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02/19/08 10:00 AM ET

Southpaw Price an ace in the making

Rays' top Draft pick could break into bigs sooner than later

ST. PETERSBURG -- David Price took the mound on Friday and threw to catcher Hector Gimenez. Afterward, Gimenez -- a non-roster invitee in the Rays' Spring Training camp -- was asked about Price.

What did Gimenez see? Was Price something special?

Gimenez's face drew a blank before he responded: "Oh, the left-handed guy. This is the first time I've seen him throwing. I hear about him. But now that I've had a chance to catch him, I think he'll be a very good pitcher."

Talk about an understatement. While the Rays want to proceed with caution when it comes to the path Price will take to the Major Leagues, it might be tough, given the fact the 22-year-old left-hander from Vanderbilt looks every bit the part of the top selection from the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.

How far can Price progress this season? Rays manager Joe Maddon didn't blink when asked if it was a stretch to think Price might make his Major League debut in 2008.

"No, it's not a stretch," Maddon said. "At some point this year, that is not a stretch. I just think this guy is really very mature for his years on earth. He's just a different animal with that. And he gets it. He understands. He's very respectful, he's a professional -- he's good. I don't think he'll be intimidated -- he'll be nervous like everybody else, then get beyond that very quickly.

"If everything breaks well for him this summer, he'd be somebody we'd consider."

Price throws a fastball, slider and a changeup, and every time the ball leaves his hand, there seems to be movement.

"In terms of stuff, [Price is] extremely impressive," Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "Very nice delivery -- under control. [He has] three pitches that, in my opinion, all have a chance to be above-average Major League pitches, [with] pretty good command of all three.

"Even if [one of his pitches] doesn't necessarily move, it carries well late through the strike zone. It gives that appearance of a little bit of a hop. I'm impressed with that. Overall, it's a very impressive package. But I don't think any of that is very much of a surprise. He is what was advertised."

So where will Price begin the season? That decision ultimately will be made by Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.

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"That will be determined at the end of Spring Training," Friedman said.

Friedman, too, has been impressed by the southpaw's showing early in Spring Training.

"He's come in and handled himself exactly like we expected him to and we hoped he would," Friedman said. "[He's] soaking in as much knowledge as he can and going about his business -- not trying to do too much, too early. And that's what we expected."

The Rays are banking on Price delivering. Specifically they've banked $11.25 million, which was the total value of the deal Price signed late last summer. Meanwhile, Price comes off as the person least impressed with himself. When the studious youngster talks, his words have sincerity and are delivered as smoothly as his pitches.

Price admitted that attending his first Major League Spring Training camp is a little bit intimidating.

"It's definitely intimidating," Price said. "A lot of these guys I'm just as old as, but they have big league experience. It's definitely a little bit intimidating. But it will be fun. I'm sure they will welcome me, and [give] me a hard time when I need to. So it should be a good experience."

Price plans to become a student in a baseball classroom this spring, noting that what he most looks forward to about the experience is "just watching everything and listening to what everybody has to say."

"I don't really plan on saying too much," Price said. "People might even think I'm a mute out here. Just really try to adapt to what they're trying to do here. Get a feel for the Tampa Bay Rays, kind of just how they do things."

Price said he had no idea about where he will be slotted in the Rays' system to begin his professional career. But he's confident in his abilities, and like Maddon, he doesn't believe it's a stretch to think about him showing up at Tropicana Field sometime this season.

"You have to feel like that from Day 1 when you come out of there," Price said. "You have to feel like you're the best if you want to be the best."

Thus far, Price has impressed at least one teammate: Scott Kazmir.

"He's got electric stuff," Kazmir said.

But the Rays' ace left-hander had some advice for Price after playing catch with him on the first day of camp.

"He's got a little bit of run on the ball," Kazmir said. "He caught me on the palm a couple of times, and I'm like, 'Ease off, it's Day 1.'"

And plenty of days under the sun should follow for Price.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.