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Rays Turn To Rice Again

June 8, 2005
By Marc Tompkin

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA.--The Devil Rays were excited last year to draft Jeff Niemann from Rice's dominant rotation.

Tuesday, they added another piece.

The Rays used the No. 8 pick in the draft for former Owls righthander Wade Townsend, who was taken eighth last year by the Orioles and didn't sign.

Both Townsend and Niemann were excited by the opportunity to be on the same team again, and Rays officials were too.

"It's an interesting scenario, one that you usually don't get," player development/scouting director Cam Bonifay said. "It's a competitive battle between the two of who can outdo each other. I think that's helpful for any organization to have young men battling for spots and competing to become major league pitchers."

Townsend called Niemann frequently in the days leading up to the draft as rumors circulated that the Rays were interested to discuss the possibilities.

"It's a huge factor having Jeff here," Townsend said. "I really liked the organization beforehand. But Jeff is my best friend. When we were playing together, we pushed each other along to get better and better. It'd be pretty cool if we could both get to the major leagues at the same time."

Townsend said the decision to pass on Baltimore's offer of a reported $1.85 million was more than just financial and is often misconstrued as a failed negotiating ploy.

"It wasn't really about the money, it's about the respect of the team," Townsend said. "I didn't feel Baltimore really even liked me as a player. I feel Tampa definitely likes me as a player. It's a better situation for me."

Bonifay said the Rays are confident they will get him signed.

"We feel like in our discussions with our scouts and his representatives that he wants to get down here and get his pro career started," Bonifay said.

Manager Lou Piniella looked over Townsend's college stats--specifically his 25-3 record, 2.05 ERA and ratio of 193 hits allowed in 290 innings--and said he was very impressed and didn't think the year off would hurt.

"According to (Rays general manager) Chuck LaMar, he has a really nice arm," Piniella said. "He should be able to work his way up to the major-league club fairly quickly."

COOL RAYS

As expected, the Rays went heavy with pitching, drafting seven in their first nine picks and 12 of their first 18.

Third-round pick Bryan Morris grew up next door to Rays pitcher Dewon Brazelton and went to the same high school in Tullahoma, Tenn.

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