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Rays look to re-stock talent pool with MLB Draft

With far less fanfare and the hoopla that surrounds the NFL Draft, Major League Baseball will conduct the first two rounds of their version beginning Monday. The Tampa Bay Rays have the fourth overall pick.

Drafting that high, Tampa Bay has several “can’t miss” prospects from which to choose. That does not guarantee the next star player, but they have had some success over the decade.

Melvin E. (B.J.) Upton was their top pick in 2002, followed by Delmon Young the next year, Evan Longoria in 2006, David Price in 2007 and Tim Beckham in 2008.

Two of the more notable first round flops came in 2009 with the pick of LeVon Washington, who did not sign, and never made it above Class A with another organization. One of the saddest failures involved 2010 first round pick Chris Sale, who also never climbed higher than Class A.

The last two first round picks, Josh Lowe and Garrett Whitley, are currently at Class A Bowling Green, Ky.

Several mock drafts project Tampa Bay selecting University of Virginia outfielder Adam Haseley, which would be a safe pick. College players have little leverage and are more likely to sign. Conversely, drafting high school players can by risky because that player has the option of going to college if he is looking for a higher signing bonus offer.

MLB.com projects Louisville two-way player Brendan McKay as their likely pick. McCay struck out 131 batters in 97 innings on the mound, while hitting 17 home runs and knocking in 56 runs at the plate. He also hit .356.

Baseball America sees the Rays making that risky high school player pick. They project Tampa Bay will go with California infielder/outfielder Royce Lewis.

In later rounds, the Rays will have several outstanding Florida-based players from which to choose. That will likely not include University of Florida pitcher Alex Faedo, who is expected to be long gone as a top-15 pick. Two two high school infielders are getting a lot of attention.

Chris Seise is a shortstop from West Orange High School in Winter Garden. Seise is ranked the 34th-best prospect by Major League Baseball Network.

He could conceivably go late in the first round or be available to the Rays with the 4th pick of the second round. The same is true for Miami high school shortstop Jeter Downs, who is ranked 35th by MLB Network.

University of Tampa pitcher Garrett Cave is MLB Network’s 88th-ranked prospect while Baseball America has him at 56th. That could lead to a possible late second round or third round pick.

Other Florida-based players who could go in the early rounds include University of South Florida infielder/outfielder Kevin Merrell (a Tampa native and College of Central Florida pitcher Nate Pearson. Both are top 100 prospects.

The draft concludes Wednesday.

Rays hit 5 homers, beat Athletics 13-4

Tampa Bay tied a season-high with five home runs, Alex Cobb went six strong innings, and the Rays beat the Oakland Athletics 13-4 on Friday night.

Steven Souza Jr., Mallex Smith, Logan Morrison, Tim Beckham and Corey Dickerson all homered for the Rays, who have hit four or more homers in a game six times this season. Souza, who entered in a 1-for-24 slide, had three hits and came within a double of hitting for the cycle.

Jesus Sucre had three hits and two RBIs, helping the Rays record a season-high in runs.

Cobb (5-5), coming off a start Saturday at Seattle in which he allowed nine runs and 14 hits over five innings, gave up one run and four hits.

Andrew Triggs (5-6) struggled for the fourth consecutive start, giving up eight runs and nine hits in 3 2/3 innings. He has allowed 26 runs in 18 2/3 innings over the stretch.

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

 

Derek Norris goes deep twice; Rays hold off White Sox

Derek Norris homered in consecutive innings and Jake Odorizzi pitched into the seventh on Thursday night, leading the Tampa Bay Rays to a 7-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

Peter Bourjos and Colby Rasmus also homered for the Rays.

The White Sox, who have lost seven of eight, came back from a 6-0 deficit with the help of home runs by Avisail Garcia and Todd Frazier. They got the potential tying run to third base with one out in the eighth before Alex Colome came in for a four-out save, his 17th of the season.

Rasmus’ eighth home run provided the Rays with an insurance run in the eighth.

Norris led off the third with his sixth homer of the season, then added another in the fourth after a single by Daniel Robertson to put the Rays up 5-0. Bourjos followed with another home run, his third of the season.

All three of the homers came off Chicago starter Derek Holland (4-6), who gave up six runs and nine hits in 4 2/3 innings.

