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Rays snag pair of Florida lefties
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06/03/2003 11:04 PM ET 
Rays snag pair of Florida lefties
By Anthony Gagliano / Vote now for the 2003 All-Star game
The Rays grabbed Andrew Miller in the third round. (Doug Finger/Gainesville Sun)
ST. PETERSBURG -- Cam Bonifay couldn't stop smiling Tuesday. After the Devil Rays' director of player development and scouting tabbed Delmon Young with the first overall pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, he snared a pair of left-handed Florida high school pitchers.

The Rays grabbed Sarasota's James Houser with the first pick of the second round and Buchholz High School's Andrew Miller with their third-round pick. Both were projected first-round picks and stand taller than 6-foot-4.

"Looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and the talent level of players available, we thought those matched up well," Bonifay said. "It was a very good year for left-handed pitching, especially high school left-handed pitching."

"(They're) hard to find," Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said of quality left-handers.

Houser, a lithe 185-pounder, hits consistently in the mid- to high-80s on the radar gun and as been clocked as fast as 91 mph. Tampa Bay was sold on Houser in large part because of his devastating 12-to-6 curveball.

At 6-foot-6 and 175 pounds, Miller has a very similar build to Houser, but has the ability to clock in at 91-93 mph with his fastball. He was thought of as a top 10 pick and possible No. 1 prior to the season, but Tampa Bay managed to select him 68th overall. Houser has signed with the University of Florida, and Miller, a Gainesville native, has inked with the University of North Carolina.

"He has fine stuff, a tremendous record, pitched in the state final as a freshman and has a track record of success," Bonifay said of Houser. "It's hard to find a weakness in this young man."

In addition to Houser and Miller, the Rays also selected left-handers Jonathan Barratt and Brian Henderson in the first seven rounds. Tampa Bay had a very balanced first-day draft, splitting the 20 rounds with 10 pitchers and 10 position players. The team also had an even break with the pitchers, selecting five left-handers and five right-handers.

The team also signed 2002 draft-and-follow Rejino Gonzalez just before Tuesday's draft. Tampa Bay selected the 6-foot-1 left-hander from City College in Nevada in the 46th round a year ago.

But the marquee catches, outside of Young, were Houser and Miller.

Baseball America had Houser as the ninth-best prospect in Florida and 58th overall. Mr. Baseball in Florida for 2003, Houser went 11-1 for Sarasota High School, the alma mater of Rays' reliever and 1996 first-round pick Bobby Seay, this spring. Houser struck out 118 in 75 innings and posted a 1.40 ERA for the Sailors. Houser and his family have had season tickets since Tampa Bay's inception.

"It's a lot of excitement, and I'm glad to be a Devil Ray," Houser said. "The last couple days I've been trying not to think about baseball, funny as that sounds. I went fishing and went to the gym a lot. It's been hard to sleep."

Miller had the biggest slide of the day as reports of a bonus demand of $3 million supposedly scared off teams. However, both Miller and Rays management seemed aware of what price it was going to take to get him signed.

"I definitely think the figure that we were looking at might have been the reason I fell," Miller said. "They know what kind of range we're looking at."

"We were aware of his signability situation when we pulled him off the board, and obviously, it didn't diminish our enthusiasm," LaMar said. "Signability is a factor with just about every player. You have to weigh where you're taking them in the draft, how much money you have for that particular pick and the players you're passing up to take someone who is 'a tough sign.' Because you know when you come around again, there are a few names off the board. (But) I thought Cam and his staff did an outstanding job to take him at the right time."

Baseball America ranked Miller as the 13th-best prospect in the draft and fifth-best pitcher, but he lasted until the first pick of the third round. Some clubs were also wary after he allowed three runs and four walks in an 11-1 loss in the regional finals of the state playoffs.

In 13 appearances this season, Miller had a 1.74 ERA and three no-hitters as batters hit .079 off him. However, as his velocity crept into the low 90s, allowing him to strike out 139 hitters in 63 innings, his control suffered.

"There was no way I could predict what could happen," Miller said. "It didn't really matter to me where I was picked."

As much as Miller slid, Tampa Bay may have unearthed a bigger gem by taking right-hander Jared Hughes in the 16th round. The 6-foot-7 230-pounder out of Santa Margarita (Calif.) High School was a projected first-rounder before a subpar senior season. Like Miller, he is seen as a possibly tough-to-sign player.

"Going into this year, we identified him as one of the top right-handed pitchers," Bonifay said. "Then, as the board started to unfold, there he is still there with that kind of ability.

"You're drafting the negotiation rights to the player. Some might be a little tougher. You have to draft ability. When you stop drafting for ability, that's when you don't have the opportunity to have impact players. If you just go for the signable players, at some point in the draft, you'll have this opportunity to draft big and get that value. At the time we took these players, it was the perfect time to draft that ability."

