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Baseball draft so unpredictable

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June 2
All these drafts are unpredictable. Ken Sims was once the first pick in an NFL draft, and Sam Bowie was selected ahead of Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft. NHL teams are drafting teenagers from Flin Flon to Siberia.

But baseball might be the toughest draft of all, in case you've forgotten that Danny Ray Goodwin was the first overall pick not once, but twice, and that Steve Chilcott, Ron Blomberg, Dave Roberts, Billy Almon, David Clyde, Al Chambers, Shawn Abner and Brien Taylor all were selected as the No. 1 prospects in the nation.

Darren Dreifort
Darren Dreifort was a first-round pick (second overall) by the Dodgers in 1993 after playing collegiately at Wichita State.

It's hard enough to predict Triple-A players, in case you've already forgotten Chad Hermansen, the Mets' Fab Three (Paul Wilson, Bill Pulsipher and Jason Isringhausen) and that Glenallen Hill, Mark Whiten, Derek Bell and Sam Militello were voted by Baseball America as the top prospects in the International League in successive years.

Amateurs? From 1987 through 1996, 95 of the 270 players selected in the first round did not make the major leagues (players selected and not signed count as not making the majors, such as Alex Fernandez or Kenny Henderson by Milwaukee).

So when the names begin to be called Tuesday, there are boundless promises that some bodies and minds won't fill. There doesn't seem to be an inkling of a doubt in anyone's mind that USC right-handed pitcher Mark Prior and Georgia Tech switch-hitting third baseman Mark Teixeira will be impact major leaguers.

"I believe that," says Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar. "But I was with the Braves when we had the second pick in '91 and everyone knew that Brien Taylor and Mike Kelly couldn't miss being impact players. And they did."

On the other hand, the same thing was said three years later about a Florida high school shortstop named Alex Rodriguez and a Wichita State pitcher named Darren Dreifort, and if impact is measured by collecting $307 million in the same week as free agents, then they certainly impacted the game.

And economics, not need, rules the draft nowadays. When the draft was instituted in 1965 in the aftermath of the Rick Reichart signing, the concept was to give the lesser teams first crack at the premium talent.

In recent years, we've seen the top pitching prospect in a draft, Rick Ankiel, fall to the second round, and the best prospect, J.D. Drew, last until the fifth overall pick after sitting out an entire season rather than sign with the Phillies. But then, in this the year that gave competitive balance new meaning, three of the first four teams picking Tuesday are in first place, and the team that picks fifth is the team that gave A-Rod $252 million and is still playing so that it deserves to be picking fifth.

Teixeira might just go where he can do the most good -- home to Baltimore to replace Cal Ripken.

It is expected that the Minnesota Twins will use the first pick to select catcher Joe Mauer from Cretin High School in St. Paul, the same school that produced Chris Weinke. Now, Mauer is regarded as a tremendous prospect, on and off the field; one scout saw him swing and miss once in seven games. He will also be expensive, because, like Weinke, he is signed to play quarterback at Florida State.

"In talent terms, Mauer is a better prospect than Teixeira; he's just a high school kid who'll take longer," says a GM. "But he's one of the best prospects I've ever seen, maybe the best catching prospect in 20 years."

Looking back
Below is a list of the top five picks of each year from 1987 through '98 in the amateur baseball draft (in case you think this is an exact science):

1987: Ken Griffey, Jr., OF, Seattle; Mark Merchant, OF, Pittsburgh; Willie Banks, RHP, Minnesota; Mike Harkey, RHP, Chi. Cubs; Jack McDowell, RHP, Chi. White Sox.

1988: Andy Benes, RHP, San Diego; Mark Lewis, SS, Cleveland; Steve Avery, LHP, Atlanta; Gregg Olson, RHP, Baltimore; Bill Bene, RHP, Los Angeles.

1989: Ben McDonald, RHP, Baltimore; Tyler Houston, C, Atlanta; Roger Salkeld, RHP, Seattle; James Jackson, OF, Philadelphia; Donald Harris, OF, Texas.

1990: Chipper Jones, SS, Atlanta; Tony Clark, OF, Detroit; Mike Lieberthal, C, Philadelphia; Alex Fernandez, RHP, Chi. White Sox; Kurt Miller, RHP, Pittsburgh.

1991: Brien Taylor, LHP, N.Y. Yankees; Mike Kelly, OF, Atlanta; David McCarty, 1B, Minnesota; Dmitri Young, OF, St. Louis; Kenny Henderson, RHP, Milwaukee.

1992: Phil Nevin, 3B, Houston; Paul Shuey, RHP, Cleveland; B.J. Wallace, LHP, Montreal; Jeffrey Hammonds, OF, Baltimore; Chad Mottola, OF, Cincinnati.

