Three picks in the top 42 for the Rays, and three high school players. I thought they'd go for a "safe" college pick with one of the three, but they seemingly went for upside with all three picks, and I think they did pretty well for themselves.
Josh Sale, 17th overall: He was the guy I was hoping for, and I'm sure the Rays were sweating this one out. The two teams ahead of them most connected with Sale were Houston and Toronto. Houston also coveted Delino DeShields, Jr, and they popped him in the top 10 to make sure they got him. That got things in motion, and when Toronto took Georgia Tech right-hander Deck McGuire, the stage was set for Sale to fall into the Rays' lap at #17.
With Sale, they get probably the most advanced high school bat available. His combination of plus bat speed, big-time power potential, and reported feel for the strike zone give him a huge ceiling as a hitter. His athleticism isn't what you might be used to seeing from a Rays draftee, but his work ethic should make him an average defender, which is all he'll need to be a star if his bat pans out. Sale is considered signable, although they might have to pay a little above slot since he probably expected to go a little bit higher. Slot money last year for the #17 overall pick was around $1.45 million, so slightly higher this year. I'd expect Sale to sign in the $1.7-$1.9 million range. Things probably shouldn't go down to the deadline, though you never know. If he signs, his bat is advanced enough to handle Princeton, though the Rays could play it safe and start him in the Gulf Coast League.
Justin O'Conner, 31st overall: O'Conner was a hot name leading up the draft, rumored to be in the mix for the Mets at #7 and the Athletics at #10, so getting him at the back-end of the 1st round looks like a good value. He's been an infielder most of his career, only recently transitioning to behind the plate. He has the athleticism to stay back there, and his plus-plus arm make him an above-average defender. He's shown good power, even with wood bats, but his pure hitting ability lags behind. His power and defensive prowess will make him a good prospect even with modest contact ability. If his bat never comes around, the Rays could try him as a pitcher, as he's touched 95 with a hammer curveball off the mound. Like Sale, O'Conner is considered signable, though it might also take slightly over slot. Slot money for the 31st pick was roughly $972,000, so O'Conner is signable in the $1-$1.2 million range.
Drew Vettleson, 42nd overall: The Rays went back to the state of Washington for Vettleson, another outfielder. Like Sale, he doesn't possess great athleticism and relies more on his bat. Vettleson has a similar patient plate approach to Sale, but doesn't offer the power ceiling. Rather, Vettleson projects to hit for a good average, making consistent contact from a bit of an unorthodox stance from the left side. He has some pop in his bat, but his power ceiling is probably around 15 home runs per year. He has a better arm than Sale, though his fringe-average speed relegates him to a corner spot. Vettleson is another guy who should sign for close to slot money, which will likely be somewhere in the $800,000-$900,000 range.
Summary: As we found out last year, signing draft picks is not a sure bet. But none of these three players have Scott Boras as an agent, as LeVon Washington did, and none have college commitments as strong as Kenny Diekroeger. It's not like these guys were unknowns that the Rays found under a rock, but Indiana and Washington aren't typical baseball hot-beds, though the Rays have shown an affinity for the Pacific Northwest. In a system that's somewhat light on hitting, the Rays drafted three bats that all have impact potential.
In my preview, I wrote that "Josh Sale would be ideal" at #17. Check. For #31, I wrote "Have to play it safe since the pick is unprotected, but I'd prefer a safe high schooler." Looking like a check to me. And for #42, I said "Garin Cecchini, or another high-profile player who has fallen for one reason or another." They didn't exactly do that, but Vettleson is certainly no slouch at the plate. I'd give the Rays an A grade for their first day, assuming, of course, that all three sign.
Looking Ahead: Busy day tomorrow, with rounds 2-30 taking place. We'll have live updates all day long, with profiles going up as the pick comes in. I want to thank everyone who took the time to comment today, and I hope you'll join us tomorrow. The Rays pick twice in the 2nd round at #66 and #79. Then they pick at #93 in the 3rd round, #131 in the 4th round, and every 30 picks thereafter. It'll be interesting to see what direction the Rays go in. While they drafted three high schoolers with upside, they're probably not going to have to break the bank for any of them. I'd expect them to continue to mine for upside, mixing in some advanced college players(history tells us we'll see at least one college senior in the top 10 rounds).
I'll have a post up tomorrow morning with some names to look out for on Day 2, and our coverage begins again when the draft starts back up at noon, so I hope you join us for that.