Rays swayed by No. 29 pick's 'tremendous raw power'

July 18th, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- With the first of their four Day 1 Draft picks, the Rays took a big swing on a high school first baseman with big power.

Tampa Bay used the 29th overall pick to select Xavier Isaac, an 18-year-old University of Florida commit with a ton of offensive upside but not much of a track record. The Rays went on to select three more players in a seven-pick span: Stanford outfielder Brock Jones (65th overall), Georgia Tech shortstop Chandler Simpson (70th) and Illinois State shortstop Ryan Cermak (71st).

Their night began with a pick that surprised some analysts, as Isaac was MLB Pipeline’s 113th-ranked Draft prospect, but the Rays believe they’ve landed a high-upside hitter.

“Tremendous raw power, but I think we see a hitter with power,” Rays senior director of amateur scouting Rob Metzler said. “I would single out just his ability to use the whole field, to cover the whole plate with tremendous strength, so he's somebody who we think has the bat speed to get the good fastballs and the balance and adjustability to compete against offspeed. … Really like the offensive potential.”

Isaac possesses impressive bat speed and immense raw power, which comes from his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame. The left-handed-hitting, lefty-throwing first baseman played at East Forsyth High School in Kernersville, N.C., and was considered one of the top prep sluggers in this year’s class.

The reason there’s some uncertainty with Isaac, who enrolled for summer classes at Florida, is that he missed most of his junior season and the showcase circuit due to a foot injury and thus doesn’t have much history facing high-quality pitching. But the Rays had liked him as an underclassman, and Metzler said area scout Landon Lassiter, regional scout Brian Hickman and their staff spent “a lot of time” evaluating Isaac this spring.

“We like Xavier's left-handed swing. We like him as a hitter, and we like him with tremendous power,” Metzler said. “Enjoyed scouting him quite a bit, and his skillset grew throughout the spring. I thought it was a good process, and getting to know Xavier was a pleasure. Really, really special kid.”

Isaac has been evaluated as a below-average runner and defender at first base with average arm strength, which means that he’ll go only as far as his bat takes him. For that reason, MLB Network analyst Dan O’Dowd called it an “extremely high-risk pick.”

“I think there’s a huge ceiling here. I don’t know if there’s a floor if he doesn’t hit,” O’Dowd said on the MLB Network broadcast. “He’s got great hand speed. … His power is to all fields. Not a lot of track record.”

But the Rays believe his ability and his uncommon power will take him a long way.

“We have great evaluators who identified a really excellent talent and we did our work, and we're pretty confident in his ability to compete and achieve his upside going forward,” Metzler said.

The 29th pick comes with an assigned bonus slot value of $2,547,600, part of the Rays’ total bonus pool of $7,795,100.

This is the highest the Rays have ever selected a high school first baseman in the first round and the first time they have used their first pick on a pure first baseman since selecting Casey Gillaspie 20th overall in the 2014 Draft. The Rays have gravitated toward athletic, up-the-middle position players atop the Draft in recent years, but selecting Isaac reinforced a point Metzler has made before.

“We don't have a type,” he said. “We try and pick from the best of all areas of the field and, in this case, thought it was a really excellent opportunity for us. Different as maybe we've taken some middle-of-the-diamond players, but we thought this was an exceptional offensive profile.

Here’s a quick look at the Rays’ other three picks from Day 1, all of whom better fit the aforementioned athletic, up-the-middle profile.

Second round, No. 65: Brock Jones, OF, Stanford
MLB Pipeline’s No. 33 Draft prospect

Metzler said Jones is a player they’d identified since high school as a legitimate center field prospect, a left-handed-hitting/throwing player with an interesting blend of power, speed and defensive ability. He hit .324/.451/.664 with 21 homers and 16 steals for Stanford this spring.

A former football player who played safety and on special teams for Stanford as a freshman, Jones hit 18 homers and stole 14 bases during the 2021 season then played for Team USA last summer. He has plus speed, which should allow him to remain in center field moving forward, despite an arm that doesn’t quite match his other tools.

Competitive Balance Round B, No. 70: Chandler Simpson, SS/CF, Georgia Tech
MLB Pipeline’s No. 123 Draft prospect

With top-of-the-scale speed, a contact-oriented approach and little power, Simpson offers what Metzler described as “a little bit of a throwback profile: a top-of-the-order, contact/speed guy.”

According to MLB Pipeline, multiple evaluators joked that Simpson has “90 speed and 10 power” on the 20-80 scouting scale, making him a unique player and a particularly intriguing one as the game moves away from defensive shifts in the Minors.

Simpson was announced as a shortstop, but worked at second base at Alabama-Birmingham, where he played before transferring to Georgia Tech. Metzler confirmed Simpson will get a chance to play center field, where he could make full use of his elite speed, if he signs with the Rays before the Aug. 1 deadline.

Competitive Balance Round B, No. 71: Ryan Cermak, SS, Illinois State
MLB Pipeline’s No. 85 Draft prospect

Using the pick they acquired from the Tigers in the Austin Meadows-for-Isaac Paredes swap, the Rays picked Cermak, who possesses some of the best all-around tools in the 2022 college class.

Cermak was announced as a shortstop during the Draft, and he played some third base in college, but like Jones and Simpson, he will enter the system as a center fielder if he signs. He might best be known for homering in four consecutive plate appearances this spring and having a 10-RBI game in April, and he hit .340/.441/.696 with 19 homers and eight steals this year.