Evan Longoria, a 21-year-old slugging third baseman from Long Beach State, was available when it came time for the Rays to make their first pick shortly after 1 o'clock and the Rays didn't hesitate to pull the trigger.
"Had we picked [first in the first round], Evan Longoria would have been our selection," said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "He's someone that coming into the draft we were very focused on. And we project him as an above-average infielder with power and someone who will get to the big leagues quickly."
An added plus for the Rays came in the fact they signed Longoria to a non-Major League contract approximately 20 minutes after selecting him.
"It's a big deal," said Longoria during a conference call, "because I want to get out and play as soon as possible."
Getting selected by the Rays did not surprise Longoria.
"There was a lot of talk between Colorado and Tampa Bay and Detroit and Pittsburgh, so [the Rays] were always in the mix," Longoria said. "I wasn't surprised at all and I'm real excited."
Friedman said Longoria will likely start at Class A Visalia and although the Rays project him as a third baseman, they will look at him at second base and shortstop as well.
Selecting Longoria broke the pattern established by the Rays in the previous two drafts when they selected college pitchers.
Longoria is known for having a power bat and is forecast to have a hasty arrival to the Major Leagues. He proved that using a wooden bat was not going to be an obstacle with his performance last summer when he was named the Most Valuable Player in the Cape Cod Baseball League after leading the league with eight home runs, 35 RBIs and a .500 slugging percentage.
Friedman said it wasn't any one skill that attracted the Rays to Longoria, rather the "the full package that I think he brings to the ballpark every night."
"I think it's a testament to him and what our thought process is, that on a level playing field, we prefer a pitcher," Friedman said. "There's no question about that. In our minds this wasn't a level playing field. Evan Longoria in our minds was the best player in the country."
A junior, Longoria stands 6-foot-2, weighs 213 pounds and hit .353 with 11 home runs, 43 RBIs with a .468 on-base percentage and a .603 slugging percentage. He was the Big West Conference co-player of the year and is a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, given to the top collegian.
Friedman was asked to compare Longoria to a Major Leaguer.
"I don't know how fair that is," Friedman said. "And I hope someone is comparing themselves to him in three or four years. It's a combination of different guys. Someone who is more recent is [Nationals third baseman] Ryan Zimmerman. He's not as good a defender [as Zimmerman], but probably a better bat. But a similar player; we liked Zimmerman last year."
Longoria compared himself to White Sox third baseman Joe Crede.
"Grind away and get it done any way I can," Longoria said.
The Rays cashed in their first-round picks on a pair of Rice right-handers in the past two drafts when they selected Jeff Niemann (2004) and Wade Townsend (2005).
Prior to the 2004 draft, the Rays selected high school players in the first round. Outfielder Delmon Young was the Rays' top pick in 2003 (the top pick of the draft) and shortstop B.J. Upton was selected in the first round of the 2002 draft; both remain highly-touted prospects. Friedman said the Rays view Young, Upton and Longoria as being "potential middle of the order bats in a Major League lineup."
Longoria will be at Tropicana Field on Wednesday to meet the local media and take batting practice.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.