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Brazelton, Rays get wish

Righty taken No. 3 sees a perfect fit with Tampa Bay, with both expecting a rapid rise.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 6, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays say Dewon Brazelton has a dazzling fastball and a changeup so good it's almost unfair. They say he's durable, aggressive and a serious competitor. They say he has a magnetic personality and an appreciation for the game. They say he should be a quality major-leaguer for a long time.

If they're as right about him as he seems to be about them, this could be the start of something good.

The Rays made Brazelton their first pick, third overall, in Tuesday's draft, and the 20-year-old right-hander seemed pretty excited, and remarkably savvy, about what he was getting into.

"I wanted to be a Devil Ray," Brazelton said from Tennessee. "You look at the stats and I feel like with this team I can come in and play a little bit in the minors. This team needs help immediately. That's why they were attracted to me. I felt like it would be the best fit. ...

"I feel like I can come in and make an immediate impact on the major-league level like in a month or two, or at the first of next year."

Rays officials say Brazelton might be getting a little ahead of himself, that he's going to need time to get adjusted to pro baseball, but it's clear they don't expect him to take too long.

"He features two well-above average pitches, he's big and strong and he's proved very durable," scouting director Dan Jennings said. "This is an old-school guy. He goes out there and takes the ball looking to go all nine innings. He's a warrior on the mound. And he's looking to get guys out. It's a very solid package of what he is and what he can be."

This year's draft class was rich with pitching, and the Rays made it a priority, taking pitchers with their first five picks and seven of 11. The draft continues with 30 rounds today.

Contract talks with Brazelton begin Thursday, with both sides hoping to strike a quick deal. Brazelton is likely to receive a package worth $3-million to $4-million that could include a September call-up to the majors.

"If the Devil Rays come in and do what's right then I'll do what's right," Brazelton said. "I'm not trying to hold out for $18-million. I'm not one of those guys. I want to play. And I think the quicker I get in and get signed and get out, the quicker I'll make it to the major leagues."

Scout Skip Bundy has followed Brazelton closely the past few months, but the Rays didn't know until noon Tuesday, an hour before the draft, if they would be able to get him.

The Twins, having decided to pass on top-rated Southern Cal pitcher Mark Prior because of his financial demands (like an $18-million package), developed similar concerns Monday about St. Paul prep catcher Joe Mauer and began considering Brazelton for the top choice.

With the Cubs planning to take Prior second either way, Rays officials awoke Tuesday unsure what would happen.

Once the Twins decided to take Mauer, the Rays grabbed Brazelton, bypassing Georgia Tech star third baseman Mark Teixeira, who was rated higher but was reported to be looking for a package in excess of $15-million.

Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said the decision was a matter of dollars and sense. "There are two components to every high draft -- ability and financial compensation -- and every organization has to weigh both," LaMar said. "It's talent and what you think it's going to take to sign that player, and you come up with the combination."

There had been considerable speculation the Rays couldn't afford to sign any of the top players, but new chief operating officer John McHale Jr. said they were "prepared for a wide variety of circumstances."

In other words, it may not have been that they didn't have the money but that they didn't want to spend it on the player(s) available. Had Mauer or Prior slipped, the Rays might have made a play.

Ultimately, they were extremely pleased to have Brazelton, a 6-foot-4, 215-pounder who was not drafted out of high school in Tullahoma, Tenn., and three years later was the second pitcher chosen.

Brazelton's breakthrough came last summer, when he was the unexpected star of Team USA, going 6-0 with a record 0.65 ERA. He was equally impressive for Middle Tennessee State this season, posting a 13-1 record and 1.44 ERA with 10 complete games, striking out 148 in 119 innings and walking 22.

Given Brazelton's old-style delivery and fun-oriented nature, Bundy said Brazelton reminded him most of Negro League great Satchel Paige.

"He's a quality person, and I think baseball needs those kinds of people," Bundy said. "And I think we got a quality pitcher, and Tampa Bay needs those kinds of people."

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