1993: Alex Rodriguez, SS, Seattle; Darren Dreifort, RHP, Los Angeles; Brian Anderson, LHP, Cleveland; Wayne Gomes, RHP, Philadelphia; Jeff Granger, LHP, Kansas City.

1994: Paul Wilson, RHP, N.Y. Mets; Ben Grieve, OF, Oakland; Dustin Hermanson, RHP, San Diego; Antone Williamson, 3B, Milwaukee.

1995: Darin Erstad, OF, Anaheim; Ben Davis, C, San Diego; Jose Cruz, OF, Seattle; Kerry Wood, RHP, Chi. Cubs; Ariel Prieto, RHP, Oakland.

1996: Kris Benson, RHP, Pittsburgh; Travis Lee, 1B, Minnesota; Braden Looper, RHP, St. Louis; Billy Koch, RHP, Toronto; John Patterson, RHP, Montreal.

1997: Matt Anderson, RHP, Detroit; J.D. Drew, OF, Philadelphia; Troy Glaus, 3B, Anaheim; Jason Grilli, RHP, San Francisco; Vernon Wells, OF, Toronto.

1998: Pat Burrell, 1B-OF, Philadelphia; Mark Mulder, LHP, Oakland; Corey Patterson, CF, Chi. Cubs; Jeff Austin, RHP, Kansas City; J.D. Drew, OF, St. Louis.

The Twins apparently will not even find out if they can sign Prior, who will require a major-league contract somewhere in the $10 million-$15 million range, so the Cubs will jump right on board and grab him with the second pick.

But because Teixeira is represented by Scott Boras and let the Devil Rays know that he'd prefer not to be drafted by a team whose future is as uncertain as Craig Grebeck, the power-hitting third baseman will likely slide past Tampa Bay.

The Devil Rays are expected to select hard-throwing Middle Tennessee right-hander Dewon Brazelton, even though they love Baltimore HS righty Gavin Floyd (who nixed a predraft $3M deal from the Rays). The Phillies pick fourth, and while they've thought about Teixeira, they remember what happened with Boras and Drew and are reportedly leaning toward Floyd, who attends the same high school (Mt. St. Josephs) from which Teixeira graduated. That would leave Teixeira for the Rangers, and owner Tom Hicks is Boras-friendly, in case you missed the A-Rod, Kenny Rogers and Darren Oliver contracts. If Hicks can maintain his attention, he will see that Rodriguez can be the big brother to a building team that includes Carlos Pena, Ruben Mateo, Kevin Mench and possibly Teixeira.

But late Friday night, several scouting directors heard that Hicks had ordered his people to draft a pitcher. Problem is, after Prior and Brazelton, there is a dropoff. Early in the season, UCLA right-hander Josh Karp was thought to be a top-five pick. However, he had a rough season, did not perform well when the Rangers watched him and thus his stock has fallen. Texas thought maybe he'd become a Matt Morris, Roger Clemens or Mike Mussina, whose junior year in college performances slipped them to 12th, 19th and 20th, respectively. If Hicks does force his baseball people to take a pitcher ahead of Teixeira, they'd better pray he's Mussina, not Jonathan Johnson.

All that said, there are a lot of teams -- the Rays, Royals and Red Sox included -- that believe the best player in the draft might be Roscoe Crosby, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound center fielder and burner from Union, S.C.

"The ball absolutely flies off his bat, he's got incredible power and speed," says one area scout. "I watch him, and I'm thinking, 'Griffey.' Really. He could be that good."

The Royals, who have the ninth pick, salivate over Crosby. But the reason that owner David Glass, GM Allard Baird, VP of baseball operations George Brett and scouting director Deric Ladnier all dined Crosby and his family earlier in the week was that he is a very "tough sign" because he also happens to be perhaps the best wide receiver prospect in the nation and is signed to play football for Clemson. Which all means that baseball may take on the Bowden family -- Bobby (Mauer) and Tommy (Crosby).

"(Roscoe is) going to sign to play baseball," says one GM, "but there's always that concern that he's going to go back and play football. That's why it's tough taking him high in the first round. Remember, George Lombard (Braves farmhand) was a second-rounder, Drew Henson (Yankees farmhand) went in the third round, Bo Jackson in the fourth."

"He's a program builder in football," says a GM, referring to Crosby. "A Randy Moss. He is a god in a little town, and as soon as he struggles -- and he faced inferior high school competition -- Tommy Bowden will be reminding him that he can be the Saturday matinee idol."

The Rays, Expos, Pirates and Orioles in front of the Royals would probably take Crosby if he were an easy sign, but he has Jeff Moorad and Eugene Parker (Deion Sanders' representative) for agents. Some college football recruiters warn that no matter what Crosby said to Brett, he is known as such a quiet, nice person that he has trouble saying no, which is why two or three other schools other than Clemson thought they got a silent commitment from him when he made his official visit to each school.