Garcia’s 10th home run came with two on in the sixth, accounting for all three of the runs off Odorizzi, who struck out eight in 6 2/3 innings. Odorizzi (4-3) has given up at least one homer in each of his last eight starts.

Frazier’s 10th homer – his fifth in 10 games – came with one on off reliever Ryne Stanek in the eighth.

Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier left the game with a jammed right hip after sliding into first base while trying to beat out an infield hit in the fifth.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Bourjos (elbow) returned from the 10-day DL. — 2B Brad Miller had an MRI that found a strained right hip.

MISSING MATT

Rays manager Kevin Cash says “there’s definite concern” about SS Matt Duffy, who is not ready to resume a rehab assignment following Achilles’ tendon surgery. Duffy also fouled a ball off his toe in batting practice. “It’s just not right,” Cash said. “I don’t think anybody can pinpoint it.”

UP NEXT

RHP Alex Cobb (4-5) will face Oakland RHP Andrew Triggs (5-5) Friday night.

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

Rays’ Jacob Faria beats White Sox in major league debut

Jacob Faria took a three-hitter into the seventh inning of his major league debut for the Tampa Bay Rays, who beat the Chicago White Sox 3-1 on Wednesday night.

The 23-year-old right-hander walked two and struck out five in 6 1/3 innings, settling down after falling behind three batters into the game to help Tampa Bay end a season-high four-game losing streak before a crowd of just 9,313.

Relievers Tommy Hunter, Jose Alvarado and Alex Colome finished the combined four-hitter, with Colome getting the final three outs for his 16th save.

A night after squandering numerous scoring opportunities in a 4-2 loss to the White Sox, the Rays sputtered early offensively against Mike Pelfrey (2-5), who escaped jams in the first two innings but couldn’t do it again in the third, when the Rays scored three times.

Tim Beckham singled with the bases loaded, giving Tampa Bay only its second hit of the series in 15 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Another run scored when right fielder Avisail Garcia misplayed Beckham’s hit for an error. Daniel Robertson‘s RBI grounder made it 3-1.

Faria (1-0) allowed hits to two of the first three batters he faced, with Laury Garcia leading off the game with a single before stealing second and scoring on Jose Abreu‘s single to right field.

The rookie, 6-1 with a 3.07 ERA for Triple-A Durham before being promoted earlier Wednesday, didn’t allow another hit until Kevan Smith doubled with two outs in the fifth.

Pelfrey, meanwhile, allowed three runs and six hits over 5 1/3 innings.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rays: 2B Brad Miller was placed on the 10-day DL with a right groin strain. He had returned Friday after missing 13 games due to a left abdominal strain.

QUICK TURN OF EVENTS

Rays INF Michael Martinez left Tropicana Field after Tuesday night’s series opener, expecting to be designated for assignment to make room on the roster for Faria. Before the paperwork could be filed with MLB, though, Miller informed the team of his injury and the Rays called Martinez to tell him he would remain on the team.

UP NEXT

White Sox: LHP Derek Holland (4-5), the starter in Thursday night’s series finale, is 1-3 with a 5.27 ERA over his last five starts.

Rays: RHP Jake Odorizzi (3-3), coming off a start against Seattle on Friday where he gave up eight runs in 2 1/3 innings, faces Holland.

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

Florida, Florida State on the winning end of baseball’s June Madness

The NCAA College Baseball Tournament is not likely to come anywhere near the broad popularity enjoyed by the basketball tournament known as March Madness. At the same time, referring to this year’s baseball extravaganza as June Madness would not be overstating what has taken place so far.

Both Florida and Florida State have provided significant contributions to this year’s mayhem, which saw nearly half of the 16 seeded teams and regional hosts go down to defeat. Number two national seed North Carolina lost twice to huge underdog Davidson.

That is almost like a 15-seed beating a two-seed in basketball. It would also be the overnight buzz of ESPN SportsCenter.

The 5th national seed, Texas Tech, was shocked by Sam Houston State and the 8th-seeded Stanford Cardinal also went down, losing to Cal State Fullerton.

Four others, including the Gators and Seminoles, had to bounce back from losses. Wake Forest, Louisville, LSU, TCU and Oregon State all swept their regionals in three games.

