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Rays pick first baseman Casey Gillaspie in first round

ST. PETERSBURG — Casey Gillaspie watched his brother star in college, become the No. 37 pick in the draft and hit better than .330 in the majors. Gillaspie finally scored a big point in his sibling rivalry Thursday night in the first round of the draft.

The Rays chose the Wichita State first baseman with the No. 20 overall pick — 17 spots better than brother Conor went in 2008 before reaching the majors.

"It was cool when it happened," Gillaspie said. "But now I'm ready and focused on making that next impact."

The Rays hope that impact comes soon. Once among the best in baseball, the Rays' farm system has fallen to the bottom half, according to analysts. And only five picks from their past eight drafts have reached the majors.

But Gillaspie, 21, has the potential to speed through the organization as just the third college hitter the Rays have chosen with their first pick. (Clemson's Richie Shaffer in 2012 and Long Beach State's Evan Longoria in 2006).

"He's certainly advanced," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said, "so that plays into our evaluation."

Gillaspie led the Cape Cod League with eight home runs last summer, so he has shown power with wooden bats.

He followed that up in the spring for the Shockers, blasting 15 homers (tied for fifth in Division I) and walking 58 times (first). Baseball America's top first baseman in the draft also ranked second with a .520 on-base percentage and fifth in slugging percentage (.682).

Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison noted before the draft how few quality amateur hitters there were, but he believed the Rays snagged one of the top ones in the 6-foot-4 switch-hitter from Omaha, Neb.

"He's big," Harrison said. "He's strong. He's made the way you want a big-leaguer to be made."

His baseball pedigree doesn't hurt, either. He's the third college All-American in his family.

Gillaspie's dad, Mark, starred at Mississippi State and averaged 17 home runs over his eight seasons in pro baseball. He never reached the big leagues but ranked among the minor-league's leaders with 122 RBIs in 1983.

Conor starred at Wichita State before being drafted by the Giants in 2008. Now with the White Sox, the third baseman is hitting .336 with 18 RBIs and dispensed plenty of advice to his younger brother in the antsy weeks leading up to the draft.

"He's kind of guided me through this whole draft process," Gillaspie said. "He told me to enjoy it. I'm thankful to have him. He's been through it all."

The Rays dipped into the high school ranks in the second round, drafting Cincinnati Christian Academy right-hander Cameron Varga at No. 60.

And Thursday night will be especially memorable for the North Carolina signee. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, he also threw his fifth no-hitter, striking out 15 in the state semifinals.

With their final pick (No. 72), the Rays took right-hander Brent Honeywell from Walters State Community College (Tenn.). He wasn't among Baseball America's top 200 prospects.

The draft continues today with Rounds 3-10 and ends Saturday.

Draft history: The Astros took left-hander Brady Aiken of San Diego with the top overall pick. He's only the third high school pitcher taken No. 1 overall (Yankees' Brien Taylor in 1991 and Rangers' David Clyde in 1973). The Marlins made it the first time high school pitchers were the top two picks with Tyler Kolek, a righty from Shepherd, Texas. Florida State right-hander Luke Weaver went No. 27 to the Cardinals. Miami left-hander Andrew Suarez went No. 57 to the Nationals.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

.Fast facts

Casey Gillaspie

First round (No. 20 overall)

Position: First baseman

Height/weight: 6-4; 238

Bats/throws: Switch; left

School: Wichita State

Details: One of the top power-hitting college players in the draft. Led the Cape Cod summer league with eight home runs in 2013. Bat has drawn comparisons to Lance Berkman and Mark Teixeira. Was ranked as the No. 25 player in the draft by mlb.com and No. 29 by Baseball America. Lack of speed is expected to keep him at first base.

Cameron Varga

Second round (No. 60 overall)

Position: Right-handed pitcher

Height/weight: 6-3; 205

Bats/throws: Right; right

School: Cincinnati Christian Academy

Details: Ranked by mlb.com as the draft's No. 47 overall prospect. Fastball touches 95 mph and has a solid curveball. Originally committed to Florida as a shortstop but now is a North Carolina recruit. Has battled arm injuries and is old (he turns 20 on Aug. 19) for a high school prospect.

Rays pick first baseman Casey Gillaspie in first round 06/05/14 [Last modified: Friday, June 6, 2014 12:06am]
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