Devil Rays ready with picks Nos. 8, 58

Devil Rays draft preview

The Devil Rays find themselves in a different situation than recent years after having the No. 4, No. 1, and No. 2 picks in the last three drafts.

As a result, Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said the organization is considering a dozen or so players in this year's First-Year Player Draft, to be held June 7-8.

"It's a unique year, we're picking eighth, so it keeps more people in the mix, and you don't have the clear-cut three or four players that are going to be the top [picks]," LaMar said. "We've challenged all the scouts to try to keep as many players up [for consideration] as possible, and then we'll weed them out."

Devil Rays special assistant Tim Wilken will commandeer this year's draft for the Rays and assessed the strengths and weaknesses of available talent.

Wilken said a recognizable strength of the draft is the number of available pitchers possessing "decent" breaking stuff. He cited the overall lack of college pitching depth as the weakness of the draft.

In addition, Wilken said some states that normally are strong producers of prospects are down, specifically Northern California, Florida, and Georgia -- normally strong areas -- are not nearly as ripe. Meanwhile, South Carolina and Texas do not have the quality they normally have.

However, Wilken said the shortcomings of those areas will be compensated for in the strength provided by the New England area, the Deep South states -- Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi -- the mid-Atlantic states, and the Midwest. And Arizona is pretty good after being down for several years.

"It's kind of a unique year in that there is some good depth in the fourth to eighth rounds," said Wilken. "But if you're looking at a prospect you forecast for the fourth round, you'll probably have to take him in the third, because of the number of sandwich picks."

The draft will have 20 sandwich picks -- which are compensation picks for players lost to free agency -- most of which fall between the first and second rounds. Because of the sandwich picks, the Rays will not make their second pick until the 58th selection.

Wilken said addressing their needs would mean adding to their pitching depth and up the middle -- shortstop, second base, and catcher. Specifically, he said they wouldn't mind adding a college pitcher or two who is fairly polished. But they won't draft a player before he should be drafted just because he plays a certain position.

The Devil Rays' last three No. 1 picks:

Jeff Niemann, RHP, 2004, Pick #4: Niemann pitched well during a stint with the Rays during Spring Training and was assigned to Class A Visalia where he has recently encountered bad enough shoulder stiffness to be given a week off.

Delmon Young, OF, 2003, Pick #1: After opening everyone's eyes during Spring Training, Young has continued to prompt the question: What can't he do? He is lighting it up at Double-A Montgomery and it isn't a stretch to forecast him to be in the Major Leagues later this summer.

B.J. Upton, SS, 2002, Pick #2: Upton has shown he can hit; he just needs to demonstrate the ability to play shortstop with more consistency. Upton had a rough beginning in the field to start the season at Triple-A Durham. But he recently went 14 consecutive games in a row without an error.

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