"We will only draft him if he indicates that he will give up football and concentrate on baseball," says Baird. "We want players who want to play baseball, who love the game."

As for two-sport guys who made it in baseball, Kirk Gibson sure worked out. He signed with the Tigers, went back for a final season as a wide receiver at Michigan State, turned down more overtures from the NFL (former Patriots personnel chief Bucko Kilroy claimed Gibson was one of the four or five best wideout prospects he ever scouted) and became an impact baseball player.

But Gibson is the exception, not the rule. If Crosby were to play for Clemson this fall, he would be a cross-state rival of Gamecocks QB Corey Jenkins, one of two first-round picks of the Red Sox in '95. Weinke gave baseball all he had, but Josh Booty, John Lynch, Quincy Carter, Mike Thomas and several others took baseball money and eventually went back to football. The Blue Jays got right-handed pitcher Scott Burrell all the way to Double-A in his summer job, but when the NBA beckoned, he forgot baseball. The Twins tried the baseball/college basketball route with Keith LeGree, Kelsey Mucker and Bret Roberts and none panned out.

Then, again, the hottest prospect in Triple-A right now is 6-6, 240-pound, power-hitting right fielder Adam Dunn, who plays for the Reds' top affiliate in Louisville. The Reds bought Dunn, who ran a 6.3-second 60-yard dash, out of his University of Texas quarterback career and his talent has exploded. However, the Pirates used the 11th pick of the '94 draft -- the one right in front of Nomar Garciaparra -- to draft Texas high school quarterback/third baseman Mark Fariss, and soon thereafter he was back in Texas calling signals for Texas A&M.

So the Royals have a difficult decision to make on Crosby.

The Cubs do not have a difficult decision. From February on, it has been Prior or Teixeira, whoever was there. Scouts universally love Prior for his power, command and his pitching instincts, and there are many who have gone on the record claiming that he will be a factor for the Cubs or Twins down the September stretch if he gets signed in time.

Issue: How tough is it to go right from college to the big leagues?

For historical reference, here are 13 pitchers who went 1-2 in the draft and were considered No. 1 starter locks:

  • Steve Dunning, '69 Indians, 23-41, 4.51
  • Pete Broberg, '71 Senators, 41-71, 4.56
  • Floyd Bannister, '76 Astros, 134-146, 4.06
  • Tim Leary, '79 Mets, 78-105, 4.36
  • Mike Moore, '81 Mariners, 161-179, 4.39
  • Greg Swindell, '86 Indians and Andy Benes, '88 Padres, are a combined 21 games over .500
  • Ben McDonald, '89 Orioles, 78-70, 3.91
  • Dreifort, Paul Wilson ('95), Matt Anderson ('97 Tigers), Kris Benson ('96 Pirates), Mark Mulder ('98 A's).

    Mulder is a likely All-Star pick. Dreifort, Wilson and Benson have all undergone arm surgery.

    When Dunning was at Stanford and Broberg was at Dartmouth, it was said that each could pitch right away in the majors. Both tried but were a combined 64-112.

    Issue: Since this is expected to be a high school-dominated draft, how much of a gamble would it be to take a high school arm?

    Floyd may go fourth, perhaps even third, and one GM says, "he's one of the 10 best high school pitching prospects I've seen in the last 15 to 20 years."

    Colt Griffin, the legend of Marshall, Texas, who last season was a first baseman and this spring was lighting up radar guns at 100 mph with an easy delivery, will likely go in the first 10 picks.

    Right-handers Jeremy Bonderman of Pasco, Wash., Mike Jones of Phoenix, Alan Horne of Marianna, Fla., Kris Honel of New Lenox, Ill., Dan Denham of Antioch, Calif., and J.D. Martin of Ridgecrest, Calif., as well as left-handers Jeremy Sowers of Louisville and Macay McBride of Sylvania, Ga., are all projected first-round picks by Baseball America.

    But for those teams that get carried away with high school arms, history is against them. For instance, if the Twins or Cubs had already signed Prior and the rules changed so they could offer him to the Rays for Matt White (signed to an $11M bonus), the D-Backs for John Patterson ($7M signing bonus), the Indians for Jaret Wright (5.03 lifetime ERA) or Cards for Rick Ankiel -- all examples of what can happen to high school phenom pitchers, long after Todd Van Poppel -- would all those teams not make the deals?

    Here are two studies:

  • There were 77 pitchers who received first-, second- or third-place votes for the Cy Young Award from 1991 through 2000. Of those 77, only three -- Steve Avery, Bill Gullickson and Tommy Greene -- were drafted and signed as first-round high school pitchers (Alex Fernandez was drafted in the first round out of high school, but didn't sign and was signed two years later out of junior college). Tom Glavine, Kevin Tapani, Greg Maddux, Al Leiter and David Wells were second-round high school picks. John Smoltz and Andy Pettitte were signed out of high school as 22nd-rounders.

