Rays snag OK State righty, Vandy catcher on Day 2

Tampa Bay turns attention to collegiate talent in middle rounds of 2022 Draft

July 18th, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- After starting this year’s MLB Draft by taking a potential slugger out of the high school ranks in Xavier Isaac, the Rays mostly dipped into the pool of college talent on Day 2 of the Draft.

The Rays made eight selections on Monday afternoon, and seven came from the college ranks, beginning with third-round right-hander Trevor Martin from Oklahoma State. The Rays view Martin, MLB Pipeline’s No. 208 Draft prospect and the first pitcher they selected this year, as a starting pitching prospect, even though he made all but five of his appearances out of the Cowboys’ bullpen this spring.

Senior director of amateur scouting Rob Metzler said Tampa Bay believes the 6-foot-5, 238-pounder has the frame, delivery, mid-90s fastball, wipeout slider and “emerging secondary mix” to develop as a starter. Martin, 21, proved what he could do in an extended role in his final outing of the season, striking out 16 batters in 6 2/3 innings out of the bullpen during an NCAA regional playoff game against Missouri State.

“We know he had the big relief outing, and I guess that helped. But prior to that, when he was pitching out of the bullpen, because of the size and his delivery and how well he repeats it and his mix of pitches … Give credit to Reggie Lawson, our scout in the area, [who] identified that. In our system, we thought [he has] a chance to develop really well as a starter.”

The Rays then took a pair of Southeastern Conference position players: Vanderbilt catcher Dominic Keegan (fourth round, MLB Pipeline’s No. 97 Draft prospect) and Arkansas shortstop Jalen Battles. The Rays see Keegan as a catcher with a “very powerful” swing at the plate, Metzler said. Battles is regarded as a high-end defensive shortstop, but Metzler noted his all-around tools, including power that showed up more this spring.

Tampa Bay’s lone high school pick of the day was sixth-round right-hander Gary Gill Hill, who attended John F. Kennedy Catholic High in New York. He’s only 17, which might prompt some comparisons to current top Rays prospect Taj Bradley, who was the same age when he was selected on Day 2 of the Draft in 2018. They’re different pitchers, but Metzler said Gill Hill -- like Bradley the year he was drafted -- took “tremendous strides” this spring and shows plus arm speed, a live fastball, a slider and changeup.

“We think he has a really good chance to develop into something really special with us,” Metzler said.

The Rays went on to select left-handed-hitting Oklahoma first baseman Blake Robertson, whose command of the strike zone was evident as he tied for the NCAA lead in walks this year, in the seventh round. Then came Kentucky right-hander Sean Harney, a senior whose slider stood out to the Rays as he pitched in a swing role for the Wildcats.

In the ninth round, the Rays nabbed North Carolina State left-handed reliever Chris Villaman, the No. 219 prospect in this year’s class, their first lefty pitcher of the Draft. Villaman’s biggest weapon is his heavily used fastball, which ranges from 90-95 mph but plays better than that at the top and bottom of the zone due to its movement. With their final Day 2 pick, the Rays selected Hawaii right-hander Cade Halemanu, whom Metzler described as a “big, strong, athletic” starter, at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, with a mid-90s fastball and a promising changeup.