Infielder Brayden Taylor was first passed over coming out of high school. He was overlooked again early in the first round of the MLB draft on Sunday night.
But the Rays recognized the versatile 21-year-old’s talent and picked the Texas Christian University junior with the 19th overall pick.
“I am grateful going there, but also, super, super thankful that I was selected,” Taylor said on a conference call from the draft site in Seattle Sunday night. “Just at a loss for words right now. It’s just awesome.”
Also Sunday, the Rays picked 17-year old shortstop Adrian Santana of Doral Academy with the 31st pick, in the compensatory round. With their second-round pick, No. 55 overall, they grabbed Mississippi State outfielder Colton Ledbetter.
“We’re really excited to get Brayden Taylor. I think he’s a very versatile player in every way,” Rays senior director of amateur scouting Chuck Ricci said. “He’s played shortstop. He’s played third base. He’s the all-time leading home run hitter at TCU. He can just do everything well . “He’s very much a Rays player; very well-balanced.”
Taylor, who had been projected to go as high as sixth in some mock drafts, does not overwhelm scouts with his raw skills, but he does many things well. The Big 12 Conference freshman of the year and a Cape Cod League All-Star in 2021, he impressed scouts with his control of the strike zone and approach at the plate. He was undrafted coming out of high school in Utah but elevated his game and reputation in college.
“It’s just been cool to see all the hard work pay off in every aspect,” Taylor said. “I didn’t play third base until getting to college. So, I thought that was a cool jump for me there and seeing all those really good pitchers throughout all my time here. So, it’s just been it’s been a great experience for me.”
Taylor played mostly at third base at TCU and showed he could handle the defense at the hot corner. His arm is considered strong enough to stay there.
“For me, I’m very comfortable anywhere on the (infield) dirt,” Taylor said. “I played third base in college. I played shortstop in the falls. I played second base during the summers, so I feel like I’m very, very comfortable playing at each and every one of those positions.”
Taylor hit .308 with a career-high 23 homers and 70 RBIs as a junior this past season. He had a .403 on-base percentage and .631 slugging percentage. He hit over .300 in each of his three seasons with the Horned Frogs.
With their compensatory-round pick, the Rays are getting a “switch-hitting Trea Turner,” if Santana may say so himself. Santana, who has signed with Miami, is an outstanding athlete whose arm and speed already make him a solid defensive shortstop.
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“He’s such a good kid. He’s got so much energy, and he’s such a special defender,” Ricci said. “I mean, the profile, as he gets stronger, has a chance to be special: switch-hitting, speed, elite defender at shortstop, and a really fun kid to be around.”
It was not a surprise when the Rays picked him, Santana said. He worked out at Tropicana Field late last month.
“It was a really good day from both sides of the plate,” he said. “I drove some balls to the outfield. Everything just kind of went well.”
He even had a dream that they had picked him.
“I told my advisor since day one it was going to be Tampa,” Santana said. “I had a dream about them a couple of nights ago. So, I told him it was definitely going to be the Rays.”
Ledbetter, their second-round pick, hit .320 with 12 home runs, 52 RBIs and 17 stolen bases, and had more walks than strikeouts this past season. He spent the first two years of his college career at Samford, where he was an All-Conference First-Team selection in 2022. He put up a 1.117 OPS in the New England College Baseball League and is projected to hit with power at the next level.
“I think you’ve got patience and power,” Ricci said of Ledbetter. “You’ve got defensive versatility. I mean, he can play all three outfield spots. He works the count. He can take a walk, but he’s got really good pull-side power.”
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