tampabay.com

Rays' top pick is all business

Pitcher David Price's focus and talent bring widespread praise.

By Marc Topkin, Times Staff Writer
Published February 22, 2008


ST. PETERSBURG

David Price passed his first test, learning the names of his new teammates within the week deadline he set for himself. Finding the way from his apartment off I-275 to the Rays complex without using the navigation system in his car proved to be a little trickier. ¶ Thursday, the professionalization of the No. 1 overall draft pick continued when Price faced major-league hitters for the first time during an 8-minute, 33-pitch session of "live" batting practice.

Price's command wasn't perfect, but his form - and his fastball, slider and changeup - was good enough to earn plaudits from Rays brass, which suddenly flocked from all corners of the Naimoli complex to gather on Field 2 as the tall left-hander took the mound and claimed he didn't notice the crowd.

"Perfectly fine," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "Very impressive."

More telling was the impression Price made on Jason Bartlett, the new shortstop acquired from the Twins. When Bartlett first saw young, talented Minnesota left-hander Francisco Liriano throw a few years ago, he thought he reminded him of ace Johan Santana.

And when he saw Price throw Thursday ...

"He throws like Liriano up there," Bartlett said. "Obviously he doesn't have the changeup Liriano has just yet and the kid's young, but they've probably got Liriano in the future. The guy has to work hard and he'll be up there for a long time."

Next in line was catcher Matt Spring, who said: "There's a reason why he's the No. 1 pick, and there's a reason why he got the money that he did. ... He's fun to catch."

Probably the least impressed person in the clubhouse was Price, the 22-year-old from Vanderbilt who signed a six-year deal worth up to $11.25-million. Even though he hadn't faced hitters in seven long months since the Commodores' season ended, Price insisted Thursday's session wasn't much of a milestone, though allowed that his first big-league exhibition game could prompt a restless night.

"I was fine," he said. "I threw some good pitches, I threw some bad ones, I threw some okay ones. A typical day for a pitcher."

It was as much what Price didn't do Thursday, such as trying to show off and throw 100 mph, and how he hasn't seemed out of place or uncomfortable, that the Rays might be most excited about.

"He's been very impressive the way he's acclimated in his first big-league camp," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said, "but it's not that surprising. It's pretty much what we expected."

Price has been respectful, considerate, hard-working and, except for the day he got lost, among the first to arrive each morning. And he has been smart about his work, resisting the temptation to try to impress and following the Rays' philosophy of not doing too much too soon.

"It's been amazing to me," Hickey said. "If you didn't know you'd swear it was his seventh or eighth major-league camp."

The Rays haven't decided where Price will start his pro career, with the most likely options Class A Vero Beach or Double-A Montgomery (where Spring said he could easily fit in), and with manager Joe Maddon on record saying he could finish the year in the big leagues.

"There's definitely some things I can work on to get ready for the season," Price said.

Of course there are.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.