With their ninth-round pick (No. 278 overall) in the First-Year Player Draft on Friday, the Rays selected University of Houston right-hander Austin Pruitt.
A diminuitive pitcher at 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, Pruitt used his excellent pitchability en route to a 10-win season for the Cougars this spring. He went 10-5 with a 2.85 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 113 2/3 innings, becoming the first Houston pitcher with 10 or more wins since Brad Lincoln had 12 in 2006.
Pruitt led Conference USA with five complete games and proved to be durable on the mound, lasting at least six innings in each of his 15 starts.
"Above-average curveball," Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "The curveball's an out pitch."
Before putting together one of the best seasons in recent memory by a Houston pitcher, Pruitt attended Navarro Junior College, where he led the nation with a 0.81 ERA and was a part of the 2011 National JUCO World Series Championship Team.
The 23-year-old Texas native was a Gregg Olson Award Semifinalist for "Breakout Player of the Year" during his senior season with the Cougars.
Balanced Day 2 of Draft starts with HS OF Milone
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays didn't set out to put together eight almost completely balanced rounds Friday in the First-Year Player Draft. But by the time Day 2 of the 2013 Draft was over, they had selected four college players and four out of high school, four right-handed pitchers and four position players.
"It's not really a conscious effort," Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "Andrew [Friedman, executive vice president of baseball operations] likes to talk about having amnesia -- don't worry about the pick before; let's just worry about this pick -- so that's what we did."
Friday's crop of picks was headlined by a pair of players with strong bloodlines: high school second baseman Kean Wong, brother of third-ranked Cardinals prospect Kolten, and Loyola Marymount University right-hander Aaron Griffin, brother of A's pitcher A.J.
"That's good. I think it's always good," Harrison said. "In all those guys' cases, it should be an advantage."
But the Rays' first pick of the day was third-rounder Thomas Milone, selected 97th overall. A center fielder from Masuk (Conn.) High School, Milone hit .471 with a .589 on-base percentage, stealing 28 bases in 29 attempts over 23 games as a senior.
A Connecticut commit, Milone was a two-sport star in high school, playing running back and returning punts for the football team. But he still has an advanced feel for baseball, and Harrison expects him to improve "by leaps and bounds" in the coming years.
"He's got good athletic skills," Harrison added. "We saw him last year playing in the East Coast Showcase and out in the Area Code Games. He competed very well with the best guys in the country, found his way on base all the time and he's a strong kid. Good pull power. He's a strong kid, a football player up there. We like him a lot."
The Rays picked another high schooler in the fourth round in Wong before going back into the collegiate ranks to select Johnny Field, a second baseman from the University of Arizona. Field is the only right-handed hitting prospect in the Rays' Draft class thus far.
Of the six position players Tampa Bay has drafted, including first-round catcher Nick Ciuffo and second-round shortstop Riley Unroe, four have been left-handed hitters. Unroe is a switch-hitter. Milone, Wong and seventh-round pick Tyler Young all bat left-handed. Harrison said the Rays didn't draft that way intentionally, but given the number of right-handed hitters who have entered their system over the past few seasons, it was a welcome trend.
"We had gone pretty heavy [on] right-handed hitters the last couple, three years in the Draft. Again, that's just kind of the way it worked," Harrison said. "You're drawing from whatever the pool of applicants is. But that was good. We were excited. We like the guys we got."
Four of the Rays' final five picks on Friday were right-handed pitchers: sixth-rounder Stephen Woods, eighth-rounder Roel Ramirez, ninth-rounder Austin Pruitt and Griffin, their last selection of the day. Woods and Ramirez were drafted out of high school, while Pruitt and Griffin are coming off their senior seasons in college.
As happy as Harrison and the Rays' front office were with the way things worked out Thursday night, when they picked up Ciuffo early and had Ryne Stanek fall to them at No. 29, they were just as pleased to see how Day 2 shook out.
"When you get a guy that you like, you feel fortunate. I think all of these guys, we worried that they would go ahead of us," Harrison said. "We just felt good that we were in position to be able to select these guys. And now it's our job to get out and get them signed and get them out playing.
"It was a good day. It was a great night last night and a good day today."
Day 3 of the Draft continues with Rounds 11-40 streamed live on MLB.com on Saturday, starting at 1 p.m. ET.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
In the Pipeline
The Rays tend to be patient with their prospects, moving them along slowly, and especially with pitchers, one level at a time. They generally stick to the best-player-available philosophy rather than picking for need, arguing that the latter strategy is too short-sighted considering the unpredictable nature of player development and roster management.
Though the Rays' system isn't particularly deep with catchers, it's unlikely that Ciuffo would start anywhere above the Rookie league or short-season Class A Hudson Valley. The same would go for Stanek, although his college pedigree could help him move more quickly through the system, while the players selected out of high school, like Unroe, Milone and Wong, would be on the opposite end of the spectrum.
The most important thing to the Rays is that their picks sign as quickly as possible to begin their development under the organization's watch.
"Now, we start the process," Harrison said. "Hopefully it'll go cleanly and we can get these guys out playing. I think it's really in everybody's best interest to get them out and start playing and not lose this development time."
Rays add infielder Wong in fourth round of Draft
With their fourth-round pick (No. 128 overall) in the First-Year Player Draft on Friday, the Rays selected high school second baseman Kean Wong.
Wong's older brother, Kolten, was the Cardinals' 2011 first-round pick. Listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, Wong is from Waiakea High School in Hawaii. While comparisons between the brothers are inevitable, the biggest difference might be that Kean is not a lock to stay at second base. Third base may be his best position, and he played catcher this spring as well.
