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No commitment, but a hint

Vanderbilt pitcher David Price is on Rays' list with their first pick in next month's draft.

By JOE SMITH
Published May 22, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison flashed his best poker face when discussing the club's direction with its top pick in next month's first-year player draft.

Likely for leverage, Harrison said the staff has narrowed it to three, vowing to select the "best prospect available." But he couldn't hide his smile when he stated the obvious:

"It's safe to say that David Price is one of them."

The Vanderbilt LHP is thought to be the Rays' likely selection, as he was in Baseball America's first mock draft Friday. Harrison said both Georgia Tech C Matt Wieters and Cypress High (Calif.) 3B Josh Vitters are in the mix.

The Rays scouting staff will meet Monday to discuss the club's draft board. Harrison has met with all three prospects, saying he's not worried about their signability, and isn't necessarily focused on taking a player who could make the quickest impact.

But Harrison will head to Alabama this week for the SEC tournament, getting another look at Price (10-0, 2.76 ERA, a school-record 164 strikeouts), who leads the top-ranked Commodores.

The Rays have taken a college pitcher with their top pick in three of the past six seasons, with the club learning from the mixed results.

RHP Dewon Brazelton (third overall, 2001) was demoted then traded in 2005 after a disappointing season on (1-8, 7.61) and off the field. RHP Jeff Niemann (fourth, 2004) and Wade Townsend (eighth, 2005) have battled injuries.

"We probably pushed the first guy through a little too soon, and we're still waiting on the other two, " Harrison said. "Injuries get in the way, other things can happen. But you let those guys develop normally, and they'll get on track."

GETTING THEIR HACKS: They didn't need to with an interleague series at home this weekend, but the Rays starting pitchers are getting ready for stepping into the batter's box once interleague play resumes on June 8, when the Rays play at Florida.

Under the guidance of pitching coach Jim Hickey, pitchers took 30 swings in the batting cage off a tee, then 20 swings of short toss in front of a net, then took live batting practice for the first time before Friday's game.

"We're slowly working into it, " LHP Scott Kazmir said. "It's a huge difference from high school when you're swinging all the time and now you never pick up a bat. It's about getting your hands in shape holding the bat and getting your body in shape. You can get tired swinging the bat all day. It's a lot different than I'm used to because I'm usually used to swinging aluminum."

On Friday, most of their work in the batting cage was situational hitting. Each pitcher took six free swings. Kazmir hit two into the seats and RHP James Shields, who was 3-for-8 last season in interleague, hit one.

MONDAY MORNING MANAGER: The reason Joe Maddon didn't pinch-hit OF Carl Crawford for C Dioner Navarro in the ninth inning of Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Marlins was partly because the Rays' other catcher, Josh Paul, was unavailable after hurting his left arm Saturday. Maddon said he was planning to pinch-hit Crawford, whom he had wanted to give a day off, later in the inning in a potential bases-loaded, two-out situation.

Staff writer Eduardo Encina contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com or at (727) 893-8129.

Fast Facts:

 

Three's company

The Rays have selected three college pitchers in the first round. Here's how they've turned out so far:

Dewon Brazelton (Middle Tennesee), 2001 - The RHP was guaranteed $4.8-million as the No. 3 pick in the 2001 draft, but struggled on and off the field. Brazelton started opening day in 2002 and 2005, but after a 1-8, 7.61 performance and legal battles in 2005, he was demoted then traded to San Diego.

Jeff Niemann (Rice), 2004 - The fourth overall selection, Niemann signed a $5.2-million contract in 2005. The 6-foot-9 RHP, who has been sidelined with shoulder injuries in spurts throughout the past two seasons, is at Triple-A Durham (3-2, 3.97 ERA).

Wade Townsend (Rice), 2005 - Months after the RHP was given a $1.5-million signing bonus as the eighth overall pick, Townsend had Tommy John surgery on his elbow. Now in Class A Columbus, Townsend just returned from the DL (arm fatigue) with a strong outing Friday, striking out nine in a six-inning complete game.

Three's company

The Rays have selected three college pitchers in the first round. Here's how they've turned out so far:

Dewon Brazelton (Middle Tennesee), 2001 - The RHP was guaranteed $4.8-million as the No. 3 pick in the 2001 draft, but struggled both on and off the field. Brazelton started opening day in 2002 and 2005, but after a 1-8, 7.61 performance and legal battles in 2005, he was demoted then traded to San Diego.

Jeff Niemann (Rice), 2004 - The fourth overall selection, Niemann signed a $5.2-million contract in 2005. The 6-foot-9 RHP, who has been sidelined with shoulder injuries in spurts throughout the past two seasons, is at Triple-A Durham (3-2, 3.97 ERA).

Wade Townsend (Rice), 2005 - Months after the RHP was given a $1.5-million signing bonus as the eighth overall pick, Townsend had Tommy John surgery on his elbow. Now in Class A Columbus, Townsend just returned from the DL (arm fatigue) with a strong outing Friday, striking out nine in a six-inning complete game.