF, Pope HS (Ga.) (No. 13)
The brother of Nate Lowe, the Rays’ 13th-round pick in 2016, Josh Lowe was considered one of the best all-around athletes in the Draft class. A two-way standout in high school, Lowe signed for $2.6 million, moved from third base to the outfield and put his athletic abilities on display. He advanced one level per season from 2017-19 and earned a spot on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster in 2020.

2015: Garrett Whitley, OF, Niskayuna HS (N.Y.) (No. 13)
Whitley was the highest high school Draft pick from the state of New York since Cleveland selected Manny Ramirez 13th overall in 1991. The five-tool outfielder waited until after he graduated to sign for $2,962,100, then dealt with injuries before breaking out with a hot start in Double-A this year.

2014: Casey Gillaspie, 1B, Wichita State University (No. 20)
The brother of MLB infielder Conor Gillaspie, Casey Gillaspie was a power-hitting first baseman who reached Triple-A with the Rays before the club traded him to the White Sox for reliever Dan Jennings.

2013: Nick Ciuffo, C, Lexington HS (S.C.) (No. 21)
The Rays convinced Ciuffo to forego his commitment to the University of South Carolina and sign for $1,974,700, in a Draft class that also included fellow Day 1 pick Ryne Stanek. Ciuffo appeared in 19 games for the Rays from 2018-19, then bounced from the Reds to the Rangers to the Orioles.

2012: Richie Shaffer, 3B, Clemson University (No. 25)
The Clemson star quickly advanced through the Minors, making his debut with the Rays in 2015. He appeared in 20 games for Tampa Bay in ’16, his last big league action, then he was part of the trade that netted the Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge.

2011: Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Spring Valley HS (S.C.) (No. 24)
This was the famous Draft in which the Rays had 11 of the first 75 picks. The best of those selections was Blake Snell, who went 52nd overall, but Guerrieri -- who reached Triple-A Durham, then wound up debuting as a reliever with the Blue Jays in 2018 -- was the first of them.

2010: Josh Sale, OF, Bishop Blanchet HS (Wash.) (No. 17)
Sale didn’t give himself a chance to stay on the field, earning three suspensions in the low Minors: first for a performance-enhancing substance in 2012, then for disciplinary reasons in ’13 and again in ’14 after testing positive twice for a drug of abuse. The Rays released him in early 2015.

2009: LeVon Washington, 2B, F.W. Buchholz HS (Fla.) (No. 30)
Washington is the only one of the Rays’ top picks who did not sign with the team. Cleveland picked him in the second round of the 2010 Draft, though he never advanced past High-A ball.

2008: Tim Beckham, SS, Griffin HS (Ga.) (No. 1)
The Rays picked the potential five-tool shortstop Beckham -- considered the best high school prospect in the class -- over, most notably, Buster Posey. He spent five years in the Minors before finally making his debut on Sept. 19, 2013, then spent parts of three additional seasons with the Rays before stops with the Orioles, Mariners and White Sox.

2007: David Price, LHP, Vanderbilt University (No. 1)
This one is how you draw it up. Price was the consensus top prospect entering the Draft year, stayed that way until the Rays were on the clock and turned into one of the best pitchers in franchise history. He was on the mound for one of the club’s finest moments, the last out of the 2008 American League Championship Series, and he was traded for a haul that included shortstop Willy Adames. Worth noting: Price was the top pick in the first baseball Draft ever broadcast on live TV.

2006: Evan Longoria, 3B, California State University, Long Beach (No. 3)
First-round selections don’t get much better than this. Taken after Luke Hochevar and Greg Reynolds, Longoria quickly ascended to the Majors, became the American League Rookie of the Year and face of the franchise, led Tampa Bay to the World Series, authored some of the Rays’ best moments and became the most accomplished player in franchise history. Good pick.

2005: Wade Townsend, RHP, Rice University (No. 8)
Taken eighth overall by the Orioles the year before, the Rice standout’s career was quickly derailed by injuries -- Tommy John surgery in 2005 and shoulder surgery after the ’08 campaign -- then retired in 2010.

2004: Jeff Niemann, RHP, Rice University (No. 4)
Niemann zipped through the Minors to debut in 2008, then he had a few solid years in the Rays’ rotation from 2009-12 (4.05 ERA) before undergoing shoulder surgery. They picked a few other notable pitchers in ’04: Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Andy Sonnanstine.

2003: Delmon Young, OF, Adolfo Camarillo HS (Calif.) (No. 1)
Young was the top pick and quickly became the top prospect in baseball. He debuted in 2006 and finished second in the 2007 AL Rookie of the Year voting, then was shipped to the Twins for Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza, beginning a trade tree that’s still bearing fruit to this day for Tampa Bay.

2002: B.J. Upton, SS, Greenbrier Christian Academy (Va.) (No. 2)
Upton was considered the top athlete available in this Draft, drawing comparisons at the time to a young Derek Jeter, and became the youngest Tampa Bay player ever at the time of his debut. He wound up making an impact in center field, playing key roles for the Rays’ 2008 AL championship club, the 2010 AL East champions and the 2011 AL Wild Card team during his eight solid seasons with Tampa Bay.

2001: Dewon Brazelton, RHP, Middle Tennessee State University (No. 3)
Taken two picks after Joe Mauer and two picks ahead of Mark Teixeira, Brazelton rushed through the Minors and debuted on Sept. 13, 2002. His first-round talent never turned into production, however, as he posted a 6.38 ERA over 63 outings in the Majors from 2002-06.

2000: Rocco Baldelli, OF, Bishop Hendricken HS (R.I.) (No. 6)
Despite being derailed by injuries and ailments, Baldelli still stands as one of the most productive picks from the first round of the 2000 Draft. He hit .280 with a .767 OPS and 59 steals in 467 games for Tampa Bay, then thrived in his post-playing career as a coach (with the Rays) and now as the Twins’ manager.

1999: Josh Hamilton, OF, Athens Drive HS (N.C.) (No. 1)
The incredibly talented Hamilton played only 266 games in the Devil Rays’ system from 1999-2006 due to injuries, suspensions and absences related to his drug addiction. Of course, he later lived up to his potential as a five-time All-Star and the 2010 AL MVP with the Rangers -- but only after being taken by the Cubs (for the Reds) in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft, then dealt to Texas in ’07.

1998: Josh Pressley, INF, Westminster Academy (Fla.) (No. 132)
The Devil Rays didn’t have a first-round pick in their inaugural season, so their top pick was Pressley, who played in their Minor League system from 1998-2002. Their next pick was Aubrey Huff.

1997: Jason Standridge, RHP, Hewitt-Trussville HS (Ala.) (No. 31)
Taken at the end of the first round the year before Tampa Bay’s first season, Standridge eventually made it to the Majors in 2001 and pitched in 21 games for the Devil Rays. He enjoyed a solid career in Japan, pitching in Nippon Professional Baseball from 2007-17 with a 3.31 ERA.

1996: Paul Wilder, OF, Cary HS (N.C.) (No. 29)
The first Draft pick in franchise history, Wilder wound up hitting just .204 with a .688 OPS in 247 games over five seasons in Tampa Bay’s Minor League system. The Devil Rays’ most productive pick in their first Draft was 34th-round right-hander Dan Wheeler.