No team among the 64 tournament teams had to climb the mountain faced by Florida State. The Madness struck in the first game, when FSU inexplicably lost to fourth-seeded Tennessee Tech, 3-1.

That meant they had to do the next-to-impossible: win four straight games in three days to advance to the Super Regional. Of the 288 who have lost their first game, only 21 – just 7 percent – have won four in a row.

Make that 22.

After blowing a lead in the 9th inning, the Seminoles were only a strike away from losing to Auburn on Sunday, but fought back to win 8-7 in 10 innings.

“I don’t think in all my years have I been part of a game in which the highs and lows were so close together,” said FSU Coach Mike Martin. “My guys never folded up and kept battling.”

The next day, the unheralded Will Zirzow, making an appearance on the mound for the first time in 26 days, fired a two-hit shutout as FSU advanced, 6-0. Long Beach State, Kentucky and Florida were the other teams to lose a game (but not the first game) and still move on.

The Gators were moving along nicely in their regional until Sunday night. They had the opportunity for a three-game sweep, but the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, earned a reprieve with a 6-2 win.

Florida restored order on Monday with a 6-1 regional-clinching win, but it was 0-0 in the 6th inning.

“Hopefully all the adversity that we’ve had, even though our record is really, really good, 45-17 now, there’s been a lot of games we’ve had to grind out,” said Gators Coach Kevin O’Sullivan. ”I’m awfully proud of our team, our players. They deserve all the credit they get and we’re excited about playing next weekend.”

The Madness that saw Texas Tech lose to Sam Houston State was great news for Florida State. Beginning Saturday, they will now host a Tallahassee Super Regional, a remarkable turn of events after questions arose a month ago whether they would even qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

Florida will welcome Wake Forest to Gainesville Super Regional, also beginning Saturday. The winners qualify for the culmination of June Madness, the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

Scooter Gennett hits 4 home runs for Reds to tie MLB record

Scooter Gennett hit four home runs, matching the major league record, and finished with 10 RBIs as the Cincinnati Reds routed the slumping St. Louis Cardinals 13-1 on Tuesday night.

Gennett became the 17th player to homer four times in one game – and perhaps the least likely. A scrappy second baseman who was claimed off waivers from Milwaukee in late March, he began the night with 38 career home runs in five seasons, including three this year.

Josh Hamilton was the previous player to hit four home runs in one game, for Texas against Baltimore in May 2012.

The 27-year-old Gennett singled his first time up and then homered in four straight at-bats , including a grand slam . His 10 RBIs tied Cincinnati’s club record.

Gennett snapped an 0-for-19 slump during the Reds’ 4-2 win over the Cardinals on Monday. He went 5 for 5 on Tuesday and raised his batting average 32 points to .302.

Since being picked up by the Reds late in spring training, Gennett has played a utility role for Cincinnati. He started in left field Tuesday night.

The last National League player to hit four home runs in one game was Shawn Green for the Los Angeles Dodgers against Milwaukee in May 2002. Gennett became the first player in MLB history to hit four home runs that included a grand slam and collect five hits in a single game.

Gennett hit an RBI single and his second career slam off St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright (6-4), who brought a long scoreless streak into the game but couldn’t handle a team that has hit him like no other. He lasted only 3 2/3 innings and gave up nine runs for just the third time in his career.

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

White Sox hit 3 homers in 4-2 win over Rays

Avisail Garcia, Volmer Sanchez and Todd Frazier homered, helping the Chicago White Sox stop a five-game losing streak with a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night.

Chris Beck (1-0) escaped a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning to get the victory in relief of Jose Quintana, who avoided becoming the first pitcher in the major leagues to lose eight games this season.

Garcia led off the seventh with a solo homer, snapping a 1-1 tie against Chris Archer (4-4), who also gave up a lead-off homer to Sanchez on the fourth pitch of the game.

Jose Abreu added an RBI single in the eighth before Frazier led off the ninth with a homer off Ryan Garton.

Evan Longoria drove in a run for Tampa Bay with a first-inning single off Quintana, who allowed one run and four hits in 5 1/3 innings. Jesus Sucre had an eighth-inning sacrifice fly for the Rays, who have lost four straight.

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

Deal for David Beckham’s Miami soccer stadium land gets approval

David Beckham is a big step closer to bringing Major League Soccer back to Miami.

