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Rays looking ahead to first pick of draft

Rays looking ahead to first pick of draft

ST. PETERSBURG -- Time is running out for the Devil Rays to make a decision on which player they will select with the first pick in Major League Baseball's 2007 First Year Player Draft in June.

"We're getting down to the end because this is the last week we can scout," Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "We've got conference tournaments coming up and just last looks. And then a week from Monday, the guys will start coming in, we'll have all of our area guys in for two days of meetings, and we'll start getting our board together."

The Rays have had the first overall pick twice since participating in their first draft in 1996. In 1999, they used the pick to select Josh Hamilton (now with the Cincinnati Reds), and in 2003, they used it to select Delmon Young; both outfielders are now Major League rookies.

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If a census of scouts and media was taken, Vanderbilt left-handed pitcher David Price would be the overwhelming favorite to be selected first.

Price has a nice resume, but most impressive could be the performance he put forth as the ace of the USA Baseball National Team's gold medal-winning squad that competed at the FISU World University Championships in Cuba last summer. Price finished 5-1 with a 0.20 ERA in eight starts with 61 strikeouts and only seven walks in 44 innings.

Price is polished and close to Major League ready and he is advised by Bo McKinnis, an agent the Rays have worked with in the past.

While most believe Price is the obvious choice, the Rays are not tipping their hand just yet.

"I've been out and I've met with three guys," Harrison said. "We've narrowed it down to three guys and I've gone and had lunch or dinner with all three. That's where we're at with the process."

Those three guys are Price, Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters, and Cypress (Calif.) High School third baseman Josh Vitters.

A consensus of who is the better pick will be the determining factor for the selection.

"Our goal all along has been that we want to take the guy we think is the best prospect of the draft," Harrison said. "That's what we've narrowed this down to. You know, we're still three weeks away and funny things can happen. I mean, these guys have to play three more weeks. Something can happen, so just to stand here and say 'Well, that's our guy,' I think it's really premature."

Wieters will be represented by agent Scott Boras, who is often deemed a deterrent to a player being selected, but Harrison said signability will not be a big factor for the top selection.

"All along, our goal has been to take the best player," Harrison said. "That's why it wouldn't be prudent for me to sit here and say 'That's the guy, or that's the guy.' We've got three good options."

In addition, the Rays won't make their decision based on which player is the closest to being ready to play in the Major Leagues.

"I just sat in [Rays manager] Joe's [Maddon] office," Harrison said. "We were talking about that. ... I guess conventional wisdom would say the best college player is a little closer to the big leagues than the best high school player. But I don't think you make that choice based upon the thinking that that guy is going to be catching for us a year from now, or pitching [for us]. I think you've got to get them into the system and let development take its course. I don't buy into that.

"[The Rays have] taken three college pitchers in the first round, and we probably pushed the first guy [Dewon Brazelton] a little too soon. We're still waiting on the other two. Injuries get in the way and a lot of things can happen, so you let those guys develop normally. They should just be able to get on track a little bit further along. They're not going to have to pitch at the lower levels."

One pick does not make a draft, and the Rays are trying to get a handle on the rest of their draft as well.

"Right now, I'm pretty comfortable with where we are at the top," Harrison said. "That's going to take care of itself. I told one of our guys, we were talking the other night, I'm real confident about where we're at with the first pick and I'm good with where we are from the fourth round through the rest of the draft, but the second round and third round ..."

Harrison allowed a smile to punctuate the coming challenge of finding quality picks for the second and third rounds.

"The second round [is challenging], because we have to sit and wait for so long [for it to arrive]," Harrison said. "There are 35 sandwich picks. Our second-round pick is really a third-round pick. We don't choose until the 66th pick, so trying to figure out who is going to be there and what kind of guy [will be available] -- that's what I've been trying to do. I've got our guys [out there], specifically going to places where we have a shot at some players we think might come back around to us. So we get a last look at them -- and a fresh look -- so when we get together, we can make a pretty good decision."

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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