A call to arms for Rays
After taking bat first, club puts emphasis on pitchers
ST. PETERSBURG -- Evan Longoria's selection set the tone for the Devil Rays during the first day of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft on Tuesday.
"Everything went great," said Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison. "I couldn't be happier. I mean, when your day starts off and you get the guy that you've wanted all along, it's a heck of a start for the day."
Eleven of the Rays' 18 picks were used to draft pitchers, of which six were college pitchers.
Josh Butler, a 6-foot-5, 200 pound right-hander from the University of San Diego, became the Rays' second pick, much to the delight of Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
"[Butler]was a guy who our guys thought was a pretty legitimate first rounder," Friedman said.
The Rays followed with a pair of high school right-handers in Nicholas Fuller from Kell High School in Marietta, Ga., and Alex Cobb from Vero Beach (Fla.) High School.
"I think being able to get both the high school right-handers, Cobb and Fuller, at three and four, I thought that was great," said Harrison, when asked about players the Rays were able to select he was surprised to still find on the board. "Other than that, I didn't think there was much of a surprise.
"The way we set our board up, we didn't spend a lot of time on guys who didn't fit for us, guys that we didn't have a lot of strong interest in. And we set up a board and worked off that today. And honestly, we got players we liked in every round."
Friedman was surprised the Rays' 13th-round selection, left-hander Michael Minor from Forrest High School (Tenn.), was still around.
"We were really excited to see [Minor] on the board," Friedman said. "Our guys think really highly of him."
Harrison said any team typically loses a few players right before they are ready to select them.
"Today it happened a couple of times, but we had guys we liked right there with them ready to go," Harrison said. "I never felt like we were scrambling trying to make something out of this or going to find a guy on some other board to plug in. It flowed great. It was almost scary, I thought, the way it went for us."
Friedman said stocking the organization with more arms is important -- even if they aren't high picks.
"If you go back and look at our draft history, a lot of our success has been pitchers taken in the later rounds," Friedman said. "And really, if you look around baseball, it doesn't necessarily have to be a top round pick to be a successful pitcher. The guy who got the win for us last night, Jamie Shields, I think, was a 17th rounder.
"There's a lot of guys who have success at the big-league level who weren't drafted in the first five picks. So it's really a numbers game, and we were aggressive drafting as many pitchers as we felt fit the spot."
1. Evan Longoria, 3B, Long Beach State University
The right-handed hitting Longoria batted .353 (71-for-201) with a team-high 11 home runs and 43 RBIs this spring for Long Beach State University. He was the Big West Conference's Co-Player of the Year and led the conference in slugging (.603) and on-base percentage (.468). He drew 40 walks, more than twice as many as any of his teammates.
2. Josh Butler, RHP, University of San Diego
Completed the regular season 8-5 with a 3.06 ERA in 19 games (15 starts) with 34 walks and 99 strikeouts in 108 2/3 innings pitched. He was named the West Coast Conference player of the week on March 20 after hurling a complete game shutout against the University of Houston. Scattered five hits and struck out a season-high nine in the 2-0 win.
3. Nicholas Fuller, RHP, Kell High School, (Marietta, Ga.)
He was ranked the 180th best prospect in the draft by Baseball America, 41st overall high school pitcher and fifth best high schooler in Georgia. The right-hander went 6-0 with a 1.83 ERA in eight starts, striking out 82 batters in 46 innings pitched. He allowed only 26 hits and 27 walks for Kell High School in the regular season, runners-up in the 5-A Georgia State Baseball Finals. Fuller had committed to play ball at South Carolina.
4. Alex Cobb, RHP, Vero Beach High School (Fla.)
He went 5-3 in his senior year at Vero Beach High School with a 1.09 ERA in 13 games, striking out 139 (matching his school record) and allowing only 24 hits in 74 innings of work. Selected to the second team all-state and first team all-West Palm Beach as a junior after posting an 8-2 record with a 0.62 ERA and a school-record 139 strikeouts in 90 innings pitched.