In a 9-4 vote Tuesday, Miami-Dade County commissioners decided to allow Miami Beckham United to buy three acres of county land, the final piece in a nine-acre plot on which a 25,000-seat soccer stadium is planned. It’s a big win for the English soccer icon, who has spent four years — and counting — trying to bring Miami an expansion MLS franchise.

“Miami is ready,” said Tim Leiweke, one of the partners in Beckham’s group. “We are committed. And the city and the county have now taken the necessary steps for us to control our own destiny for a privately financed, world-class soccer stadium for Major League Soccer.”

Beckham’s group will pay just over $9 million for the three-acre plot. It has already paid $19 million for the other six acres needed, and Leiweke said he’s hopeful a team could start playing in the stadium in 2020.

“Now is the time for MLS to move forward in helping us deliver the soccer club that Miami has been waiting for,” Beckham’s group said in a statement after the vote.

Tuesday’s vote was a major step, though hardly the clinching one.

There’s zoning issues with the city to deal with, some members of the ownership group who will fund the estimated $220 million in construction costs have not been revealed yet – and MLS still has not awarded Miami an expansion franchise. A contract he signed in 2007 with the Los Angeles Galaxy gave Beckham the right to start an expansion franchise for $25 million, and in 2013 he picked Miami as where he would want to put a team.

Now that he has the land, the process of actually getting the franchise should pick up considerable speed.

MLS officials will be in Miami on Wednesday to tour the planned site, and the league said it was pleased to see county commissioners ratify Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s recommendation to allow the sale.

“The process was lengthy, difficult, but necessary in order to ensure that Miami-Dade County taxpayers were properly compensated,” Gimenez said.

The vote was preceded by several members of the community urging commissioners to vote no, mostly citing noise and traffic concerns. A few supporters spoke as well, and many commissioners noted that the county will receive property tax revenue off the site going forward.

“This land has been an eyesore for years. … Something needs to be done with it, now,” said Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, who represents the Overtown neighborhood where the stadium is planned.

There have been many hurdles in this process, in part because Beckham – who was not present Tuesday – was unable to get waterfront land that his group first coveted for a stadium site.

“He will be a happy man today,” Leiweke said.

But the biggest issue may have had nothing to do with Beckham, or how MLS failed in South Florida once before.

The taxpayer-backed arrangement that gave the Miami Marlins a new ballpark on the site of the former Orange Bowl is still very much a contentious issue in Miami. This deal, commissioners said, isn’t perfect either.

“As far as sports deals go with the county, this one isn’t so bad,” Commissioner Joe Martinez said.

Beckham is not the only huge global soccer name pursuing MLS expansion these days; Landon Donovan, his former Galaxy teammate, has joined the ownership group that is hoping to bring a team to San Diego.

The victory for Beckham came just one day after San Diego’s City Council decided not to finance a special election that would have brought plans of building a new soccer complex there to a vote. Donovan says he will continue trying to get a team there.

Leiweke sees a parallel; Beckham has unquestionably dealt with Marlins’ deal fallout over the last few years, and Donovan’s quest is likely hurting in part from how the NFL’s Chargers just left San Diego.

“Let’s be honest here: Much of what we’re going through and much of the distrust … is the Marlins,” Leiweke said. “We’re not the Marlins. We’re in this long-term with a philosophy on being great and having a great stadium and a great team.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Gators, Seminoles win showdowns, advance to Super Regional

Things were dicey for the Florida Gators baseball team on Monday, but when everything played out, they put away the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats to earn a spot in the Super Regional. For the Wildcats, they were not able to continue their magical run and ended the season with a 36-25 record.

As the game moved into the sixth inning, neither team could manage to put a run across the board. Part of the reason for the was the star of the game, Austin Longworthy. The two-way player got out of the third inning in relief of Kirby McMullen and put up zeroes in the fourth and fifth.

In the sixth inning, he came up with two on and launched a long home run to right to put Florida on top 3-0. After giving up a run in the seventh, Longworthy led off the eighth with a double and came around to score to make it 5-1.

Nelson Maldonado had an RBI single in the 9th inning to complete the scoring. The late offense backed up the combined 7-hitter by McMullen, Longworthy and Michael Byrne.

