Rays showed willingness to take risks in Draft
ST. PETERSBURG -- Several years will need to pass before the Rays can accurately assess whether the 2015 Draft was a success. However, one thing rang true from the choices made this year: The Rays did not shy away from taking chances.
Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison liked the end result.
"We're excited about it," Harrison said Wednesday. "You know how excited we were about the first two kids [selected on the first day], and that got us off to a really good start.
"[Tuesday's] group was different because it was all college guys, but a bunch of college guys who we think are going to go out and hit the ground running. We got some bats we like, and some good bullpen arms, and we'll see, we may take a look at a couple of those guys and see if they are the types of guys we want to think about stretching out a little bit and making them starters."
From the get-go, the theme of the Rays' Draft seemed to be "go big" even if a little bit of risk was involved.
First pick, Garrett Whitley (13th overall) is an outfielder who seemingly can do everything. He's athletic and has performed well in showcase events. So what's the risk there? Can he sustain a high level of play when he's constantly pitted against better competition than what he saw while playing for Niskayuna High School just outside of Albany, N.Y.?
The Rays believe any concerns about stepping up in competition will be overcome by talent. When Harrison was asked what the Rays liked about the 18-year-old Whitley, he smiled: "Size, strength, athleticism, explosiveness, bat speed, runner, very intelligent. What else you want too know? This guys got really good tools."
Whitley, who bats and throws right-handed, emerged as a potential first-rounder with a succession of strong performances late in the summer on the showcase circuit. He lived up to that billing by continuing to swing a good bat as spring came to the Northeast.
"He's kind of that classic cold-weather kid," Harrison said. "... This guy hasn't played like the guys in Georgia and down here [in Florida] and the Southern California kids. So to get a chance to watch him play against good competition last summer [in showcases], we watched him for a 10-day stretch and he just got better and better, which is what the elite athletes are capable of doing."
MLB.com had Rays second-round pick catcher Chris Betts from Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif., ranked 25th overall, and he went into the Draft known for being one of the "more interesting" high school bats available. However, he did experience a right forearm strain that limited him to designated-hitter duties the final three weeks of his season. Thus, Betts' stock fell.
Believing Betts' injury is not serious, the Rays used the 52nd pick to select Betts, an 18-year-old catcher with a high upside from Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif.
The Ray's third pick, Maryland second baseman Brandon Lowe, 20, saw his season end last weekend when he broke his leg in a game against Virginia. Meanwhile, fifth pick, Virginia outfielder Joe McCarthy, 21, had back surgery in January. In both cases the Rays sounded confident they would be back to full speed.
Finally, an unforseen risk came by taking Santa Clara right-hander Reece Karalus with their eighth pick. On a Santa Clara Baseball website Q&A, Karalus, 20, was asked, "What's No. 1 on your Bucket List?" To which he replied: "Leave the Earth's atmosphere."
Losing a player to outer space would be a new one.
The Rays selected 30 players on the final day of the Draft. Of the 40 players the Rays selected in total, 28 were from the college ranks and 18 were pitchers.
"Honestly, when you start looking at high school guys versus college guys, after the first four, five rounds, typically that college guy is a better bet because he's been out and he's played against better competition," Harrison said.
"With the high school guy, you're probably dreaming a little more, so when you factor those things in, and just with the way the pool of players was this year, there was some upper-tier high school pitching, but there wasn't as much of that next-level -- the guys who are little more projectable that you'd like to take in the fourth or fifth round and see about them getting them signed. The ones that were there, their price tags were scary."
Now comes the next phase of the Draft for the Rays scouting department: delivering the goods. That means they will have all hands on deck trying to sign the prospects they drafted.
"We have a bunch of guys who are getting on planes and taking off," Harrison said. "This is where the work starts with the guys in the office. We've got to get these guys in and we have to get the physicals done. If everything works out right, we would like to have Whitley in here by the end of the homestand."