The Rays' other picks on Tuesday:

Fourth round (98th overall) -- Travis Schlichting, 3B, Round Rock (TX) HS: Second player from the nation's No. 1 high school to be picked, joining first-rounder John Danks, who went to Texas. Baseball America's 15th ranked shortstop, the 6-foot-4, 190-pounder projects to a corner infield spot, but with an 87-90 fastball, he could have a future on the mound. He was Baseball America's 115th ranked right-handed pitcher. Signed to attend Baylor University.

Fifth round (128th overall) -- Jonathan Barratt, LHP, Hillcrest (Mo.) HS: The diminutive lefty (5-foot-10, 155 pounds) is nonetheless a power pitcher, throwing in the low 90s. Barratt has signed with Southwest Missouri State. Baseball America said Barratt was a steal in the fifth, going so far as to say if he were an even six feet tall, he could have been a first rounder.

Sixth round (158th overall) -- Christian Lopez, C, Hialeah (Fla.) HS: The Thoroughbreds have been to the Florida 6A state title game three years in a row.

Seventh round (188th overall) -- Brian Henderson, LHP, Houston: Second on the staff (which included first rounders Ryan Wagner and Brad Sullivan) with 24 appearances for the Cougars. Henderson has started six games and made 24 appearances for Houston, which is in the Super Regionals against Rice this week. The 5-foot-11 180-pounder has 58 strikeouts in 57 innings pitched with a 4.40 ERA. He's also a two-time member of the Conference USA Commissioner's Honor Roll.

Eighth round (218th overall) -- Matthew Maniscalco, SS, Mississippi State: The senior has started every game (236 straight) at shortstop since arriving in Starkville as a freshman in 2000. Consistently one of the Southeastern Conference's best fielders, Maniscalco has finished first or second in fielding percentage for shortstops in each of his first three seasons. After hitting just one home run as a junior, he had seven, with a .338 batting average and 42 RBIs, as a senior.

Ninth round (248th overall) -- William Buckner, RHP, Young Harris (Ga.) JC: Teamed with Orioles' first-rounder Nick Markakis to make a formidable duo on the mound for the Mountain Lions. His best pitch, a curveball, goes 82-84 mph with good break, leading scouts to project that his fastball's speed will rise from the high 80s to the low 90s. Buckner is Baseball America's 18th-ranked JUCO player.

10th round (278th overall) -- Shaun Cumberland, OF, Pace (Fla.) HS: Cumberland's size projects well. A 6-foot-3 180-pounder gives Tampa Bay another young left-handed hitter in the outfield with good speed.

11th round (308th overall) -- Chad Cooper, 2B, Middle Tennessee State: MTSU is also the alma mater of Tampa Bay's first-round pick in 2001, Dewon Brazelton, who went third overall. Cooper made the first-team All Sun Belt Conference with a .374 average and 14 doubles.

12th round (338th overall) -- John Jaso, C, Southwestern (Calif.) JC: At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Jaso has solid size at the plate and behind it. He led his team in hitting, batting .346 with seven home runs and 35 RBIs to become an all-conference selection. He also had 15 doubles and five triples.

13th round (368th overall) -- Chad Orvella, SS, North Carolina State: Orvella has been both a shortstop and a pitcher. He's started all 60 games at shortstop and appeared in nine games out of the bullpen, throwing in the 90s. The Wolfpack play Miami in the Super Regionals this week. Orvella leads the team with 15 hit by pitches and owns a .968 fielding percentage.

14th round (398th overall) -- Aaron Gangi, LHP, Akron: Of Gangi's 10 starts for the Zips, he went the distance three times and pitched one shutout. The 6-foot-3 junior made 15 appearances and went 5-5 with a 4.02 ERA.

15th round (428th overall) -- Andrew Weimer, RHP, Le Moyne: A dominating reliever for a Le Moyne team that won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and advanced to the NCAA regionals. Weimer posted a 0.95 ERA in 24 appearances out of the bullpen. He owned a 7-1 record with seven saves, striking out 48 batters in 47 innings and allowing just 23 hits.

16th round (458th overall) -- Jared Hughes, RHP, Santa Margarita (Calif.) HS: The 6-foot-7, 230-pound right-hander had a disappointing senior season, but was still projected to go within the first three rounds. He has signed to play collegiately with Santa Clara.

17th round (488th overall) -- Christopher Gustafson, OF, Kamiak (Wash.) HS: Gustafson brings another bat from the left-handed side. A strong arm projects him to right field.

18th round (518th overall) -- Jason Gayton, RHP, Cerritos (Calif.) JC: A big power pitcher at 6-foot-5 and more than 200 pounds.

19th round (548th overall) -- Joshua Geer, RHP, Navarro (TX) JC: Geer gives the Rays four righties in five rounds. A 6-foot-2 180-pounder out of Forney, Texas.

20th round (578th overall) -- Mark Schleichler, 2B, Pfeiffer University: The Rays selected Schleichler for his ability to hit. He batted .371 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs for the Falcons, a top-10 Division II team. However, he committed 27 errors. He also stole 32 bases.

Anthony Gagliano is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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