ST. PETERSBURG -- Stanford or the Rays? Michael Mercado must chose.
Monday night the Rays selected Mercado with the 40th pick of the 2017 MLB Draft. He is a 6-foot-4, 175 pound right-hander from Westview (Calif.) High School, and he's committed to Stanford, which normally raises a red flag for any would-be Draft suitors given how difficult it has been to pry players away from Stanford.
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However, the Rays sounded confident of signing him, and Mercado sounded open to the option of signing to play professionally.
• Rays' No. 4 overall:Brendan McKay
• Rays' No. 31 overall:Drew Rasmussen
"It's definitely going to be a big decision," Mercado said. "I'm not a end-all, be-all Stanford guy like some of the guys who are going. If the opportunities are greater playing Minor League baseball than they are playing college baseball, then that's definitely what I'll go with.
"I've just always looked at it like that. I've never leaned one way or the other. ... This is my dream and I'm obviously going to follow that and try very hard to get to the highest level. If that means I'll have to skip Stanford, then that's what I'll have to do."
If Mercado does decide to sign, he said he'd be eager to get into the system to begin his career.
Mercado had a strong season, going 9-1 with an 0.69 ERA, including 97 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings.
"He's a little more of a projection right-hander," said Rob Metzler, Rays amateur scouting director. "He's lean, but he's got a really good feel for pitching. He's got a fast arm, and we've seen velocity, and we've seen spin."
Mercado's fastball is typically in the 88-92 mph range, with some room for added velocity from his loose and projectable frame, though his value will likely stem more from command than premium velocity in the future. He throws a slider and a curve, with the latter a much better offering, buckling knees with sharp bite coming from a high three-quarters slot. He does a nice job of sprinkling in his changeup. He can throw strikes with all four pitches.
Mercado described himself as a pitcher who is "command focused."
"And I've worked a lot on keeping my composure out there and trying to stay calm under any situation," Mercado said.
The Rays used their first pick of the Draft (No. 4 overall) to select Brendan McKay, the Louisville first baseman/left-handed pitcher. With their pick in Competitive Balance Round A (31st overall), the Rays selected Oregon State right-hander Drew Rasmussen.
The Draft continues on 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.