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Rays make draft history: No pitchers in top six picks

As much as the Rays rely on pitching, they opted to stock up on position players.
The Rays think Washington State infielder Kyle Manzardo can hit well now and may add power to the lineup.
The Rays think Washington State infielder Kyle Manzardo can hit well now and may add power to the lineup. [ TYLER TATE | Associated Press ]
Published Jul. 13, 2021|Updated Jul. 13, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — In draft parlance, it’s the most cliched thing anyone can say, that they took the best player available.

But Monday night, that was senior director of amateur scouting Rob Metzler’s explanation for a stunning first in the pitching-dependent Rays’ 26-draft history — not taking a pitcher in their first six picks.

“You’re going to tease me, but it comes down to best talent available,” Metzler said. “And if it’s a position player, we’re good to do it.”

After selecting prep infielders Carson Williams and Cooper Kinney with their first-round and competitive balance picks Sunday, the Rays grabbed four more position players — yes, including another shortstop — before drafting Texas Tech lefty Mason Montgomery, with their sixth-round and seventh overall pick.

Oddly, and also for no good reason, the Rays completed the second day — and first 10 rounds of the draft — with four other college pitchers.

Shortstop Dru Baker is one of two Texas Tech players drafted by the Rays on Day 2.
Shortstop Dru Baker is one of two Texas Tech players drafted by the Rays on Day 2. [ COLIN E. BRALEY | Associated Press (2019) ]

“We were aware that we hadn’t taken a pitcher yet, but then there was a position player we were totally pumped about available, so we went in that direction,” Metzler said.

“I think we’re going to get some good (pitchers) in this group, so I think we’re going to be okay. We’ve been able to find some really good arms, and we think this group has a chance — down with some of our lower selections, and into (Tuesday), we like our chances to be able to find some good arms. It might put a little more pressure on our international department and our pro department to add some more arms in their activity, but, who knows. We all work at it together.”

The longest the Rays had gone without taking a pitcher previously was five picks, at the top of an extremely unproductive 2009 draft.

They didn’t sign their top two, LeVon Washington and Kenny Diekroeger; their first pitcher was Devin Fuller, a sixth-rounder who lasted two seasons at the low end of the minors; and the highest drafted player to reach the majors was 12th-rounder Andrew Bellatti.

In 2000, they didn’t take a pitcher until Dennis Malaska in the eighth round, but did not have picks in the second, third or fourth rounds, so the lefty from Akron was their fifth overall choice. In 2002, their first pitcher was also their fifth choice, lefty Mark Romanczuk.

Also Monday, the Rays:

⋅ Started their day using the No. 63 overall pick on Washington State first baseman Kyle Manzardo, a lefty swinger they feel can hit well now and may add power. “We think it’s a bat, a profile, that has a chance to carry the position,” Metzler said “We’re really excited about that one.”

⋅ Added yet another promising shortstop prospect — and a good baseball name — in taking Ryan Spikes from Parkview High near Atlanta, in the third round.

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⋅ Drafted Texas Tech teammates with Dru Baker, a competitive and emotional outfielder/infielder, in the fourth round and Montgomery, a lefty starter they had been following since high school, in the sixth. “Just random,” Metzler said.”Truthfully, I didn’t realize it until a few picks later.”

The Rays picked up Arkansas' Patrick Wicklander in the eighth round Monday.
The Rays picked up Arkansas' Patrick Wicklander in the eighth round Monday. [ MICHAEL WOODS | Associated Press ]

⋅ Added to an inspiring story by drafting Arkansas lefty Patrick Wicklander, who was diagnosed in May 2020 as a Type 1 diabetic and this season led SEC starters with a 2.11 ERA.

⋅ Dipped into the junior college ranks for outfielder Mason Auer, who played previously at Missouri State, and lefty Alex Ayala, and to Division II Lee University for right-hander Logan Workman.

⋅ Ended the day in a big way, taking North Carolina Central’s Austin Vernon, a 6-foot-8, 265-pound right-hander.

⋅ Expressed optimism they would have deals in place relatively soon with Williams (likely just under slot value of $2,493,900) and Kinney (around slot at $2,148,100).

Rays draft picks

The draft concludes Tuesday with rounds 11-20.

Rd. No. Pos. Player, school

Round 1 (28th): SS Carson Williams, Torrey Pines (Calif.) High

Round 1-c (34th): INF Cooper Kinney, Baylor (Tenn.) High

Round 2 (63rd): 1B Kyle Manzardo, Washington State

Round 3 (100th): SS Ryan Spikes, Parkview (Ga.) High

Round 4: (130th) OF/INF Dru Baker, Texas Tech

Round 5: (161st) OF Mason Auer, San Jacinto (Texas) College North 2- way

Round 6 (191st): LHP Mason Montgomery, Texas Tech

Round 7 (221st): RHP Logan Workman, Lee (Tenn.) University

Round 8 (251st): LHP Patrick Wicklander, Arkansas

Round 9 (281st): LHP Alex Ayala Jr., Florida SouthWestern State College

Round 10 (311th): RHP Austin Vernon, North Carolina Central

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