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Rays walk away from Draft 'pleased'

Of 43 picks, club selects 26 pitchers over three-day span
MLB.com @feinsand

It will be several years before we know whether the 2018 Draft was fruitful for the Rays, but as Wednesday's 30-round frenzy came to an end, Tampa Bay felt good about the way the board shook out over the previous 48 hours.

"I thought our process was very good," Rays amateur scouting director Rob Metzler said. "Each day walking out of the room, we were happy with the group of players we acquired. The board fell well for us and we walk away pleased."

It will be several years before we know whether the 2018 Draft was fruitful for the Rays, but as Wednesday's 30-round frenzy came to an end, Tampa Bay felt good about the way the board shook out over the previous 48 hours.

"I thought our process was very good," Rays amateur scouting director Rob Metzler said. "Each day walking out of the room, we were happy with the group of players we acquired. The board fell well for us and we walk away pleased."

Draft Tracker: Every Rays pick

:: 2018 Draft coverage ::

For a system with only one pitcher listed among its Top 12 prospects by MLB Pipeline -- No. 1 prospect Brent Honeywell, who underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this season -- it was no surprise that the Rays loaded up on arms during the three-day Draft.

The Rays didn't enter the Draft with the intention of stocking up on arms, but the board fell in such a way that 26 of the 43 players selected were pitchers. Of the other 17, the Rays took five outfielders, four catchers, three shortstops, two first basemen, two third basemen and one second baseman.

"A lot of Day 3 is adding players into the organization who have an opportunity," Metzler said. "They have an opportunity to make an impact over the course of their careers, but they're going to have to compete and make strides forward to do so. The group we added, we think a lot of them have a chance to do that."

Monday's first round began with a pleasant surprise for the Rays, who watched highly touted high school left-hander Matthew Liberatore (No. 4 on MLB Pipeline's Top 200) fall to them at No. 16.

"We saw [Liberatore] as the top high school left-handed pitcher in the Draft," Metzler said Monday. "This is a great outcome for the organization."

Metzler said the Rays are "close and hopeful" with regard to signing Liberatore, who is committed to the University of Arizona.

Liberatore was the first of five Monday picks by Tampa Bay, as the Rays added lefty Shane McClanahan, center fielder Nick Schnell, shortstop Tyler Frank and right-hander Tanner Dodson on the first day of the Draft.

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

Dodson was announced by the club as a two-way player, slotting in as both a switch-hitting center fielder and a reliever.

"We will play him both capacities this summer and through the fall," Metzler said. "I would expect us to play that out. It's a different situation than [2017 No. 4 overall pick Brendan McKay's] situation, because we're talking about a center fielder/relief pitcher as opposed to a first baseman/starting pitcher. It makes it a little bit different, but we're going to explore both avenues."

Day 2 started with a pair of college position players, as Tampa Bay selected Rice shortstop Ford Proctor and Tulane center fielder Grant Witherspoon. Both players offer some versatility; Proctor could become a Brock Holt-type player according to one of his college coaches, while Witherspoon can play all three outfield positions and even played some first base in college.

Video: Draft 2018: Rays draft SS Ford Proctor No. 92

"In both cases, could I see a path where they end up playing something other than center field and shortstop at some point in their careers? Sure," said Metzler, who stressed the club likes what both players offer at their natural positions. "But we like them. I guess that creates some value, but more than anything we like their bat and their defensive ability."

Proctor plans to do everything he can to become a full-time shortstop, but he acknowledged that versatility could help him move quicker through the Minors.

"Wherever the Rays organization needs me to play, I'll play," Proctor said. "My ultimate goal is to make it to the big leagues, so if that entails fitting that mold, I would be happy to do it."

Witherspoon played center field at Tulane as a junior, but he moved around during his first two seasons, something that could benefit him as a professional.

"One of the things I have going for me is versatility, because I've played all three in the past," Witherspoon said. "I feel like I have the arm for right and the speed for center. I can play left, I can play first base; I can do whatever they want me to do."

After taking four position players with their first seven picks, the Rays focused on pitchers beginning with Round 5.

High school right-hander Taj Bradley started a run during which the Rays took five pitchers in six picks to finish off Day 2. The other four were all college pitchers, adding some more polished arms to the organization.

"Just the way the board lined up," Metzler said. "We didn't have any intention to do that. When our turn was up each time, that was the best prospect available."

Wednesday was more of the same for Tampa Bay, which started the day by taking Purdue first baseman Jacson McGowan and Puerto Rico Baseball Academy catcher Kevin Melendez before nabbing pitchers with 10 of its next 12 selections.

"Really good power," Metzler said of McGowan. "We think he's going to have an opportunity to go out and see where his bat takes him."

Of those 10 arms, nine were college pitchers.

"Usually on Day 3, the level of investment that you're able to make in those players isn't quite as large," Metzler said. "That makes it tougher to sign a high school player."

The lone high schooler was Kerry Wright from Montverde (Fla.) Academy, the same school that produced All-Star Francisco Lindor. Wright, who went in the 21st round, was ranked No. 121 pre-Draft by MLB Pipeline, so his drop to No. 630 is likely related to signability issues. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound right-hander is committed to pitch for Louisville next year.

Another player in MLB Pipeline's Top 200 Draft rankings that fell to the Rays on Day 3 was right-hander Eric Cerantola, the No. 2 prospect from Canada who is committed to play for Mississippi State next season. Already 6-foot-6 at the age of 18, Cerantola figures to be a tough sign for Tampa Bay, but the Rays were willing to roll the dice with their 30th-round pick.

"We're thrilled to draft him," Metzler said. "He's one that things will have to shake out a certain way for us to be able to get him signed."

In the 37th round, the Rays took third baseman John Rodriguez from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed during a shooting in February.

"He's a player who was deserving of being drafted," Metzler said.

Shortly after being drafted, Rodriguez tweeted his appreciation to Tampa Bay while declaring his future intentions.

"Thank you to the Rays for drafting me and for all the other teams that scouted me," the tweet said. "I am blessed, but I will stick to my decision to go to school and continue my baseball career at Florida International University #PawsUp"

Mark Feinsand, executive reporter for MLB.com, has covered the Yankees and MLB since 2001 for the New York Daily News and MLB.com.

Tampa Bay Rays