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Rays nab power hitter, then stock up on young arms

After drafting slugger Gillaspie, three of next four picks are high school pitchers

In the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, the Rays got a potential power hitter with their first pick for the third straight year, targeted young pitchers early and stocked up on college players later on.

Tampa Bay -- which, upon making its last pick, dedicated its Draft to the late Don Zimmer -- chose 22 pitchers and 19 position players with its 41 total selections. Of the pitchers, 15 were right-handers and seven were lefties. After taking three high school players with their first five picks, the Rays drafted just four more the rest of the way -- ending the Draft with seven high schoolers and 34 college athletes.

Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said that tends to happen later in the Draft.

"The majority of these guys are college players -- a lot of college seniors," Harrison said. "When you get into the Draft, there's limitations on what you can do financially. You have to pick your spots on a high school kid or a college junior that's gonna be a tough sign. So you can only take so many of them."

At the top of the Draft, the Rays went for power hitting, which is somewhat lacking in their farm system. Picking 20th overall, they drafted switch-hitting first baseman Casey Gillaspie out of Wichita State, who was fifth in the NCAA in home runs in 2014, with 15.

When they drafted Gillaspie, Harrison said that he was one of three college power hitters who stood out from the rest.

The Gillaspie pick continues a recent pattern of going after power potential early. In the past two Drafts, the Rays have taken infielders with pop with their top pick -- catcher Nick Ciuffo (2013, 21st overall) and corner infielder Richie Shaffer ('12, 25th overall). Of the Rays' Top 20 prospects, they are the only two who grade out as above-average power hitters.

After that, Tampa Bay went after young arms, as three of its next four picks were high school pitchers. The Rays took right-hander Cameron Varga in the second round, lefty Brock Burke in the third and righty Blake Bivens in the fourth.

"We went and got those three good high school pitchers," Harrison said. "Those were guys that we had in our crosshairs, and we went ahead and chased them down."

Varga set a national high school record by striking out 33 consecutive batters, and Burke struck out 19 batters in a game this April.

The Rays also took a high school pitcher, right-hander Spencer Moran, with their first pick on Day 3 of the Draft in the 11th round.

Harrison said Moran was the top player on their Draft board heading into the day, calling him the team's "target guy," and said he was hopeful a deal could be worked out with the prospect.

"We really like the kid Moran," Harrison said. "He's a prototypical right-handed starting pitcher, about 6-foot-6 with a good frame and still growing, and he has a feel to pitch right now. He's a kid that we've seen as high up as 92 or 93 [mph] -- that's not something you're getting all the time. He's a great one to add to the group that we got the previous two days."

Pitching in general was the trend in the early rounds, as seven of Tampa Bay's first 11 picks (through Round 10) were pitchers -- including a screwballer, Brent Honeywell, whom the Rays took 72nd overall. After that, it was dead even -- from rounds 11-40 on Saturday, the Rays drafted 15 pitchers and 15 position players.

The Rays got a couple of potential steals in the later rounds. In the 24th round, 727th overall, they selected 6-foot-6, 240-pound Georgia State slugger Nic Wilson, who ranked fourth in the NCAA -- one spot ahead of Gillaspie -- with 18 home runs this season. In the 33rd round, 997th overall, they drafted Patrick Grady, an outfielder from Lander University who was a 2013 National Collegiate Baseball Writers' Association second-team All-American and 2014 NCBWA preseason All-American.

With regards to getting the players signed, especially the higher-round choices, Harrison didn't have any specific updates, except for mentioning that the club had a few undrafted players they would be signing.

"I'd like to tell you that none of them will be challenging, but there always seems to be a little something that will come up," Harrison said. "But we feel pretty good about where we're at with all these kids. Hopefully, in the next week or so, we'll have clarity and we'll see if there's gonna be any headaches."

David Adler is an associate reporter for

Tampa Bay Rays