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Rays narrowing down No. 1 pick

Rays narrowing down No. 1 pick

ST. PETERSBURG -- Of historical significance for the Rays in this year's First-Year Player Draft is the fact they will become the first team in the history of the Draft, which began in 1965, to have the top pick in consecutive years.

Drafting first for the fourth time in franchise history, the Rays do not have a clear-cut choice like the previous three times they led off the Draft.

The Rays selected Josh Hamilton the first time they had the top pick in 1999. Though the Marlins selected Josh Beckett with the second pick that year, few disputed Hamilton's standing as the player every team would have selected had they been in the top spot.

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In 2003, the Rays again had the top pick, and again there was a clear favorite in Delmon Young. Last year, the Rays had the top pick for the third time in franchise history and David Price became a no-brainer.

Now comes the 2008 June Draft, and for the first time, the Rays find themselves in a position where they are still trying to figure out who they will take with the top pick.

"The top pick definitely is not as clear-cut as last year for us," said Andrew Friedman, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations. "That being said, there are a lot of good players in this Draft, and we're going to keep an open mind. We're looking at some pitching and position players, and we feel comfortable with the talent that we're going to add a very good player to our system."

Friedman won't spill the beans about which players they are considering to make the top pick, but he did say they are really focused on five players.

"We want to get to a point where we're comfortable with the overall process and we start to really whittle that five down even further," said Friedman, who did not rule out the possibility of trying to have the player signed before the Draft. "As we get closer to that point, we may reach out to see [about signing the player ahead of time]. Obviously, it's ideal.

"That said, sometimes it doesn't work out that way and it's not going to change who we draft necessarily. But obviously, if you pick a high school guy, it's important for them to go out and get that experience with a short season club and then be able to go to the Instructional League. And then the next year, you feel more comfortable sending him to low A than you would otherwise. But we're going to focus on who we feel is not only the best player in the Draft, but who fits us."

Friedman said their selection will not be affected by the strengths or weaknesses currently in their system.

"We're focused on adding what we feel is the best player in the Draft, regardless of position," Friedman said. "We factor position not so much by what we have, but rather the overall scarcity of that position in the game. All those things factor in. But we don't look at what we need at the Major League level and draft according to that."

The eyes of the baseball world will be squarely on the Rays when they make the first selection, but Friedman said having the No. 1 pick does not put pressure on the organization.

"No, I think if you're picking in the bottom five, you want to [have the first pick]," Friedman said. "You want to control your own destiny and ensure that whoever you have as the number one player on the board you're able to get. We're looking forward to when we pick in the 20s. But for now, we'd rather pick one than four."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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