ST. PETERSBURG -- With Jeff Niemann pitching Wednesday and David Price on Thursday, one might think the Rays would want to keep drafting arms.
Niemann, the fourth overall pick in 2004, and Price, the No. 1 pick in 2007, have both ascended quickly to the Major Leagues to fill Tampa Bay's young rotation -- a luxury for baseball teams these days.
But instead, the Rays' front office appeared to take a different approach in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft: stockpiling position players, something it hasn't exactly emphasized in recent years. Only two of their first 10 selections were pitchers; 26 pitchers were taken in all 50 rounds by Tampa Bay.
Last year, the Rays took three pitchers in the first 10 rounds, after making shortstop Tim Beckham the No. 1 overall selection. In 2007, the team picked five pitchers in the first 10.
This Draft, the Rays in total grabbed nine outfielders, 12 infielders and three catchers -- most notably fourth-round pick Luke Bailey, a projected first-rounder before Tommy John elbow-ligament replacement surgery in May, and Austin Maddox in the 37th round.
Maddox, out of Eagle's View High School in Jacksonville, Fla., hit .544 this season and had his throwing arm clocked at 94 mph -- which scouts viewed as the fastest of any high schooler in the country. He was projected as a first- to third-round pick; Tampa Bay landed him with the 1129th overall selection.
"I think overall we've got a very good mix of premium athletes, good hitters, good arms, and I think our first two picks in particular are guys that our guys like a lot," Rays executive vice president for baseball operations Andrew Friedman said Wednesday. "We feel like they'll fit into our system extremely well."
Having the 30th pick in the Draft, an unusual position for the Rays, could actually be a blessing, enabling the team to sign its selections more easily, including first-round choice LeVon Washington, who indicated he will likely sign.
Friedman and director of scouting R.J. Harrison both felt confident most of the early picks will sign with the organization quickly.
Rays -- Top five selections
|30||2B||LeVon Washington||Buchholz HS
|78||SS||Kenneth Diekroeger||Menlo School
|108||CF||Todd Glaesmann||Midway HS
|139||C||Lucas Bailey||Troup County HS
|169||1B||Jeffrey Malm||Bishop Gorman HS
|Complete Rays Draft results >|
"I think we've put ourselves in position because of the relationship we've built with these players," Harrison said. "Those guys are guys that we evaluated as very good players, and we thought we're going to take the opportunity to see if we can't get those guys signed."
The third day was filled mostly with college players, including Loyola Marymount shortstop Kyle Spraker, Toledo pitcher Jeff Cinadr and Cal State-Northridge pitcher Ryan McCarney. The Rays also picked infielder Kalani Brackenridge from Kapolei High School in Hawaii. Brackenridge has committed to the University of Hawaii on a football scholarship, and his half-brother, Tyrone, is a cornerback for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
By loading up on position players in 2009, the Rays feel good about the direction they are headed with them in tow.
"They really provide good position-player prospects, which is something we're not as strong in as we were a couple years ago," Friedman said.