ST. PETERSBURG — LeVon Washington had already impressed the Rays with his speed. Then he really showed them something about an hour after being the 30th pick in the draft Tuesday night, announcing on a media conference call he already was committed to sign: "I'll be a Ray."
"That's great news,'' Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said later, "and we feel the exact same way.''
The Rays like a lot about Washington, a 17-year-old from Gainesville's Buchholz High, enough to make him their first pick even though he is still rehabbing from September surgery to repair the labrum in his right shoulder. They see him as a centerfielder — though he prefers shortstop — and say he'll be fully healthy by the fall instructional league.
"First of all, he's a premium athlete," scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "He fits right in with the kind of players that we've signed in the past. He's a well above average runner and we really like his bat. We think he's going to hit, and hit for a high average. … We saw an advanced young hitter."
And Washington, who had committed to the University of Florida and has usually difficult-to-deal-with Scott Boras as his adviser, apparently liked being drafted by the home-state Rays.
"Initial reaction?" Washington said. "I was jumping up and down, I broke two of my necklaces (rosaries with crosses) and I was screaming for about two minutes straight."
Assuming the shoulder injury — a slight tear Washington said he got from working out too much for scouts — heals, the only issue could be where he ends up playing. Washington compared his style of play to Mets star shortstop Jose Reyes and said he's "fine" with moving to centerfield "but I would like to play shortstop or at least have a chance."
The Rays landed two other high school position players on the first night of the now three-day draft, taking Menlo (Calif.) High shortstop Ken Diekroeger in the second round (78th overall) and Midway (Waco, Texas) High outfielder Todd Glaesman, who was rated the No. 53 prospect by Baseball America, in the third (108th).
Both are committed to major-college programs — Diekroeger to Stanford, Glaesman to Texas A&M — but the Rays sound like they'll do, and pay, what it takes to make them Rays.
"We know these players very, very well and we felt really, really comfortable with the selections,'' Harrison said. "We've taken good players and we're going to go wrestle them. We think all these players want to sign.''
The Rays and Washington are eager to get started. Washington said he had already talked to the Florida coaches and told him he planned to sign "as soon as" the Rays want him to, which could be by the end of this week. Bonuses for players taken near the end of the first round have been around $1 million the past two years.
"I'm pretty much signing right now," he said. "I talked to my coach and everything; he understands because I got drafted in the first round, he understands the opportunity I have."
The Rays have been watching Washington for about two years, seeing him extensively before his shoulder injury, and he put on a good show during a June 3 workout at the Trop. Washington liked the experience, too, meeting Evan Longoria and some other players. "It's a good opportunity to be able to play in that dome and be in that atmosphere; I like it," he said.
The Rays talked about sending him to their Gulf Coast League team in Port Charlotte, figuring he could DH (as he did for most of his senior season at Buchholz) while continuing to rehab his shoulder.
"We feel like him going out and getting 150-200 at-bats this summer puts him in a good position to open next year with a full-season club, which is extremely valuable, obviously, in terms of expediting his path to the major leagues,'' Friedman said.
Overall, the Rays said they couldn't be any happier with their picks. "We feel like we added three premium athletes that are also very good baseball players,'' Friedman said.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.