ST. PETERSBURG — Fourth-round pick Luke Bailey is hoping he can be a steal of this year's Rays draft class.
The Troup County (Ga.) senior was considered one of the best prep catching prospects before his May Tommy John surgery on his right (throwing) elbow: "Without a doubt, a first-round, top-20 pick before he got hurt," coach Craig Garner said.
The Rays are confident in Bailey's recovery. And they're intrigued by what picks like him and fifth-rounder Bishop Gorman (Nev.) first baseman Jeff Malm can bring as position player prospects, "something that we're not as strong as we were a couple years ago," executive VP Andrew Friedman said.
Bailey, an Auburn commitment, said he plans to sign with the Rays, and Malm (Southern Cal) hopes to as well. Friedman said the Rays got a good mix of "premium athletes, good hitters, good arms" during the draft's second day — including 17 pitchers. Scouting director R.J. Harrison said they were "tickled" to land Bailey.
"We've got a chance to have a guy that's going to not only be a defensive guy, but a guy who has a chance to hit in a fairly significant part of the lineup," said Harrison, who met with Bailey and liked his maturity and makeup.
Bailey was hurt in April. He said he aggravated a muscle in an at-bat then heard a "pop" when he came in as a closer, which he periodically did. Bailey said the surgery, performed by Dr. James Andrews (also the Rays medical director), went well.
"It was kind of devastating to go from the top catcher in the draft to getting Tommy John surgery," Bailey said. "It's okay, everything happens for a reason."
Malm is a strong left-handed hitter (17 homers, 69 RBIs, .564 average) who led Bishop Gorman to four straight state titles. He said he has a good relationship with Rays area scout Jason Durocher, and his adviser Rich Aude is a former Rays scout. Malm attended Game 2 of the World Series last season with his legion ball team.
"I think it's a win-win situation," Malm said. "USC is a great program, and I've always been a fan. But for me, playing professional baseball has always been my dream. I hope we can get something done sometime this summer, and I can be a Ray."
The Rays also picked University of Tampa right-hander Alex Koronis (8-2, 3.48 ERA), whom coach Joe Urso said is a "power right-handed arm that can throw in the low to mid 90s with a pretty good slider. He has that aggressive personality and that mentality for a closer. And I do think eventually that may be the role he ends up in."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.