Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Prep pitchers pique Rays' draft interest

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays selected six straight collegians on the second day of the draft Friday, a nod toward more advanced prospects with better indicators of their ability.

But the two high school pitchers they took first could be the real prizes.

Left-hander Brock Burke of Evergreen (Colo.) and righty Blake Bivens of Danville (Va.) Washington were listed on what scouting director R.J. Harrison called, "our good pitching board."

Like RHP Cam Varga, their second-round pick, they are "guys we had in our cross hairs and we went ahead and chased them down," Harrison said.

Burke, a 17-year-old who throws in the low 90s, has a promising profile in addition to a resume that includes a 19-strikeout, one-hit shutout at Coors Field.

"He's a very, very projectable young guy with a good body," Harrison said. "He has all the things in place that you're looking for on a starting pitching prospect."

Burke is committed to Oregon.

Bivens, 18, improved his draft status at several showcase events, clocking consistently in the low 90s and featuring a solid curveball. He is committed to Liberty.

Overall, Harrison said they were excited by their haul and "feel pretty good where we are" in getting them signed.

COLLEGE TRY: Harrison said taking four college position players (and eight collegians overall) with their first 11 picks was more reacting to the draft board than a shift in philosophy. But he also acknowledged the benefits.

"If all things were equal on a position player, I'd assume go with the guy with a little track record and experience," he said. "They can get out and get going a little quicker. They don't have to navigate the back fields quite as much as the high school kids do."

INTERESTING LOOK: Having a body compared to stocky veteran reliever RHP Joel Peralta isn't necessarily the best compliment. But RHP Mike Franco has the Rays excited for other reasons as he went 9-3, 1.09 (second in Division I) for Florida International.

"He's a husky guy. He's not your prototypical right-handed starter build. But he's got good stuff. He's got major-league stuff," Harrison said of the 5-foot-11, 200-pounder. "And he has know-how."

LATE THURSDAY: Varga, who went to the IMG Academy in Bradenton before moving to Cincinnati, set a national prep record by striking out 33 consecutive batters. Overall, he was 10-0 with five no-hitters and 141 strikeouts (and six walks). … RHP Brent Honeywell features a screwball that Harrison said isn't a gimmick, but a legit weapon.

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