Rays' 71st pick grew up a Longo fan ... in Chicago

July 18th, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- Ryan Cermak grew up in the Chicago area. His mom, Donna, is from the South Side. His dad, Jeff, has season tickets at Guaranteed Rate Field. They’re White Sox fans, of course. So is Cermak.

But he was also a Rays fan, long before they selected him with the 71st overall pick in the MLB Draft late Sunday night.

Cermak, an athletic center fielder from Illinois State, said he initially started following the Rays because of his admiration for franchise icon Evan Longoria. Like Longoria, Cermak grew up playing on the left side of the infield. He liked the way Longoria played. When he played the MLB The Show video games in 2012 and ’13, his team of choice was always Tampa Bay.

“And I sort of stuck with the team since then,” Cermak said.

Now, he’s hoping to stick in the Rays’ organization after they used the last of their four Day 1 Draft picks on him. Cermak said he heard nothing but good things from Rays area scout Tom Couston, the same scout who signed Kevin Kiermaier as a 31st-round pick in the 2010 Draft, and Cermak is excited to get his professional career started.

So eager, in fact, that the 21-year-old said he’d already been planning to move and establish residency in either Florida or Arizona, depending on who picked him, to be closer to his new team’s Spring Training facility. His advisor called him Sunday night to inform him the Rays were interested in him with the 71st overall pick, the additional Competitive Balance Round B selection they acquired in the Austin Meadows-for-Isaac Paredes trade.

Cermak’s reaction? “Let’s do it.”

His advisor told him to act normal and not tell anyone. So, naturally, Cermak told his father he was coming off the board soon -- but asked if he wanted to know where he’d be going.

“He's like, 'I'll let it be a surprise,' and so I sat back down and just waited for my name to be called,” Cermak said. “I was sort of away with my friends [watching the Draft], and once my name was called, I immediately went to my mom and dad.”

The celebratory reaction to his selection was so loud that Cermak said he didn’t initially hear the position that mistakenly followed his name: shortstop. Three years ago, that would have made sense to him. But he transitioned from the infield to center field early in the 2021 season and took to the position so well he was named the Missouri Valley Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year two years in a row.

Cermak, who was MLB Pipeline’s No. 85 Draft prospect, was so excited just to be picked that he asked for one of his old infield gloves as soon as he heard “shortstop.” But make no mistake, the Rays want to see him use his athleticism in center field.

“He really made strides this year playing center field for Illinois State,” Rays senior director of amateur scouting Rob Metzler said. “Really good power. Really good defensive ability and foot speed. Really excited to get that collection of talent. … He’s a very strong kid. We met with him at the Combine. Very well put-together. It’s an exciting speed and strength combination.”

Cermak’s strength stood out, as Metzler said, when the Rays’ national crosschecker told the story of a cold night when Cermak homered into the wind at Dallas Baptist University last year. This season, he slashed .340/.441/.696 with 19 homers, 43 RBIs, eight steals and 30 walks compared to 44 strikeouts in 48 games.

Cermak’s power really gained some attention this spring when he hit four homers in four consecutive plate appearances over two games, putting together a three-homer game (with two grand slams) followed by a 470-foot homer in the next game.

That might have been the coolest moment of his baseball career. Until Sunday night, anyway.

“I mean, my first word was 'ball.' That could have been anything from football to baseball, basketball, soccer, whatever. But no, I definitely loved baseball growing up the most,” Cermak said. “It's just been a dream come true.”