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Rays select lefty Liberatore with first-round pick

Polished HS pitcher among 5 high-upside talents Tampa Bay takes on Day 1
MLB.com @wwchastain

ST. PETERSBURG -- Sounds like the Rays got a steal in the first round of the 2018 Draft.

• Draft Tracker: Follow every Rays Draft pick

ST. PETERSBURG -- Sounds like the Rays got a steal in the first round of the 2018 Draft.

• Draft Tracker: Follow every Rays Draft pick

Tampa Bay's first pick came at No. 16, and when 18-year-old left-hander Matthew Liberatore was still on the board, they selected the 6-foot-6, 200-pounder from Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale, Ariz. He was ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 4 prospect in the Draft class.

:: 2018 Draft coverage ::

"We're very pleased with the outcome tonight," said Rob Metzler, Rays amateur scouting director. "We saw [Liberatore] as the top high school left-handed pitcher in the Draft. This is a great outcome for the organization.

"He's large, he has a good delivery, a good arm action. He has a diverse repertoire of pitches -- fastball, changeup, slider, curveball -- and can command them all. Those are all really good ingredients we think we can develop."

Scouts say Liberatore has advanced command of those pitches, leading many to rate him as the most polished high school pitcher in the Draft.

"I have total confidence in all my pitches," Liberatore said. "I think I'm a pretty aggressive pitcher. I attack the strike zone. And depending on whose hitting, I think I have three-plus wipeout pitches."

The Rays will now work to sign Liberatore, who has committed to the University of Arizona. Metzler sounded confident they will be able to bring their top pick into the fold.

"We feel like we're in good shape," Metzler said. "We're optimistic about getting Matthew on board."

Liberatore echoed that sentiment when asked if he felt good about signing with the Rays.

"Yeah, definitely," Liberatore said. "I'm super excited to be a Ray and get started with the organization."

Liberatore went 8-1 with a 0.93 ERA in his senior season. He struck out 104 while walking just 25 in 60 1/3 innings.

Video: Draft 2018: Liberatore on being 16th overall pick

Some projections had him becoming a top five selection. Liberatore said he had no expectations heading into the Draft, so he wasn't disappointed with where he went. As for those who went before him, good for them, according to Liberatore.

"My only competition is the person I was yesterday," Liberatore said. "It's you versus you. I'm not comparing myself to anybody who went before or after me. I'm happy for all of those guys, and I'm looking forward to making every day my best day yet and being the best baseball player I can be."

Video: Metzler on selecting Matthew Liberatore 16th overall

The Rays had back-to-back picks with the 31st and 32nd selections, and they chose University of South Florida left-hander Shane McClanahan and Nick Schnell, a left-handed-hitting outfielder from Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, respectively.

The No. 31 selection was a compensation pick for Alex Cobb, who departed as a free agent, and No. 32 was compensation for unsigned 2017 Draft selection Drew Rasmussen.

McClanahan has a fastball that can reach triple digits, as well as a changeup and a slider. The risk factors for the highly regarded lefty center on his struggles at time to throw strikes, his slight build (6-foot-1, 173 pounds) and a past Tommy John surgery, which cost him his 2016 season.

Video: Draft 2018: Rays draft LHP Shane McClanahan No. 31

McClanahan had a 3.20 ERA over 15 starts as a redshirt freshman, then posted a 3.41 ERA over 13 starts as a redshirt sophomore this season, and he struck out 120 batters in 76 1/3 innings.

"The size, we see that as a plus," said Chaim Bloom, Rays senior vice president of baseball operations. "This is a strong, athletic kid. He has walked a few guys. But he's also struck out a ton of guys. He's missed a ton of bats. So there's a lot to like there."

As for the Tommy John surgery on his resume ...

"Fortunately, we have a tremendous medical team," Bloom said. "We get a chance to spend some time on these guys' medical histories. Certainly that's something you note, something you take into account when assessing risk against upside. But ultimately, we still felt like this was a good pick for us to make."

Schnell received honors as the Indiana's Gatorade Player of the Year in 2018. He hit .535 with 15 home runs and 37 RBIs this season, bringing his four-year totals at Roncalli to .473 with 25 homers and 109 RBIs.

Video: Draft 2018: Rays draft CF Nick Schnell No. 32

"Athletic high school outfielder from the Midwest," Bloom said. "It's the type of body that has a chance to be a thoroughbred body, where he can add strength, maintain the speed he has. Center fielder. Advanced hitting approach. Has some power to all fields. Can go the other way better than most high school kids. Just a lot to like about this guy. A really good high school player with upside to add to our system."

In the second round, the Rays used the 56th pick of the Draft to select Florida Atlantic shortstop Tyler Frank.

In his junior season this year, Frank hit .315 with 13 home runs and had a .459 slugging percentage. He was named Third Team All-American by Collegiate Baseball and was named the Sun Belt Conference defensive player of the year.

Video: Draft 2018: Rays draft RHP Tanner Dodson No. 71

The Rays finished off the first day of the Draft by using the 71st selection to choose right-hander Tanner Dodson from Cal-Berkeley. In addition to being a highly regarded pitcher, working as Cal's closer, Dodson played center field for the Bears. He is considered one of the top two-way players at the Division 1 level.

The Draft continues Tuesday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com preview show begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, with exclusive coverage beginning at 1 p.m. ET.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004.

Tampa Bay Rays