Rays draft TCU 3B Brayden Taylor with No. 19 pick

Tampa Bay also picks speedy South Florida HS shortstop and SEC outfielder on Day 1

July 10th, 2023

The Rays were on the clock with the 19th pick in the MLB Draft on Sunday night, and was sitting backstage at Seattle’s Lumen Field with his parents, two brothers and his girlfriend. Just before his name was called, Taylor received word that he’d be picked by Tampa Bay.

But that “two-second heads up,” as he put it, couldn’t diminish the overwhelming surprise and joy he felt during the dream-come-true moment.

“I felt my legs go right out from under me. I still can’t feel my legs,” Taylor told reporters in Seattle, including MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, only a few minutes after first donning a Rays jersey and cap. “Being able to hug my family, it was fantastic. I’m very grateful.”

The Rays were pleased to land Taylor, the well-rounded third baseman from Texas Christian University, as the first of their three picks on Sunday night. They rounded out their Day 1 haul with high school shortstop , their Competitive Balance Round A selection (31st overall), and Mississippi State outfielder , taken in the second round (55th overall).

Tampa Bay entered this year’s Draft with an open-minded approach under first-year scouting director Chuck Ricci and exited Day 1 pleased to land three position players.

“I think it's good, where we were picking, because it makes you be prepared for any kind of option,” Ricci said afterward. “You have a handful of players you like. You don't know who's going to get down there. But you have to be prepared, and you really have to scout that way all throughout the spring.”

The Draft will continue with Rounds 3-10 on Monday and Rounds 11-20 on Tuesday. The Rays’ bonus pool this year is $10,872,100. Taylor’s pick came with a slot value of $3,880,100, Santana’s selection had a slot value of $2,670,600, and Ledbetter’s pick was at $1,509,800.

The class is headlined by Taylor, MLB Pipeline’s No. 15 Draft prospect, who brings a steady and balanced profile as the Rays’ first collegiate top pick since Greg Jones in 2019 and TCU’s first-ever position player to be picked in the first round.

The left-handed-hitting infielder played three seasons at TCU, primarily serving as the team’s starting third baseman in all three years. In each of his three collegiate seasons, he finished with double-digit home runs, a batting average north of .300 and an OPS higher than 1.000.

Taylor finished his junior year with 23 home runs, tied for TCU’s single-season record, adding power to a profile that already included patience and an all-fields approach. That’s just a hint of his versatility, as he can play both middle infield positions along with third base. His diverse skill set also shows up in MLB Pipeline’s grades, as he scores at least 50 or higher on the 20-to-80 scale in all five tools (contact, power, running, throwing, fielding).

“I think he's a very versatile player in every way,” Ricci said. “He can just do everything well. Very much a Rays player, very well-balanced.”

Undrafted out of Copper Hills High School in West Jordan, Utah, Taylor worked tirelessly to turn himself into a first-round pick. In multiple interviews on Sunday night, the 21-year-old repeatedly referenced his mantra to “get 1% better every day” and his desire to continue doing so.

How can he do that at the next level?

“Just continuing to work on my craft each and every day,” Taylor said on a Zoom call with Tampa Bay media. “It's about being well-rounded in each and every aspect of my game.”

Santana, a speedy shortstop from Doral Academy in South Florida, possesses an intriguing skill set and a big personality. The 17-year-old only took up switch-hitting after his sophomore season, but he hit .364/.442/.758 with 11 homers and 18 steals as a senior as he became MLB Pipeline’s No. 38 Draft prospect.

Santana’s older brother, Christian, was selected by the Brewers in the 15th round of the 2017 Draft but went on to pitch at Florida International University. Santana is committed to Miami, but he had a feeling his future would come elsewhere in Florida.

“I told my advisor since Day 1 that it was going to be Tampa [Bay],” Santana said. “I had a dream about them a couple nights ago, so I told him it was them. … It just felt like the team was right.”

Santana’s top traits are his 80-grade speed and 60-grade glove, leading him to describe himself on a Zoom call as “the next switch-hitting Trea Turner.” Listed at 5-foot-11 and 155 pounds, Santana will have to add muscle to hit at the professional level, but he made a strong impression on the Rays during a workout at Tropicana Field late last month.

“He’s such a good kid. He's got so much energy, and he's such a special defender,” Ricci said. “The profile, as he gets stronger, has the chance to be special. Switch-hitting, speed, elite defender at shortstop -- really a fun kid to be around.”

Ledbetter, MLB Pipeline’s No. 49 Draft prospect, actually got a chance to meet his potential future teammate, Taylor, as they were two of seven players who accepted MLB’s invitation to attend the Draft. Much like Taylor, Ledbetter was backstage at the Draft in Seattle with his parents when he heard his name called with the 55th overall pick.

“I feel like I’m on cloud nine right now. It’s a surreal feeling,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always dreamed about since I picked up a little plastic bat in the backyard. It’s crazy.”

The 21-year-old outfielder hit .320/.452/.574 with 12 homers, 16 steals and 47 walks compared to 36 strikeouts over 53 games as a junior at Mississippi State, where he transferred after two seasons at Samford University. The lefty-hitting outfielder said facing tougher competition in the Southeastern Conference forced him to develop into a “pure hitter,” someone with a plan and a two-strike approach at the plate, and a more mature player.

Ledbetter makes consistent hard contact against all types of pitches, an intriguing trait when combined with his discipline, and has shown the athleticism to stay in center field. The main question is his arm, which could be playable in center but might ultimately land him in left field.

“He was challenged in the SEC, and he lived up to the challenge,” Ricci said. “You've got patience and power, and you've got defensive versatility. He can play all three outfield spots. He works the count. He can take a walk, but also, he's got really good pull-side power.”