2017 MLB Draft Grades: Tampa Bay Rays
Best Pure Hitter: 1B/LHP Brendan McKay (1) has a low-maintenance, pure and technically sound swing. That’s a necessity for a two-way player who doesn’t get to spend as much time in the cage as the normal hitter. He uses the whole field well and has a track record of hitting for average.
Best Power Hitter: McKay is a hitter first, but his raw power portends 20-plus home run seasons in his future. His current swing is more geared for line drives than loft, but he has the strength and bat speed to drive the ball and could hit for more power if he tweaked his swing.
Fastest Runner: The Rays drafted a trio of speedy outfielders in Carl Chester (12), Bryce Brown (15) and Michael Smith (18). All three are 70 runners on the 20-to-80 scouting scale with Smith the favorite to win a footrace.
Best Defensive Player: Chester played an excellent center field for short-season Hudson Valley. He’s a plus defender in center. Neither SS Taylor Walls (3) nor Zach Rutherford (6) earns plus grades, but both are both noted for their reliability and steadiness.
Best Fastball: McKay pitched at 92-95 mph for Hudson Valley on a once-a-week pitching schedule. He commands his fastball well and it has excellent late finish. RHP Drew Strotman (4) sat at 93-96 mph as a pro and touched 98.
Best Secondary Pitch: McKay’s breaking ball has morphed into different pitches throughout his Louisville career, but he always showed feel to spin it. It was more of a true curve as a sophomore and became a power slurve in 2017. He also added a cutter this year. Whatever it’s shape, it’s shown the potential to be a future plus pitch. LHP Josh Fleming (5) has a potentially plus changeup.
Best Pro Debut: Strotman went 2-3, 1.78 for short-season Hudson Valley with an excellent 42-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio and only 29 hits allowed in 50.2 innings.
Best Athlete: Chester, Smith and Brown are all quick-twitch athletes. Chester gets the nod because he has the most power to go with his speed. McKay’s not quick twitch, but his baseball athleticism is notable because he is a legitimate pro prospect as a hitter and pitcher.
Taylor Walls Combines Skills And Intangibles
The Rays love the defensive value and versatility Walls brings in addition to his quality bat and strong baserunning.
Most Intriguing Background: In addition to being the most decorated college player in BA history, McKay is the first first-round pick to try to play both ways as a pro since Casey Kelly a decade ago. RHP Riley O’Brien (8), a senior sign, was a high school teammate of Rays LHP Blake Snell at Shoreline (Wash.) High.
Closest To The Majors: McKay’s attempts to hit and pitch may slow his ascent, but he’s a very polished lefthander/hitter with a long track record of college success.
Best Late-Round Pick: Chester often battled in the middle of Miami’s lineup but he largely used a small-ball, get-on-base approach. He showed a more fluid swing as a pro and his approach fit well as a pro.
The One Who Got Away: The Rays didn’t sign RHP Drew Rasmussen (1s) after his post-draft medical exam raised concerns. Rasmussen has since had his second Tommy John surgery. RHP Justin Lewis (11) was one of the more talented sophomore-eligible pitchers in the draft. He should be a cornerstone of a very deep Kentucky weekend rotation this year.