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Rays turn right in two-day draft

Rays turn right in two-day draft

ST. PETERSBURG -- While the Devil Rays' most prized pick of the draft is right-hander Wade Townsend, whom they took with the No. 8 pick, the organization is swelling its chest over several other right-handers they selected in the later rounds.

The Rays took 12 pitchers on the first day of the draft -- 10 of which were right-handers -- and on the second day of the draft, they continued the trend toward bolstering the organization's pitching depth, selecting 11 additional pitchers -- eight right-handers -- out of their first 13 picks on Wednesday. Overall, the club selected 31 pitchers among their 50 picks.

Cam Bonifay, the Rays' director of player development/scouting director, said the organization is pleased with their draft and felt they had a quality crop from which there is potential to have several impact players at the Major League level.

Obviously, Townsend is the one ticketed for the quickest ride to The Show, having been a dominant force at Rice University, where he helped lead his team to the 2003 College World Series championship, and earned first-team All-America honors in 2004 after going 12-0, 1.80 with 148 strikeouts.

The Rays figured Townsend might be available when they picked him Tuesday, but the three right-handers who followed with the Nos. 2, 3, and 4 selections were pleasant surprises: Chris Mason, Avery Morris, and Jeremy Hellickson.

Mason, a 6-foot, 170-pound junior at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, has a "very quick arm" according to Bonifay, who touted Mason's athleticism.

"He played third base every day [that] he didn't pitch," Bonifay said. "He's played a lot. He's the No. 3 hitter in their lineup, [and a] fine fielding pitcher."

Mason compiled a Southern Conference-low 2.80 ERA and set school records with 135 strikeouts, eight complete games, 118 2/3 innings pitched and a single-game record of 16 strikeouts against East Tennessee State March 25. And he batted .324 with a team-high seven home runs.

Morris, who grew up as the next-door neighbor to Rays right-hander Dewon Brazelton, had a dominant senior season at Tullahoma High School in Tullahoma, Tenn. Standing 6-foot-3, 180, Morris went 10-0 with an 0.43 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 66 innings. Chances are, he fell to the Rays in the third round because his father, Ricky Morris, is an assistant coach at Motlow Junior College.

Most project Morris as a draft-and-follow, but Bonifay is not one of them.

"Our plan is to have [Morris] here," Bonifay said.

Bonifay's confidence is based on the backing of the Rays ownership.

"Ownership has given us the opportunity to possibly take some shots at some guys that, in the past, we might not have been able to sign," Bonifay said. "But this year, they've really stepped up, and we think we'll be able to get these guys signed."

Hellickson, from Hoover High School in Des Moines, Iowa, was a member of the USA Baseball youth national team and posted a 2-0 record with 17 strikeouts and one walk in 14 innings to help lead the team to a gold medal in Taiwan. He pitched 55 innings during the 2005 season and struck out 100 batters while walking just four. And similar to Mason, at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, Hellickson personified the Rays' belief that size isn't everything.

"There are a lot of things other than pure height that go into evaluating pitchers," Bonifay said. "You talk about hand size, the body proportions and how that pitches off the mound.

"We try to scout all the things that make successful pitchers. There are a lot of six-foot pitchers who have been very successful. I mean, there's a bunch of them. So we try to consider everything."

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

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