5. Shawn O'Malley, SS, Southridge High School (Kennewick, Wash.)
In 2005 as a junior, he was named the Big Nine Conference player of the year, hitting over .500 without committing an error. Was also a member of the Southridge's 2004 4A State Championship team. Also excelled on the football field, where he was a member of the 2005 Seattle Times All-State football team, the Washington AP All-State team, Big Nine Conference MVP, unanimous first teamer on offense (WR), defense (DB) and kick returner. The shortstop committed to play at Washington State University.
6. Nevin Ashley, C, Indiana State University
Was a First-Team All-Missouri Valley Conference pick after ranking in the top 10 of eight MVC offensive categories this season. Ashley led the Sycamores with a .382 batting average, 10 home runs and 42 RBIs and led the league with seven triples and a .653 slugging percentage. He also led the MVC by gunning down 34 potential base stealers (45 percent).
7. Ryan Reid, RHP, James Madison University
Ranked the fourth best Virginia product in the draft from by Baseball America. Was member of three state championship winning baseball teams with Deering High School (2001, '03 and '04). Went 10-4 with a 3.43 ERA in 14 starts with James Madison University. Reid struck out 124 and walked 43 over 94 1/3 innings of work in his sophomore year.
8. Tyree Hayes, RHP, Tomball High School (Tomball, TX)
The son of former Major League veteran Charlie Hayes posted a 0.84 ERA with a 9-1 record while striking out 65 batters in 66 1/3 innings pitched. He also batted .338 (24-for-78).
9. Eligio Sonoqui, 1B, Cesar Chavez High School (Laveen, Ariz.)
Named to All-Arizona baseball team after a senior season that saw him hit .584 with 16 doubles, three triples, 10 homers and 45 RBIs.
10. Desmond Jennings, CF, Itawamba Junior College (Miss.)
Selected in the 18th round by the Cleveland Indians in last year's draft out of Pinson Valley (AL) High School. Same junior college attended by Saints wide receiver Joe Horn. Jennings was selected to the second team All-America at wide receiver. The state's Mr. Football runner-up in 2004, Jennings led the nation in receptions per game.
11. Lewis Rollins, RHP, Winthrop University
Played right field and pitched for Winthrop. Batted .328 with four homers, 31 RBIs and 25 stolen bases. He also went 13-4 with a 3.51 ERA in 22 games (17 starts) on the mound, throwing two complete games and compiling 143 strikeouts in 123 innings pitched. Named South Carolina's Mr. Baseball and earned All-State honors as a senior at Lexington High School.
12. Antwonie Hubbard, RHP, Hooks High School (Hooks, Texas)
13. Michael Minor, LHP, Forrest High School (TN)
Named to Louisville Slugger's Preseason First Team High School All-America. Baseball America rated him the seventh best prospect out of Tennessee, second best left-hander. Tossed two no-hitters last week to propel Forrest High School to the school's first state berth. He also has the Rockets' single season record with 14 home runs in a season. Earlier this year in a game against Huntland, he recorded every out via the strikeouts setting what is believed to be a state record with 21 Ks in a single game. He averaged 15 strikeouts per game this past season.
14. Travis Barnett, RHP, Salt Lake Community College
Recorded six saves and struck out 24 in 23 1/3 innings pitched over 18 games as the closer for the Bruins.
15. Kyeong Kang, LF, Parkview High School (Alpharetta, Ga.)
Lost in the state quarterfinals to Kell High. He attended the same high school as Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur.
16. Ryan Owen, LHP, California State University (Dominguez Hills)
Led the Toros with 85 strikeouts while walking just 17 in a team-high 81 innings pitched. Was 8-2 with a 4.33 in 12 starts.
17. Ryan Thornton, CF, American River College (Sacramento, Calif.)
Switch-hitter received Big 7 All-Conference Honorable Mention after batting .331 (50-for-151) with six doubles, four triples, three home runs, 10 stolen bases and 20 RBIs in 36 games. Rays catcher Toby Hall also attended American River College.
18. James Brown, RHP, Young Harris College (Young Harris, Ga.)
Selected to the All-Georgia Junior College Athletic Association first team after recording a team-best 2.24 ERA, fourth best in school history. His 145 career strikeouts are third most in school history. Young Harris was the runner-up at the Region XVII tournament. Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis also attended Young Harris. Brown has signed letter of intent with South Carolina.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.