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Tampa Bay Rays pick hard-throwing high school pitcher with first of 10 first-day selections in draft

Taylor Guerrieri was projected by many to go far higher than the 24th overall pick.

Associated Press

Taylor Guerrieri was projected by many to go far higher than the 24th overall pick.

ST. PETERSBURG — Considering how unique and unprecedented the Rays' first day of the draft was going to be Monday night, it was only fitting they tried something new in their preparations.

Long-time scouting director R.J. Harrison said that, for the first time, executives and scouts performed a mock draft Sunday, trying to predict how their record 10 picks in the first 60 selections would go. The idea, sparked by minor-league director of operations Mitch Lukevics, had an "upside" scenario and "doomsday" one.

And after Monday's haul, which included four pitchers and six position players, the Rays were excited how it turned out.

"I don't think we did as well in any of those mock drafts as we did (Monday), to be honest with you," Harrison said.

A big reason was their first pick, right-hander Taylor Guerrieri (Spring Valley High, S.C.), who was rated 10th overall by Baseball America but fell to them at No. 24. One American League scout told Baseball America that Guerrieri had "the best high school arm I've ever seen." MLB Network analyst John Hart, a former Indians general manager, called the South Carolina commitment "a big future front-of-the-rotation starter."

While reported makeup and maturity issues led Guerrieri to drop in the draft, Harrison said that was "a lot of misinformation" and "overstated," and that the Rays were "tickled" to have the 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior with a power arm.

"We felt very fortunate to get a guy with that kind of future," Harrison said.

The Rays covered a lot of ground with their first-day picks, focusing on the middle of the diamond. They selected LSU centerfielder Mikie Mahtook (No. 31), an athletic player with power, and high school shortstop Jake Hager (No. 32).

Hager wasn't the only shortstop the Rays selected, with Brandon Martin (Santiago High, Corona, Calif.) taken at No. 38. Martin could be a hard sign as an Oregon State commitment, but according to Baseball America, he's a "live athlete with intriguing bat speed and the ability to make highlight-reel plays at short."

"There's a really nice balance," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "We have a lot of players that we feel like have a chance to be really good major-league players that can impact a game."

Tampa Bay stocked up on pitchers, with right-hander Jeff Ames (Lower Columbia College) at No. 42, left-hander Blake Snell (Shorewood High in Washington) at No. 52 and another Vanderbilt 6-6 left-hander, Grayson Garvin, at No. 59.

But Guerrieri was the most touted of Monday's group. As a senior, he went 6-1 with a 1.10 ERA, including three complete games, striking out 72 in 51 innings.

Guerrieri spent three high school seasons at North Augusta High before transferring to Spring Valley. North Augusta assistant coach Victor Radcliff Jr. said it was because Guerrieri's parents wanted him closer to South Carolina, where he was committed, and that there were "no hard feelings."

Radcliff acknowledged there may be some maturity issues. But he also said Guerrieri's passion for baseball will shine through, he has a good support system and he's the type of player who raises teammates' level of play.

"Ever since he was a freshman, he always wanted the ball in big situations," Radcliff said. "He's a special athlete."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays pick hard-throwing high school pitcher with first of 10 first-day selections in draft 06/06/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 12:35am]
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