Walls a pleasant surprise for Rays at No. 79

Walls a pleasant surprise for Rays at No. 79

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays feel like they might have gotten away with one by getting Taylor Walls with their third-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft.

Walls is a well-regarded shortstop for Florida State University and for now the Rays plan to leave him at shortstop, even though some have projected him as a super-utility player.

"We take him with the intention of playing him at shortstop," said Rob Metzler, Rays director of amateur scouting. "Where the game of baseball takes him over the course of his career, who knows, but we like his shortstop ability."

The Draft concludes on Wednesday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at noon ET.

With Walls, the Rays are getting a switch-hitter who established himself as one of the better middle infielders in the nation as a sophomore.

"He's a guy that can just literally be a game-breaker, whether it's an outstanding defensive play or just being heads-up on the bases," Florida State coach Mike Martin said.

Based on that success, Walls entered his junior year earmarked to be an All-America candidate. But he struggled with the bat for much of the season, which probably accounted for why he was still available for the 79th overall selection.

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Walls was hitting just .225 at the beginning of April.

"It was obviously something he'd never experienced," Martin said. "Nothing seemed to go right, and unfortunately, like the majority of athletes, it kind of wore him down.

"He was looking at nothing but people when he got to the plate. In other words, there was no green grass out there, there was nothing but people. Every time he hit the ball hard, it was right at somebody. It was just one of those situations where he struggled a lot longer."

But Walls rebounded.

"I would say when we got into the conference part of our schedule, he really came into his own," Martin said. "He started doing everything that we knew he could do to win us ballgames."

Walls entered the College World Series hitting .276 with 63 walks and eight home runs.

"He's a very quick kid," Martin said. "He's just a throwback in the way he loves to play baseball. He loves to compete."

Metzler and the Rays believe they are getting the sophomore model of Walls.

"We like Taylor as a shortstop," Metzler said. "Good defensive ability. We think he has range. We like his bat as a switch-hitter. We're optimistic that that sophomore season is more the player he is, and we're excited to get him at the spot we got him."

But if by chance the Rays do decide to make Walls a super-utility player, Martin believes he'd be up to the task and even offered a warning to current Rays third baseman Evan Longoria with a chuckle.

"Because [Walls] can play second very well," Martin said. "I can't say that I've ever seen him play third, but let's put it this way: Evan better hope he never gets hurt and they put Taylor at third. I'm a Rays fan."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.