Florida will now face the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the Super Regional. As the number three national seed, the Gators will host the 14th-seeded Deacons.

In Tallahassee, the Florida State Seminoles shut out the Auburn Tigers, 6-0 to win the Tallahassee Regional at Dick Howser Stadium. Unheralded junior right hander Will Zirzow completely baffled the Tigers, limiting them to two hits in the complete game masterpiece.

Until Monday, the longest start of Zirzow’s career covered only five innings. He threw curveball after curveball for strike after strike while the offense provided enough run support to keep Seminole followers fairly comfortable throughout.

Zirzow struck out 11 and walked none. Catcher Blake Logan collected both Auburn hits, singles in the 6th and 9th inning.

Dylan Busby, just the second batter of the game for Florida State, doubled in Taylor Walls to open the scoring in the top of the first (the Seminoles played as the visiting team). FSU steadily increased the lead until Steven Wells capped the scoring with a home run in the top of the ninth.

With the victory, Florida State advances to the Super Regional, which they will almost certainly host. Tallahassee was paired with the Lubbock Regional featuring number 5 national seed Texas Tech. The Red Raiders suffered a shocking upset at the hands of Sam Houston State, the region’s number three seed, on Monday.

The official announcement of sites will come following completion of all regionals.

Tampa Bay Rowdies score late equalizer against Charlotte Independence to secure 2-2 draw​

A sleepy five minute period in the second half nearly doomed the Tampa Bay Rowdies to a defeat on Sunday night against the Charlotte Independence, but Keith Savage stepped forward to help the Rowdies to a point with a late equalizer.

Tampa Bay led 1-0 at halftime after a Georgi Hristov penalty kick in the 25th minute, but Dennis Castillo goals in the 51st and 56th minutes saw the home side take a lead that nearly held up until the end of the night.

Savage wouldn’t let the Rowdies lose though, calmly finished his first goal of the season in the 83rd minute to help Tampa Bay to a point.

Tampa Bay nearly won the match at the death as Tamika Mkandawire connected with a Michael Nanchoff free kick, but his header was met by the goalpost in the final seconds of the match.

“I think we performed really well for 85 minutes,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “We switched off for five minutes straight after half time and allowed them to score two goals on us, which is very disappointing. Credit to the guys though for showing a lot of character to go on and get the equalizer. I thought we were going to get the winner, too.”

The match was a wild one, with 24 shots between the teams.

Mkandawire was the first to put the ball in the back of the net, heading a corner kick past Charlotte goalkeeper Cody Mizell in the 18th minute, but the referee called the goal off for a foul.

Leo Fernandes helped the Rowdies to a lead midway through the first half, drawing a penalty that would be converted by Hristov to put Tampa Bay ahead 1-0 after 25 minutes.

The Independence started the second half well, with Castillo scoring off a corner kick in the 51st minute to tie the match.

Castillo scored again just five minutes later, the beneficiary of a bit of blind luck.

Mkandawire executed a perfect tackle to poke the ball away from Charlotte forward Jorge Herrera, but his poke put the ball directly into the path of Castillo, who smashed it home to put the shell-shocked Rowdies behind 2-1 after 56 minutes.

“It was a great tackle by Tam,” Campbell said. “The ball could’ve gone anywhere, but unfortunately, it went right to their player and he took a touch and smashed it into the top corner.”

Campbell immediately got aggressive, inserting Martin Paterson into the match off the bench just past the hour mark. Savage followed Paterson onto the field in the 67th minute in a move that would pay big dividends.

“When Keith went on, I had a funny feeling he was going to nick a goal because he times his runs to perfection,” Campbell said. “I’m delighted for Keith because he came on and raised the game. He increased the speed of play and raised the tempo of the team and he deserved the goal.”

Tampa Bay pulled even in the 83rd minute off a seamless counter attack.

Nanchoff spotted Savage unmarked at the penalty spot and delivered a perfect pass for Savage to shoot with his first touch.

The Rowdies veteran made no mistake to score his first goal of the season.

“I’m excited excited to come off the bench and get an opportunity,” Savage said. “I’m just thinking how can I help my teammates and make an impact on the game. What an unbelievable (pass) from (Nanchoff.) He put it on a platter for me and all I had to do was put it on frame.”

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