06/04/2002 10:48 pm ET
Young arms the order of the day
First half of draft loaded with high school pitchers
By Damon Young / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The talent in this year's baseball draft resides in the high school ranks and the Devil Rays' first 22 picks reflected that, as they went with 14 high school prospects during the Tuesday's first rounds of baseball's annual talent show.
The day started off with a bit of uncertainty for the
Rays, who didn't know until a few hours before the draft
began that Pittsburgh was in fact going to take right-hander Bryan
Bullington with the first pick. But once it became
official, general manager Chuck LaMar, scouting director Dan Jennings and the rest of the staff sitting
in the Rays' war room at Tropicana Field blew a
tremendous sigh of relief, knowing they would get the man they coveted.
Without question Upton, the Virginia prep shortstop, is
considered the jewel of this draft for the Rays. Rated
by many experts as the top prospect in the draft, Upton has drawn
comparisons to New York's Derek Jeter throughout his
career at Greenbrier Christian Academy in Chesapeake.
"There were 14 shortstops and left-handed pitchers taken
in first round out of 30 picks which tells you the
premium on those two positions," LaMar said.
"But B.J. Upton, obviously, we thought, when its all
said and done, no matter how long it takes to get here,
has a chance to be the best player of that group or we wouldn't have
selected him second in the country. We knew there were
a lot of shortstops on the board. But with the overall package of
tools, athleticism, and age, the sky's the limit. There's no
ceiling on his head on how good he can be depending on how bad he wants
it...There were a lot of shortstops taken but we
feel like we drafted the most talented shortstop of that group."
Once the hype of the first round subsided, the real work
The Rays followed Upton with three consecutive high
school outfielders, including Jason Pridie (Prescott,
Ariz.), Tampa's own Elijah Dukes and Wesley Bankston (Plano, Tex.).
Pridie, 18, led Prescott High School to Arizona's 4-A
championship this season. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound
outfielder/pitcher hit .550 with 12 doubles, nine triples, 13 homers,
47 RBIs and 14 stolen bases.
"He's just a baseball player," Jennings said of
the club's second pick. "He's blue-collar, a throw-back."
If Dukes, 17, decides to forgo football for the hometown
Rays, he could become one more in the long line of
former Hillsborough High School athletes in the Majors. Hillsborough is
the alma mater of current big leaguers Carl Everett
and Gary Sheffield and former All-Star pitcher Dwight Gooden, just to
name a few. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Dukes was
one of the nation's top linebackers and running backs, eventually
signing a letter of intent to play football at North Carolina
"I don't think anybody expects to go in the third
round," Dukes, who worked out for the club one final time
Monday at Tropicana Field, said while attending a draft party at his
aunt's house Tuesday night. "I thought I might go a
little sooner, but I'm not disappointed."
"I really don't know yet," he said when asked what his
preference, football or baseball, would be right now.
Again, the Rays are confident they'll be able to get the job done.
And while the Rays began the day with four position
players, pitching dominated the rest of the afternoon.
The club selected 14 pitchers, including just three left-handers, in
the day's final 18 rounds. In total, the club picked up one
shortstop, four outfielders, three left-handed pitchers, 11
right-handed pitchers and three catchers.
One selection that caught the attention of outsiders was
the team's 13th round pick -- Matt Harrington. The
Matt Harrington that has been drafted each of the past two years and
then refused multi-million dollar contracts.
Harrington, 20, was originally drafted in the first round (No. 7
overall) by the Colorado Rockies in 2000. After a highly
publicized, tense negotiation process, in which Harrington rebuffed the
Rockies' reported $4 million offer, the right-handed pitcher went back into the draft.
San Diego selected Harrington in the second round last
year but, again, he rejected the team's offer of $1.2
million. San Diego had until May 28 to sign the pitcher but declined
after watching him work out one last time.
So why would the Rays jump into the turbulent waters with
Harrington and his agent Scott Boras?
"We felt prepared to make a run at him," Jennings
suggested. "We saw him in high school and liked his
ability tremendously. We saw two of his outings with the (independent
league) Long Beach Breakers and we sent out the
same scout that some him in high school to have a before and after
picture. We're glad to have the opportunity to
negotiate with him.
"What we can hope is that he's ready to begin his
career as a professional baseball player and get into an
organization to get the main thing that he needs and that's
development. He needs to get on a structured program and know
that every fifth day he's going to get the ball and compete against
kids his own age and experience level. We're very
excited about the opportunity to bring him into the Devil Rays
Is it realistic that a club, on record as wanting to hold
down costs, can sign a player that has turned down two
multi-million dollar contracts? Jennings thinks so.
"We took him with full intention of signing him. In any
negotiation you have to put, what we call in the
industry, the dollar sign on the muscle. We will make the
determination of what we think his worth is and what we value his
ability at this point. We have to base all our grades and what we
think of Matt Harrington in 2002 ... We believe in his
makeup and his desire to be a big league pitcher. We have a great
relationship with him and his family and we felt 'Let's roll
the dice here.' I think it's a situation that we felt as good as
anybody about our chances of doing it because of (our
And Jennings summarized his feelings about the first day
of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, saying he felt as good as anybody
"We're very pleased with the draft that we had,"
Jennings concluded. "The time and commitment put in and
the results, I don't think there's a better scouting staff in baseball.
We are extremely happy about what we were able to day."
Now on to day two.
Rounds 23-50 will be held Wednesday, starting at 1:00
Damon P. Young is an editorial producer for MLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of
Major League Baseball or its clubs.