ST. PETERSBURG -- Looking to add talent and depth to the game’s top-ranked Minor League system, the Rays selected two high school middle infielders Sunday on Day 1 of the MLB Draft.
The Rays used their first-round pick, 28th overall, to select shortstop Carson Williams out of Torrey Pines High School near San Diego, then selected second/third baseman Cooper Kinney from The Baylor School in Chattanooga, Tenn., with the 34th overall pick.
Teams don’t pick for need in the MLB Draft, and Tampa Bay proved it by taking two young infielders eager to join a farm system already loaded with middle-infield talent. Of the Rays’ top 30 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline, 11 are currently working at second base, shortstop or both.
“If we have somebody with that kind of defensive ability, and that kind of well-rounded prospect, we think the range of outcomes is really positive and the chance to make an impact on the organization is multiplied,” amateur scouting director Rob Metzler said. “Having too many talented shortstops is a problem we're happy to have in this organization.”
They picked up another one in Williams, the 18-year-old who boosted his stock with a big offensive performance this 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.
Metzler said Williams, MLB Pipeline’s No. 41 Draft prospect, consistently improved every time their scouts saw him. Williams said that overall improvement was the result of the work he put in over the past year.
“You could just say bigger, faster, stronger. That's where my mind was at, and it's what I needed to do,” said Williams, who put on 10-15 pounds. “I was starting to get some height, but I definitely needed to put on weight and get faster. And that's what I accomplished. And all I can do is keep building on my skills.”
Williams is a California commit but said he’s “pretty locked in on coming” to sign with the Rays. The right-handed hitter, who also throws right-handed, offers plenty of upside offensively given his bat speed and natural loft to his swing, and he has room to add muscle to his 6-foot-2 frame, giving him the potential to hit for more power as he matures.
He is considered to be an excellent defensive prospect with a plus arm and instincts at shortstop. Metzler described him as a “true shortstop prospect” and a “very steady-handed shortstop” with a “low-maintenance swing,” power that came on in the last year and a strong throwing arm.
In fact, Williams has such impressive arm strength -- as a two-way prospect whose fastball touched 95 mph -- that some evaluators preferred him as a pitcher. But Metzler said the Rays drafted him strictly as a position player, which played a big part in Williams’ enthusiastic reaction when they called his name on Sunday night.
“I was ecstatic. Just couldn't be more happy with their decision to take me,” he said. “I love the organization, love the way they run things and love all the guys in the system. I mean, I couldn't be more happy.”
The 28th pick in Round 1 came with a slot value of $2,493,900, part of the Rays’ total bonus pool of $7,955,800. The 34th overall pick in Competitive Balance Round A, Tampa Bay’s second Day 1 selection, has an assigned slot value of $2,148,100.
Kinney, MLB Pipeline’s 84th-ranked Draft prospect, is considered a bat-first infielder with power to all fields and one of the most advanced prep hitters in this year’s Draft class. He hit .480/.539/.990 with 10 homers and 19 doubles in 31 games during his senior season, good enough to receive the Mr. Baseball Award, presented by the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association, and Tennessee’s Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year award.
Kinney is committed to play at South Carolina but said he’s “100 percent ready to go and ready to play and show what I can do” at the next level after being selected by Tampa Bay.
“I was nothing but excited,” Kinney said. “Put a lot of hard work and a lot of time into this, and so I was absolutely satisfied with what happened. I'm just 100 percent excited.”
Kinney has a simple left-handed swing with plenty of bat speed and a mature approach at the plate. He worked out for the Rays at Tropicana Field a few weeks ago, giving their decision-makers another up-close look before the Draft. There are some questions about his defensive future, with Metzler saying even Kinney would describe himself as “less polished” in the field than at the plate, but he will work at second and third base when he enters the Rays’ system.
Metzler noted that he’s “very convinced that [Kinney is] going to put in the work” to improve defensively, which is about what you’d expect from Kinney given his background in the game. His father, Mike, was his baseball coach at Baylor and led their team to Division II Class-AA state championships in 2018, ‘19 and this spring.
“A coach's son is something I've been, so I've kind of learned things as I've gone on through my baseball journey,” Kinney said. “I feel like I have a pretty high baseball IQ, and I feel like I'm a pretty mature hitter in the box. I'm a pretty versatile player on defense, so I've been able to move around and play different positions is something I've done my whole life. So I'm excited to do whatever I can do to get in the lineup and help a team win.”