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Rays make surprise choice in adding Kiermaier

CLEVELAND -- The Rays' surprise of the day came when they named their 25-man roster for the Wild Card Game and Kevin Kiermaier's name was on it.

The 23-year-old outfielder from Fort Wayne, Ind., has been named the Best Defensive Player in the Rays' Minor League system two years in a row.

Former Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli, who now serves as a special assistant for baseball operations, said of Kiermaier: "One of the top outfielders in baseball. That includes the Major Leagues."

Kiermaier was selected by the Rays from Triple-A Durham prior to the Game 163 tiebreaker game and entered the game in the ninth inning as a defensive replacement.

After the decision was made to put Kiermaier on the roster for Wednesday night's game, Andrew Friedman, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations, said he enjoyed a laugh with everyone in the room.

"I said, 'This is crazy,'" said Friedman, noting that it was an example of "who we are."

The Rays selected Kiermaier in the 31st round of the 2010 Draft and he chose to sign with the Rays rather than go to Purdue. He recalled a conversation he later had with scouting director R.J. Harrison.

"I said, 'Even though I was a 31st-round pick, we agreed to a financial situation," Kiermaier said. "I said, 'I'm ready to play. It's not about that.' I'm just ready for an opportunity and I took it by storm. And it's been such a fun and successful three years with these guys. Now for them to call me up for the last game of the season, Game 163, and activate me for this game. I would have never thought I would have been here at the end of the year."

Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics now marvels that they were able to draft Kiermaier in the 31st round.

"It was amazing he got drafted where he did, but we're happy he did," Lukevics said. "But he's got good foot speed, he's a 4.15 runner [from home to first base]. He throws well. He has bat speed. He is an above-average runner, he has above-average skill. And he's an above-average defender. He learned that over time, but he has that raw skill ability.

"He became a good defender and we were hoping the bat would come around more. He's done everything that a Minor Leaguer could do to get better. We've had him in Australia, many instructional leagues, we've had him in the Arizona Fall League and he's been getting better and better. This year, he was our [Double-A] Montgomery Biscuits Player of the Year. Went to Durham and did well there for us, too. Now he's here."

Kiermaier called the past several days "one of the best stretches" of his life.

"This is what you play for," Kiermaier said. "To be a part of the postseason, and part of the 25-man roster, everything I say is going to be cliche, because I can't say it any other way than this is a dream come true. And I wouldn't want to be any other place right now than right here with this great group of guys trying to get a 'W' against these guys and move on. But what a crazy past 72 hours for me."

Davey Martinez, the Rays' bench coach and former Major League outfielder, chuckled about Kiermaier's situation.

"Took me 16 years to get to the playoffs," Martinez said. "Took him one day."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger.
Read More: Tampa Bay Rays, Kevin Kiermaier