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Was Rocco Baldelli a lock to be selected by Tampa Bay?

July 4, 2011

Rocco Baldelli

With various opinions coming from scouts and management alike, plenty of discussion and debate occurs when narrowing down potential choices leading up to draft day.
Sherard Clinkscales recalls such an instance in 2000. As the Assistant Director of Scouting for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Clinkscales had an important voice regarding what the organization should do with the sixth overall pick. In the end Tampa wound up selecting Rocco Baldelli, but as Clinkscales recalled late last week, it took a while before everyone was in agreement regarding the Woonsocket native/Cumberland native .
Initially Baldelli was in the mix with righthanded pitchers Beau Hale and Matt Harrington and a future all-star second baseman named Chase Utley. Cases were made on the behalf of each draft prospect with Clinkscales saying, “[General manager] Chuck LaMar was kind of biased towards the big Texas righthander (Hale). The knock on Chase Utley was where he was going to play. He was a polished hitter coming out of college [UCLA], but was he going to play second base or shortstop? Harrington has unbelievable stuff at the time. He was 96-98 with the fastball, but he was a high school pitcher. Generally those types of pitchers have not fared well.
“Right before the draft we had a big discussion about Rocco,” added Clinkscales. “It got to the point that Chuck LaMar was saying, ‘Is he Joe DiMaggio? If he’s not he should be!’ After a lot of debate we were convinced Rocco was our guy, but there was a contingency that wanted either Utley, Harrington or Hale. Ultimately my vote was for Rocco.”
All three candidates were taken after Baldelli. Harrington went seventh to Colorado while Hale (Baltimore) and Utley (Philadelphia) went 14th and 15th, respectively. Another reason why Tampa felt Baldelli was a cut above his draft peers was due to the outfielder’s signability.
“Hank Sargent was Rocco’s agent and [Tampa scouting director] Dan Jennings knew Hank very well and felt we could get Rocco signed,” said Clinkscales.
Clinkscales said there was a Tampa scout present for “four or five” of Baldelli’s games during his senior year at Bishop Hendricken High. The first time he laid eyes on Baldelli was during a pre-draft workout at Tropicana Field.
“We had Rocco and Carl Crawford [who Tampa Bay drafted in 1999] together and both ran the 60-yard dash in 6.1, 6.2 seconds,” Clinkscales said. “Potentially we had Carl and Rocco in the outfield along with [former Tampa first-round pick] Josh Hamilton. We thought we had something special there.”

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