Rays select switch-hitting 1B Casey Gillaspie with 20th overall pick

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Casey Gillaspie is continuing a professional baseball lineage within his family. The Tampa Bay Rays hope his potential for power yields dividends in years to come.

The Rays made Gillaspie the 20th overall selection in the MLB draft Thursday night. He follows his brother, Conor, whom the San Francisco Giants made the 37th overall pick in the 2008 draft. The elder Gillaspie brother, an infielder, is in his second season with the Chicago White Sox and has hit .336 with 18 RBI this year.

In addition, Gillaspie’s father, Mark, also boasts a baseball past. Drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 11th round in 1981, he reached the Triple-A level within the systems for San Diego and the Chicago Cubs during a career in the minors that spanned from 1981 to 1988.

"Obviously, my brother is a big-league player, and he has worked his way up through the major leagues," Gillaspie said. "I’m very thankful for the road he paved for us Gillaspies. At the same time, we’re different players. We’re different in the aspect of how we play the game. I’m just very thankful that he was able to kind of pave the road for the rest of us Gillaspies."

Gillaspie, a Wichita State product, is known for his promising offensive ability as a switch-hitter entering a franchise in need of bolstering its production. He stands 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, and the 21-year-old hit a Cape Cod League-high eight home runs last summer. Scouts consider him to own above-average power from both sides of the plate, though he said "both my sides are pretty natural" after developing his eye from the left side after hitting right-handed pitching more frequently.

That versatile power is part of his controlled profile at the plate. Scouts consider him to be more comfortable as a left-handed hitter, but he has been praised for his command as a right-handed hitter as well. He totaled a team-high 15 doubles last season, as well as a team-best .520 on-base percentage. He also was 8 for 8 on stolen-base attempts.

"I’m a 21-year-old player that played three years in college," Gillaspie said. "Obviously, I’m very thankful that I was given the opportunity at Wichita State to play baseball. And I’m going to do whatever anybody tells me that I need to work on. I’m going to work on it to get better and to help the organization. I’m going to do whatever it takes to help the team win ballgames. And I think that’s all that matters. It’s helping the Rays win a pennant or whatever they need at that time. I’m going to do whatever it takes and work my butt off to get there."

Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said Gillaspie’s swing makes the prospect appealing. Gillaspie becomes just the third college hitter that the Rays have taken with their first overall selection, joining third basemen Evan Longoria (2006, Long Beach State) and Richie Shaffer (2012, Clemson).

"Yeah, he sticks out," Harrison said. "There were a couple or three of them that stuck out in college, and we got one of them. He’s a switch-hitter. It’s probably more of a natural loft stroke from the left side and a more direct swing from the right side. But this is a really strong man. I mean, this is not a kid that we’re waiting for strength to catch up."

Added Andrew Friedman, the Rays’ executive vice president of baseball operations: "Switch-hitter, plus power, really good idea of what he’s doing in the batter’s box. It’s someone that we feel like has a chance to get going and rattle some seats coming up through the minor leagues."

Gillaspie — from Omaha, Nebraska — will try to break a concerning trend among recent Rays’ first-round picks. Infielder Tim Beckham, the first overall pick in the 2008 draft, is Tampa Bay’s most-recent first-round selection to reach the majors. Beckham has hit .429 with one RBI since making his major-league debut on Sept. 19, 2013.

Meanwhile, the Rays chose right-hander Cameron Varga of Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy in the second round, 60th overall. At 19 years old, he has a promising pitcher’s build while standing at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds. His fastball can reach between 90-95 mph, and his curveball and changeup show potential. In May, he was named the Gatorade Ohio Baseball Player of the Year, his highlight coming in striking out a national-record 33 consecutive batters this season, which eclipsed the previous mark of 22 set in 1973.

Varga, who suffered from biceps tendinitis last summer, has thrown five no-hitters this season. The latest came Thursday, when he struck out 15 to keep his 0.00 ERA preserved.

"A well-built, strong right-handed pitcher out of the Cincinnati area," Harrison said. "Power fastball, power breaking ball, advanced ability to pitch. Just a good, young power pitching prospect to add to the organization.

"The arm situation (tendinitis) was just a matter that they chose to rest this summer. We’ve had our medical staff go through it all. They’re good with the situation as it is."

Finally, the Rays chose right-hander Brent Honeywell with the 72nd overall selection, which was a competitive balance round B pick. Honeywell, 19, had an 11-3 record with a 2.81 ERA for Walters State (Tennessee) Community College. In 83 1/3 innings, the 6-3, 185-pound prospect allowed 71 hits and 30 runs (26 earned). He was named an NJCAA baseball second-team All American on Tuesday.

He also has a rarity in his repertoire: A screwball.

"When we saw the delivery and the arm action and the way the ball came out of his hand, he wasn’t a gimmick guy," Harrison said. "To me, it was just, ‘Here’s a kid who has a real good sense of what he’s doing with the ball.’ And he seems to have a good moxie on the mound and a good body control and body awareness of what he’s doing out there."

The Rays also have the 96th pick before round Nos. 4-40. The draft continues through Saturday.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.