O'Conner signs, excited to get started

O'Conner signs, excited to get started

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays announced Friday that they had signed Justin O'Conner, their second selection of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. All that's left is for him to pass a physical.

O'Conner, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound catcher from Cowan High School in Muncie, Ind., was at Tropicana Field with his family Friday night and appeared excited about joining the Rays.

As for the highlight of the day, O'Conner didn't hesitate to say it was the people he got to meet, which included Rays players, manager Joe Maddon and senior advisor Don Zimmer.

"They just told me good luck and kind of how it's going to be like down in the Minors," O'Conner said.

O'Conner was chosen at No. 31, 14 picks after the club selected prep outfielder Josh Sale with its first selection Monday, and 11 picks before the club selected prep outfielder Drew Vettleson with the 42nd pick.

The Rays received the 31st pick as compensation for not being able to sign LeVon Washington, their No. 1 pick and the 30th overall pick of the 2009 Draft.

"He is essentially a high school shortstop who started catching this year," Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said of O'Conner. "So what you have is you have a kid with a plus arm, plus raw power, and we think he's going to be able to make that transition to catcher. ... We don't think it's going to be a tough transition for him. He's a kid who wants to catch."

O'Conner is excited to start learning how to play the position well. He'll likely begin playing for the Rays' Gulf Coast League affiliate.

"I'm really excited about that," O'Conner said. "From what they've said, most everybody on their staff knows about catching, even if they're the hitting guys. And I'm just excited about getting some instruction. The more and more I get back there, the more I get comfortable."

O'Conner is the first catcher selected by Tampa Bay in the first round. He hit .470 with eight home runs and 40 RBIs in 66 at-bats with 15 stolen bases his senior season. He had committed to play baseball at the University of Arkansas.

When asked about why he signed so quickly, O'Conner didn't hesitate.

"I want to play," he said. "I want to get down here as soon as I can and play."