06/07/2004 7:23 PM ET
Devil Rays load up on arms
Nine of Monday's 18 draft picks work from the mound
By Paul C. Smith / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Devil Rays needed to stock up on pitching in the First-Year Player draft and they did just that.
Starting with the fourth pick overall, when the Rays selected 6-foot-9 right-hander Jeff Niemann of Rice, they took pitchers with three of their first five picks. Half of their 18 selections on Monday were pitchers. But they did not stray from their usual draft-day policy.
"We tried to take the best athlete that was available to us at the time," said Rays director of player personnel and scouting Cam Bonifay. "We had some fine options."
Rays GM Chuck LaMar said he thought there was quality and depth in this year's draft.
"Everybody said that the talent is down; I disagree with that," LaMar said. "I think you'll have as many Major Leaguers out of this one year's draft then any other year."
The Rays are hoping that holds true with their selections. Beside the pitchers chosen on the first day, the Rays also took three shortstops, a second baseman, a catcher, a first baseman and three outfielders.
All were considered very good athletes and all of them are tall. None were listed at under six feet and seven of their first eight picks were at least 6-foot-2.
"With [6-foot-10] Mark Hendrickson, we're establishing a heck of a basketball team," LaMar said.
After Niemann, the Rays selected shortstop Reid Brignac of St. Amant High School in St. Amant, La. in the second round. He is a left-handed batter but a right-handed thrower who is 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds.
In his senior season, Brignac hit .417 with 11 home runs, 58 RBIs and seven steals in 127 at-bats, and led St. Amant to the 5A state championship. He has been projected as either a third baseman or corner outfielder.
In the third round, the Rays selected Lake Wales, Fla. High School pitcher Wade Davis, a right-hander. Davis is 6-foot-5, 225 pounds and has thrown his fastball in the 93-94 mph range.
In his senior season, Davis was 7-3 with an 0.79 ERA in 13 games. He allowed 47 hits, 14 walks and struck out 114 batters in 71 innings.
In the fourth round, Tampa Bay took Matthew Spring, a catcher from Dixie State Junior College in Peoria, Ariz. He also is a left-handed hitter who throws right-handed.
Spring hit .360 with 10 homers and 55 RBIs in his first year at Dixie State JC. He measures in at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds.
Jacob McGee, a left-handed pitcher from Reed High School in Sparks, Nev., was the Rays' pick in the fifth round. He was listed at the second best prospect in the state.
In the sixth round, the Rays selected Ryan Royster, an outfielder from Churchill High School in Eugene, Ore.
Another outfielder followed as Tampa Bay took Fernando Perez of Columbia University in the seventh round. Perez, 21, is 6-foot-1, 195 pounds and is right-handed.
In the eighth round, the Rays took John Hughes, a first baseman from Pearl River Community College in Picayune, Miss. He is a 6-foot-2, 175 pound left-hander.
Garth Iorg, the son of the former Major Leaguer of the same name, was the Rays' 16th round pick. A 6-foot-2, 175-pound right-hander, he is a shortstop from Karns High School in Knoxville, Tenn.
Overall, the Rays took eight high school players and 10 who had been in college or junior college. Five of them bat or throw left-handed, and Davis is the only player who is from Florida.
LaMar summed up the importance of the First-Year Player Draft to teams that are still building, such as the Rays.
"Today is the most important day for teams like ours until we reach the playoff level," the general manager said.
Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.