Devil Rays Draft Report
Rays Thrilled That Longoria Lasted
ST. PETERSBURG--Having been drafted third overall and signed to a $3-million deal on Tuesday, Evan Longoria will don a Devil Rays jersey today and workout with the team before today’s game at Tropicana Field.
How quickly the heavy-hitting hard-playing third baseman gets back--he said he can make it in two years--and what he does when he gets there, will determine how good of a choice he was, especially given an organizational need for top pitching prospects.
But Rays officials couldn’t have been happier that they got the chance to draft Longoria and that they got him signed and on schedule to start playing in the minor leagues within the next week or so.
“I think it’s a testament to him and what we think of him ... that on a level playing field, we’d prefer a pitcher. There’s no question about that. But in our mind, this wasn’t a level playing field,” executive vice president Andrew Friedman said.
“Evan Longoria in our mind was the best player in the country. Had we picked (first overall) Evan Longoria would have been our selection.”
As much as it seems the Rays could have used a top college pitcher, they obviously were not convinced any of the four they scouted closely were worth passing over Longoria.
“There are a lot of factors we look at making a decision and one of them is certainty to get to the big leagues, and that’s something that rates very highly for Evan,” Friedman said. “And the ability to contribute at the major-league level above the average player is something he ranks very highly in.”
Plus, the Rays--perhaps wary of a major investment in pitching given the struggles of 2001 first-rounder Dewon Brazelton and the injury issues of 2004 first-rounder Jeff Niemann and 2005 pick Wade Townsend--felt they addressed the arms shortage by taking pitchers with their next three picks and 11 of the 18 overall on the first day of the 50-round draft.
The Rays settled on Longoria, 21, as their choice Sunday night, and had some initial conversations with his adviser, Paul Cohen, on Monday. But they didn’t know until about an hour before the 1 p.m. start of the draft that the Long Beach State star would get past the two teams selecting ahead of them, as Kansas City took former Tennessee pitcher Luke Hochevar and Colorado opted--somewhat surprisingly--for Stanford pitcher Greg Reynolds.
“We were extremely excited,” Friedman said.
Within 20 minutes of selecting him, they worked out a standard minor league contract and plans to send him to their high Class A Visalia team sometime next week.
“It’s very big,” Friedman said. “The sooner we’re able to get a player out the better and, on our mind, the faster they can reach the big-league level and that’s something that’s important to us.”
The Rays are convinced that Longoria’s lively bat will allow him to move quickly to the majors and make a difference when he gets there, batting in the middle of their order and hitting .280-.300 with 25-35 home runs.
Longoria didn’t think it would take long.
“I’m hoping two years,” he said on a conference call. “The organization is probably going to give me a chance to move up. As long as I do what I can and give myself the best chance, a couple years is all I need.”
Longoria, 21, wasn’t offered a scholarship offer out of St. John Bosco High School in 2003 and wasn’t drafted out of Rio Hondo Junior College in 2004, but said he matured mentally and developed into a standout player at Long Beach known for his performance and his hardnosed play.
He hit .353 with 11 homers and 43 RBIs in 56 games for the Dirtbags this season, earning third-team All-American honors, and that after being named MVP of the highly respected wood-bat Cape Cod League last summer by hitting .299 with eight homers and 35 RBIs with a wood bat.
“I thought all along he was the best player in the draft,” Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said. “He’s an everyday player who can be an above average defender and a bat in the middle of our lineup.”
The Rays will look at Longoria at shortstop and second base also, but expect him to settle at third.
What type of player is he?
Friedman said he was comparable to Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman, who was chosen fourth overall by last season and has already made it to the majors. Area scout Fred Repke called him “a more physical” version of Cleveland’s Aaron Boone. Longoria said he considered himself most like the White Sox’s Joe Crede--”grind it away and get it done anyway I can.”