"A lot of [shared] characteristics with Kolten. He's a little bigger and stronger, probably not quite the runner that Kolten was or is, but a guy that we think really doesn't have any real holes," Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "He's a good, hard, line-drive guy, average runner. He's played all over the field. We like him best at second base. That's what we're going to do with him."
Wong has a short, compact stroke and a good approach at the plate. He has good power for his size, but he is more of a line-drive hitter.
He batted .435 and posted a .563 on-base percentage his senior season. He also had three home runs and 26 RBIs. Wong was named the BIIF Division I Player of the Year by league coaches. It was his fourth straight appearance on the first team following his brother, who also earned the top award in his senior season.
He is a heady player and has a good feel for the game on offense and defense. Wong is committed to Hawaii, where his older brother was an All-American.
Rays add Arizona second baseman Field in Round 5
With their fifth-round pick (No. 158 overall) in the First-Year Player Draft on Friday, the Rays selected college second baseman Johnny Field.
Field has always been a fan favorite at Arizona because of his great performance and all-out style of play. He has played in both the outfield and second base in college, with the latter being his most likely long-term position.
"He was one of the leaders of that team that won a national championship last year at U of A. Tough kid, good bat and a track record of hitting all the way through college," Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "He's been an outfielder in college. He's played a little second base. We're going to do some work with him at second base this summer. I don't know if he'll play much second. That's going to be up to player development, but we're going to start that process and I fully expect that he'll be in instructional league going full-time at second base. But he brings versatility, brings a good bat and brings a special makeup."
Field has soft hands and good range at second and could be an above-average defender there. At the plate, he has a very good feel for hitting and uses the whole field well. He has also shown decent power at Arizona, and it could be average down the line.
Rays draft high school righty Woods in sixth round
ST. PETERSBURG -- With their sixth-round pick (No. 188 overall) in the First-Year Player Draft on Friday, the Rays selected high school right-hander Stephen Woods.
Woods, a projectable pitcher from Long Island who's nearing his 18th birthday, attended Half Hollows Hills East High School and became the first player ever drafted out of the school. The Dix Hills, N.Y., native stands at 6-foot-2 and weighs in at 205 pounds.
He throws a low-90s fastball with a loose, quick arm action, and he complements that pitch with a curveball and changeup.
"We think this kid is a good high school starting pitching prospect," Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "The fastball, now at average and up to 93 mph on the top end, and an above-average curveball. The arm action and delivery says starting pitcher."
Woods, who went 2-2 with a 1.80 ERA and 55 strikeouts as a senior, was the author of back-to-back no-hitters in April. He committed to play for the University of Albany back in December 2012.
"Stephen has a great makeup and possesses a fastball in the low 90s," Albany baseball coach Jon Mueller told the school's official website. "One of the top recruits from Long Island, Stephen will have an immediate impact in the America East Conference."
Rays see pure hitter in seventh-round pick Young
With their seventh-round pick (No. 218 overall), in the First-Year Player Draft on Friday, the Rays selected college third baseman Ty Young.
Young was considered by some to be one of the best pure hitters in this year's Draft class.
"We like his bat. We like his legs. He'll play third base," Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "We'll probably move him around and get him some work at second base. But he's a good athlete and a good college bat."
He has a smooth left-handed swing and has great plate discipline to go along with a good feel for hitting. Out of Louisville, Young, a third baseman, also has above-average speed along with great instincts on the basepaths.
Young's only major weakness is his lack of power as he has very little projection left. The 5-foot-10, 178-pound infielder is athletic enough for second, however, and could move there in pro ball, a place where his bat will profile well.
Young batted a team-high .349 for the Cardinals, scoring 54 runs and driving in 57 more. He stole 26 bases in 31 tries as well.
He finished 2013 second in the Big East in RBIs, fourth in runs scored, fifth in stolen bases and sixth in batting average.
Rays find young righty Ramirez in eighth round
With their eighth-round pick (No. 248 overall) in the First-Year Player Draft on Friday, the Rays selected high school right-hander Roel Ramirez, who is another in a long line of Texas high school pitchers to be drafted early.
"We like him," Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "He's a sinker-slider-type starting pitching prospect."
The right-hander from United South High School has a whip-like arm that produces a fastball in the low 90s with good movement, but his best pitch might be his changeup, which is very deceptive thanks to great arm speed.
The 6-foot-1, 198-pounder's curveball isn't quite as advanced as his other two pitches, but can still be above-average at times.
Rays use final Day 2 pick on college righty Griffin
With their 10th-round pick (No. 308 overall) in the First-Year Player Draft on Friday, the Rays selected Loyola Marymount University right-hander Aaron Griffin.
Griffin is the brother of A's right-hander A.J. Griffin. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound right-hander went 4-5 with a 3.07 ERA in 13 starts for the Lions during his senior season.
A native of San Diego, Calif., Griffin was actually drafted higher than his 25-year-old brother, who's posted a 12-5 record and 3.35 ERA over the past two years for Oakland after being selected in the 13th round of the 2010 Draft.
"He was the Friday starter at LMU, has had a good college career. Likely a starter early in his career in the Minor Leagues, and then we'll see what happens from there," Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "He's a tall, rangy guy that creates a pretty tough angle on right-handed hitters."
Griffin increased his strikeout totals in each season at Loyola Marymount, from 37 as a freshman to 72 in 88 innings as a senior. He also held opponents to a paltry .239 average in his final college season while walking only 19 batters all year.
Griffin was used exclusively as a starter this spring after pitching mostly in relief in his first three college seasons.