Originally created 06/05/99

Devil Rays sign No. 1 draft pick



ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Devil Rays didn't want to spend all summer negotiating with Josh Hamilton. They offered him a $3.65 million signing bonus and the No. 1 pick accepted Friday.

The signing bonus is the largest ever given to drafted amateur player who signed with the team that selected him.

"With those parameters, it went very quickly," Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said after the North Carolina high school outfielder agreed to a minor league contract with a bonus payable over the next 19 months. Because some of the money is deferred with interest, Hamilton will receive a total of $3.96 million in payments.

The signing came just two days after Tampa Bay selected Hamilton with the first overall pick, and two days before the 6-foot-4, 210-pound slugger graduates from Athens Drive High in Raleigh, N.C.

"It's a very unique situation that the first player in the entire country signs this quickly," said LaMar, who declined to discuss specifics about the contract except to volunteer that the big signing bonus was a factor in the speedy resolution.

The general manager also credited scout Mark McKnight with developing a good relationship with Hamilton and his parents in the months leading up to the draft.

"There was a trust that was built up ... I think the family was very comfortable with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. ... Sometimes in negotiations with a high profile player like this, what's lacking is that trust," LaMar said.

"We were able to cut through, get to the chase and say, `let's not take three months of this player's development and his career away. He wants to go play. We want him to go play. We want to treat like the first player in the country taken,' and we did."

Hamilton, who took batting practice with the team before Friday night's game against the Florida Marlins, batted .529 with 13 homers and 35 RBIs in 25 games as a high school senior. He will begin his pro career with Princeton of the Appalachian League on June 14.

The top draft pick was accompanied to town by his mother and father, grandmother, brother and agent Casey Close, who along with the parents handled negotiations.

"I never really thought about the money. I just like to play ball and have fun," Hamilton said. "It's something I've been doing all my life. The money issue never came up."

Hamilton is the first high school player to be taken with the first pick since Seattle selected Alex Rodriguez in 1993. Despite going 18-3 as a pitcher the last two seasons, Tampa Bay plans to develop him as a right fielder.

The Devil Rays wanted him to get started as soon as possible, but emphasized there is no timetable for him developing into a major leaguer.

"He just turned 18, so there's really no rush," Close said, adding that even if Hamilton spends four seasons in the minors before being promoted to the majors he'd still be a 21-year-old rookie.

"Obviously with a player of his ability, you hope that it is not too long," Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild said. "But you've got to give him time to develop the way he should."

Three players selected in the 1996 amateur draft got larger bonuses after they were declared free agents on technicalities: Matt White got $10.2 million from the Devils Rays, Travis Lee received $10 million from the Arizona Diamondbacks and John Patterson got $6,075,000 from the Diamondbacks.

In addition, J.D. Drew was guaranteed $7 million when he signed with St. Louis after the Cardinals drafted him last year, but that was part of a four-year major league contract that included a $3 million signing bonus.

The largest deal ever for a player with no previous North American professional experience was the $10.8 million, four-year contract Hideki Irabu signed with the New York Yankees in 1997.