Rays Stay Close To Home

Tampa tabs Gainesville's LeVon Washington in first round





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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.LeVon Washington was just a little bit excited to be drafted in the first round by his home-state Rays.

"Initial reaction?'' Washington said. "I was jumping up and down, I broke two of my necklaces (rosaries with crosses) and I was screaming for about two minutes straight.''
QUICK TAKE
College? We don't need no stinking college! The Rays didn't take a four-year college player until OF Brett Nommensen in the eighth round, yet they still found polished hitters in Las Vegas prep 1B Jeff Malm (fifth) and first-rounder LeVon Washington, whose only downside is his throwing arm. RHP Dylan Floro (20th) might have gone much higher if not for his Cal State Fullerton commitment.
—JOHN MANUEL

The Rays were pretty happy, too, excited by Washington's combination of speed and skillthey see him as a center fielderand thrilled by his draft-night pronouncement that the product of Buchholz High in Gainesville, Fla.,  would forego a commitment to the University of Florida and sign with the Rays as soon as they were ready.

"I'll be a Ray,'' he said. "I'm pretty much signing right now. I talked to my coach and he understands because I got drafted in the first round, he understands the opportunity I have.''

"That's great news, and we feel the exact same way," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said later. "We feel like him going out and getting 150-200 at-bats this summer puts him in a good position to open next year with a full-season club, which is extremely valuable, obviously, in terms of expediting his path to the major leagues.''

Washington, 17, was limited to mostly DH duties during his senior season as he rehabbed from September surgery for a slight tear in his right labrum. The Rays are confident he'll be at full strength in time for instructional league, especially if he signs early and is under their care.

Basically, they like everything about him.

"First of all, he's a premium athlete,'' scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "He fits right in with the kind of players that we've signed in the past. He's a well above average runner and we really like his bat. We think he's going to hit, and hit for a high average. ... We saw an advanced young hitter.''
 
Cool Rays
 
• The Rays took two high-school position players later on the first day who have big-time college commitmentsMenlo (Calif.) High shortstop Ken Diekroeger with Stanford and Midway High in Waco, Texas, outfielder Todd Glaesman with Texas A&M.  "We know these players very, very well and we felt really, really comfortable with the selections,'' Harrison said. "We've taken good players and we're going to go wrestle them. We think all these players want to sign.''

• Righthander Jorge Julio, a ninth-year major-league veteran, signed a minor-league deal and joined Triple-A Durham. Righthander Chad Orvella was released to make room.