06/08/2004 8:26 PM ET
Devil Rays stock up on talent
Niemann is cream of what Rays feel is great crop
By Paul C. Smith / MLB.com
|Jeff Niemann was the first pick Monday made by the Devil Rays, No. 4 overall. (Rice University)
ST. PETERSBURG -- The second day of the First-Year Player Draft left the Devil Rays feeling just as fortunate as they felt after the first day.
"We couldn't be more pleased," said GM Chuck LaMar.
The Rays took pitchers with 24 of their 50 picks. It works well because that allowed the team to stay with its best-player-available credo and also address an obvious need.
"We thought with the quality and depth of pitching in the draft this year, it might work out that way," said Rays Director of Player Personnel and Scouting Cam Bonifay.
The draft started with the Rays taking 6-foot-9 right-handed starter Jeff Niemann of Rice with the overall No. 4 pick. The Rays had been very interested in Georgia high school shortstop Chris Nelson, but that was before they knew Niemann would be available.
"Yes, going into the last couple of hours before the draft, we had a pretty good idea (Niemann would still be there)," LaMar said.
Manager Lou Piniella was pleased to hear about Niemann and was practically ready to have him fitted for a XXXL Tampa Bay uniform.
"We've heard some really nice things about Niemann," Piniella said. "He's a 6-9 power pitcher who is really athletic. And, you know, college pitchers can get to the big leagues really quick."
Well, maybe not too quick.
"We see no problems in signing Mr. Niemann," LaMar said. "But this is going to take most of the summer if not all of the summer. Realistically, it hasn't happened quickly in the past and it's not going to happen quickly this year.
"History will tell you it's going to take most of the season. He deserved all of the accolades, but it's going to be a normal process. So far, he likes us and we like him but don't expect him to sign right away."
Niemann, who graduated from LaMar High School in Houston, is expected to visit Tampa Bay this weekend. Bonifay said he expects everyone to be impressed.
"He is a massive individual, but he's coordinated," Bonifay said. "He's got fine rhythm and balance and he's a good fielder. He's just a unique guy."
Bonifay said that when Niemann does sign, he is likely to start out at Class A Charleston. He also said No. 3 pick Wade Davis, a right-handed pitcher from Lake Wales High in Central Florida, would probably start at Class A Princeton.
"We're awfully glad the way (the first day of the draft) fell, throughout the entire day," LaMar said. "We took several players besides the obvious two or three (top picks) who we think will play in the Major Leagues.''
Both LaMar and Bonifay praised their scouting staffs for their diligent work.
"Our scouts have done a good job in making their recommendations and refining their recommendations," Bonifay said. "They just continue to get better."
"Cam and his staff did an outstanding job," LaMar said. "Leading up to the draft, there was so much depth and so many questions on who to take. This draft was unique in that we didn't have an obvious top two as with past years, with (Josh) Hamilton and (Josh) Beckett, (Mark) Prior and (Mark) Teixeira, or last year with (Delmon) Young and (Rickie) Weeks. The areas scouts really did a good job in sorting things out."
LaMar said scouting really makes a difference on the second day of the draft.
"Day 2 is much more of a reach now," LaMar said. "But there are some players who come out of that day in the past -- including (John) Rocker and our own (Chad) Gaudin and (Joey) Gathright."
The Rays went right back to Louisiana, where they found Gaudin and Gathright, to pick two more players who they feel could be steals. Outfielder Reid Brignac, of St. Amant High in Louisiana, was their second overall pick. He led his school to the 5A state title.
Also, in the 10th round, the Rays took right-handed pitcher Matt Walker of Central High in Baton Rouge, La. He was listed as the sixth best prospect in the state and No. 88 overall, but was the 315th player taken.
The Rays also took a couple of familiar names in the draft, and not just because the players have accomplished baseball fathers.
In the 16th round, the Rays took Garth Iorg, a second baseman from Korns High in Knoxville, Tenn. He is the son of the former Major Leaguer.
And in the 35th round, they selected right-handed pitcher Bill Evers Jr. from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, the son of the manager of the Rays' Class AAA affiliate in Durham.
"He threw a no-hitter at Eckerd," Bonifay said. "He's still developing as a pitcher. I think he's going to be fine."
Overall, the Rays took 19 high school players and 31 who were in college or junior college. Along with the 24 pitchers, they chose three catchers, six first basemen, two second basemen, four shortstops, three third basemen and eight outfielders.
"We are very pleased," Bonifay 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.