ST. PETERSBURG - The Devil Rays are doing their best to maintain some suspense with less than three weeks to go until they make the first pick in baseball's draft, but it sounds more like an attempt at maintaining leverage.
Scouting director R.J. Harrison said Sunday the Rays are down to three finalists for the top overall pick in the June 7-8 draft: Vanderbilt left-hander David Price, Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters and California high school third baseman Josh Vitters.
'I've gone and had lunch or dinner with all three of them and the area scouts that are involved, and that's where we're at in the process,' Harrison said.
The Rays' scouts will convene a week from today to start putting all their information together and assembling a draft board. While the Rays say they'll keep their options open up until draft day, most believe Price will be their selection.
The 21-year-old is 10-0 with a 2.76 ERA in 15 starts for the top-ranked Commodores. He has walked 29 and struck out 164 in 114 innings, allowing just one home run. Harrison will be at the SEC Tournament this week to get another look at the pitcher, but he insisted the choice isn't a foregone conclusion.
'I think that our goal all along has been that we're going to take the guy that we think's the best prospect in the draft,' Harrison said. 'That's what we've narrowed this down to. We're still three weeks away - funny things can happen. So to stand here and say, 'That's our guy,' I think, is a little premature.'
One additional factor in Price's favor is that he is not represented by agent Scott Boras, who will be doing the negotiating for Wieters and several other potential first-round picks. Harrison indicated he wasn't worried about the Rays being able to sign whoever they selected with the first overall pick. He also said he and his scouts were not necessarily focused on picking a player who might make a quicker impact in Tampa Bay.
'I think that when you start talking about any of these amateur players being close or immediate help, I think you're making decisions based on the wrong thing,' Harrison said. 'I guess conventional wisdom would say, OK, I guess an advanced college player is a little bit closer to the big leagues than a high school player, but I don't think you make that choice based upon thinking that guy's going to be catching for us a year from now or whatever. I think you've got to get them in the system and let development take its course.'
Reporter Marc Lancaster can be reached at (813) 259-7227 or mlancaster@tampatrib.