Circumstance and physical setbacks have kept Price off the mound in a game that counts for the last 12 months. But he'll finally make his debut on Thursday night at historic Holman Stadium, when Vero Beach hosts Clearwater in a Florida State League contest. Price, one of 13 pitchers chosen with the overall top pick since the Draft's inception in 1965, has dealt with the setbacks and delays as well as can be expected and is eager to start his professional career.
"It's been tough," said Tampa Bay's top pitching prospect. "I worked hard, but I'm back at it now. It's time to get into the real season."
Price looked sharp in Spring Training despite experiencing some soreness in his shoulder early in camp. He pitched in a pair of Major League games, striking out three and retiring six of the seven batters he faced in two innings. A minor elbow strain, however, near the end of camp put him on the shelf and sent the Rays into caution mode, a state of mind that has since eased considerably. Price will, however, likely be on a pitch count and monitored closely on Thursday.
He had his final tuneup for his debut on Saturday against the Yankees in an extended Spring Training game. He struck out 10 in five innings of work, flashing a fastball in the mid-90s.
"It's been a while since I've thrown that many pitches, and it definitely took a toll on me out there at the end," Price said.
That doesn't take away from the fact that he was impressive. Alex Rodriguez, who was rehabbing a quad injury, was one of Price's strikeout victims. But A-Rod also took Price deep and drew a walk in five plate appearances.
"I wish he was on our team," Rodriguez said. "He has a very bright future. The Rays are doing a fantastic job of drafting these young guys."
Despite not having thrown a meaningful pitch in almost a year, Price has a bit more experience on his side than the first pitcher ever selected with the top pick in the Draft. The Texas Rangers made David Clyde the answer to a trivia question when they selected him out of high school in 1973 and ushered him right into the Major Leagues. His debut came on June 27, 1973, against Minnesota.
Though Clyde went five innings, allowing only one hit while walking seven and striking out eight to earn the victory, his career was short and unmemorable. The other pitchers chosen with the top pick went on to have -- or are continuing to enjoy -- varying degrees of success. Floyd Bannister, the top pick in 1976 by the Astros, went on to win 134 games over 15 Major League seasons. He allowed two hits and struck out 10 in six innings against Kingsport during his professional debut while pitching for Covington of the Appalachian League.
San Diego selected Andy Benes with its top pick in 1988, and before Benes won 155 games in 14 big league seasons, he made his debut by pitching for Double-A Wichita on April 9, 1989. He went seven innings and struck out 10 against El Paso.
Perhaps the most successful pitcher selected first was Mike Moore, whom the Mariners chose in 1981. Moore won 161 games during his big league career and earned a pair of victories in the 1989 World Series for Oakland. He bowed on June 21, 1981, with Lynn of the Double-A Eastern League, striking out three and walking three in 4 2/3 innings against Buffalo.
More recently, the Royals made Luke Hochevar the top pick in 2006 -- he had been drafted by the Dodgers in the first round in 2005 but chose not to sign -- and he debuted that August, throwing two scoreless innings against South Bend while pitching for Burlington of the Midwest League.
How Price will fare, not only in his debut but in his career, remains to be seen. Either way, he's part of a baker's dozen that already share a little slice of baseball history. He'll begin writing his own on Thursday night against Clearwater.
Kevin T. Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less