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Devil Rays Draft Report

By Marc Topkin
June 4, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.--The Devil Rays got their man Tuesday, and they couldn't have been happier about it.

As soon as they heard the Pirates open the draft with the word "redraft," meaning they would take Bryan Bullington, Rays officials erupted knowing they would be able to select B.J. Upton, the extremely athletic and supremely talented shortstop from Greenbrier Christian Academy in Chesapeake, Va.

"We felt with a chance to get a premium position player," said Rays scouting director Dan Jennings. "With the history we have on B.J. and his ability now and in the future, it was the best decision we could make."

By drafting Upton, the Rays can add to their trio of potential impact players--Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and Josh Hamilton. But what makes Upton more special is that he plays shortstop, a position that has been something of a thin spot for the Rays organization from top to bottom.

"To get one at a premium position is critical to us," said general manager Chuck LaMar. "You know the holes and the battles we've fought at shortstop throughout the years. You take somebody like this this high in the draft, and sooner or later you think he's going to fill that hole at the major league level."

Upton--who hit .645-24-108 over two seasons for Greenbrier, with 45 walks and just four strikeouts in 56 games--doesn't think it will take him long go get there, even if he won't turn 18 until August.

"I think I can be there in two-and-a-half years if I keep working hard," Upton said.

The Rays won't set any timetables, but they expect Upton to be around for a long time once he gets there.

"With his overall package of tools, his athleticism (and) age on his side, the sky's the limit," LaMar said. "There's no ceiling on how good he can be depending on how bad he wants it, and we think he has the makeup to use that ability."

Asked if he could describe himself as a player, Upton had a quick reply: "You ever seen Derek Jeter play?" he asked.

Rays officials don't necessarily disagree.

"This is a player with that kind of athleticism," LaMar said. "Whether he ends up being Derek Jeter or not, who knows? That's a lot of pressure, a lot of hype for a 17-year-old young man.

"But if you had to make a comparison from the position that he plays, the way he goes about it, the ease in which he plays the game, and his overall ability level, if you want to use that comparison, so be it."

With their third-round pick, the Rays took talented but troubled outfielder Elijah Dukes from Tampa's Hillsborough High. Dukes, who is also considering playing football at North Carolina State, has been arrested at least twice on battery charges.

The Rays took a 13th-round gamble on Matt Harrington, who turned down a $3.7-million bonus from the Rockies as a first-round pick in 2000 and $1.25 million from the Padres as a second-round pick last year. "We took him with the full intent of signing him," Jennings said.

Tampa Bay's eighth-round pick had a familiar name: Joseph Gomes is the older brother of high Class A Bakersfield outfielder Jonny Gomes.

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