David Price is bringing his blazing fastball and sizable shoe collection to Tampa Bay.
The hard-throwing left-hander out of Vanderbilt was selected by the Devil Rays with the No. 1 pick in the baseball draft Thursday.
“I knew that I had the talent to be that type of player,” Price said. “So, I just had to put the talent and the mental game together.”
He certainly did that, and then some. Price went 11-1 with a 2.63 ERA and Division I-leading 194 strikeouts in his junior season for the Commodores. He accumulated several awards and about 50 pairs of shoes, size 13, during his three years at Vanderbilt.
“I like shoes,” he said sheepishly.
And the Devil Rays like Price.
“We think this guy has all the ability to be a front of the rotation-type pitcher,” scouting director R.J. Harrison said. “Now it’s just a matter of getting him signed, getting him in a uniform and getting him along that developmental process.”
Price is the fourth left-hander taken with the top pick, and first since Brien Taylor went to the New York Yankees in 1991.
The first round of the draft was televised live from an actual site for the first time after being held strictly by conference call in previous years. About 400-500 fans were at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex outside of Orlando, Fla. Commissioner Bud Selig was in attendance, along with some big names such as Dave Winfield, Darryl Strawberry, Tom Lasorda, Don Zimmer and Frank Howard.
“You look at this draft today, and look at the coverage today, it’s really remarkable,” Selig said. “Think how the draft used to be conducted when I first got into baseball in 1970. We’ve come a long way. This is the way it’s supposed to be.”
With the second pick, Kansas City took power-hitting California high school infielder Mike Moustakas. The Chicago Cubs went with California high school third baseman Josh Vitters at No. 3; Clemson lefty Daniel Moskos went to Pittsburgh; and Baltimore selected Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters with the fifth pick.
About two dozen Devil Rays fans chanted “Let’s Go Rays!” and “We Want Price!” during the commercial break after Selig made a few opening remarks and Tampa Bay went on the clock. Each team had 5 minutes to make its first-round pick, and the Devil Rays took all of their allotted time, even though they’ve known for a while that they would select Price.
“Obviously you have an open mind, as R.J. and his staff did in going through the process,” said Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay’s executive vice president of baseball operations. “To maintain that rank is a great accomplishment.”
It was the third time in franchise history the Devil Rays had the top pick and first since they took outfielder Delmon Young in 2003. Tampa Bay took an outfielder with its first No. 1 pick in 1999.
Price’s dominant season came to a surprising end in the regionals when his top-ranked Commodores lost to Michigan on Monday. In that game, he came on in relief and took his first loss of the year after striking out 17 against Austin Peay three days earlier. Projected as a future staff ace in the majors, Price has a fastball in the mid-90s and mixes it well with an outstanding slider and changeup.
Moustakas was at home watching the draft on TV with family and friends when his name was called.
“Everyone just started jumping up and screaming. It was unreal,” he said. “A lot of phone calls came in, a lot of text messages. Everybody was giving me hugs. It was unreal. It couldn’t have worked out any better.”
Moustakas, California’s career high school home run leader with 52, hit a state-record 24 this season while leading Chatsworth High to the city title at Dodger Stadium.
Vitters hit .360 with nine HRs and 29 RBIs for Cypress High School, despite missing two weeks with pneumonia. He was at the draft site and became the first in the event’s history to shake hands with Selig and pose with his new team’s cap and jersey.
“This was really important, a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Vitters said. “I’m glad to be part of it. There’s definitely some electricity, especially before I got picked. My heart was racing.”
Moskos, who moved from his role as closer to starter midway through the season. He was just 3-5 with a 2.91 ERA heading into the super regionals, but has three potentially dominant pitches.
Wieters, a 6-foot-5 catcher, is outstanding defensively and hit .358 with 10 homers and 59 RBIs this season.
“I would say he was the best college hitter in the draft,” said Mike Flanagan, the Orioles’ executive vice president of baseball operations.
The New York Yankees capped the first round by selecting 6-foot-10 North Carolina State right-hander Andrew Brackman, who quit the basketball team after his sophomore season to focus on pitching.
In addition to being televised, this year’s draft brings about one major rule change that’s sure to affect contract negotiations. There’s an Aug. 15 deadline for signing players under terms of the new collective bargaining agreement. If a player selected in the early rounds fails to sign, the team that drafted him will receive a comparable pick in 2008.
The draft wrapped up after five rounds and will resume today around 10:30 a.m., with teams picking through 50 rounds.