    2000 All-Stars
    Where the players who made the 2000 All-Star teams were selected in the draft (June regular phase draft only):

    1st round: 2
    sandwich picks: 2
    2nd round: 5
    3rd round: 3
    4th-10th rounds: 3
    30th round: 1
    International: 1

    Position players
    International: 14
    1st round: 20
    2nd round: 2
    4th round: 1
    6th-10th rounds: 3
    11th round and on: 7
    not drafted: 1

  • From 1987, when baseball went to one draft, through 1997, there were 60 high school pitchers taken in the first round. Of those, 11 have at least .500 major-league records, 24 never made the majors and only Avery has won more than 50 games. In that time, the following were taken in the top eight picks of the first round: Willie Banks, Dan Opperman, Brien Taylor, Steve Avery, Kurt Miller, Kirk (Hound Dog) Presley, Doug Million, Kenny Henderson, Kerry Wood, John Patterson, Matt White and Geoff Goetz.

    In 1990, there were four high school pitchers who were locked on stardom: Todd Van Poppel, Kurt Miller, Steve Karsay and Todd Ritchie. Three of the four have found success, but it took them some time.

    "I can be shown any number of statistics, but I think the draft is one place in baseball where stats don't necessarily apply," says Cleveland assistant GM Mark Shapiro.

    "We feel we did very well with (Jaret) Wright, Tim Drew and C.C. Sabathia, and we'll go that way again if the right high school pitcher is there."

    Do teams get too carried away with "tools?"

    "A lot of scouting directors get afraid of failure," says one scouting director. "They have scouts grading tools, and if the player fails, he can tell his boss that the kid had all sorts of ability. There's not enough attention paid to baseball skills."

    "If you grade out the tools of Jason Giambi and Mo Vaughn, they don't project," says Oakland general manager Billy Beane. "They're just MVPs. Look, the bat has to come first. We all love these athletes and tools guys, but if they don't hit, they can't play."

    In contrast to Giambi and Mark McGwire, if one were to add up the grades of the five tools, the best player drafted by the A's in the last 15 years was Lee Tinsley, who played parts of five years in the majors (1993-97) and finished with a .241 batting average and 13 home runs.

    In 1989, many clubs fretted that Frank Thomas couldn't do anything but hit. So James Jackson, Donald Harris and Paul Coleman were all selected before Thomas; combined, they had 17 hits and a .532 OPS -- all by Harris, as high school outfielders Jackson and Coleman never reached the bigs. Vaughn went late in the first round, and another big-time player named Jeff Bagwell went in the fourth round. In 1987, there were nearly as many teams that would have picked Florida high school star Mark Merchant with the first selection as would have taken Ken Griffey Jr.

    The second college position player selected after Teixeira on Tuesday likely will be Kent State outfielder John VanBenschoten, a power guy who came out of virtual obscurity to become this spring's hot item. And after Teixeira, one of the top power bats is Florida high school first baseman Casey Kotchman.

    But down the line in the first round, there are some college players who are pure "baseball players" but lack the size, 60-yard dash time or tools to send upstairs to the boss. Tennessee shortstop Chris Burke (some clubs say that he's telling them he doesn't want to sign, which leads folks to believe that he has a predraft deal with Oakland), LSU second baseman Mike Fontenot, Southern second baseman Michael Woods, Tulane third baseman Jake Gautreau, Auburn outfielder Gabe Gross and Florida State outfielder John-Ford Griffin will all likely go after the radar gun and tool studs, and some of them will hang around in the big leagues a lot longer.

    You won't find Clemson shortstop/third baseman Khalil Greene or Wake Forest center fielder Cory Sullivan on any top-100 list, but check back five years from now and see if they aren't remarkably like Jeff Cirillo and Steve Finley. Greene and Sullivan are players.

    Other issues to watch

  • Left-handed pitching: Cumberland's Chris Smith, a transfer from Florida State, is considered the best of the lot, but he is small. Stanford's Mike Gosling and Arizona State's Jon Switzer are potential first-rounders, and a college name to remember is 6-5, draft-eligible sophomore Rich Hill of Michigan. Hill is a late bloomer from Milton, Mass., but could go in the second round and be a draft-and-follow player as he pitches for Chatham in the Cape League this summer.

  • Ivy Leaguers: Yale right-hander Jonathan Steitz is projected as a late first- or sandwich-round pick, and Harvard righty Ben Crockett could go as high as the 52nd pick, to Boston. Steitz is a big power arm -- not to mention the son of Yale bimolecular physics professors, one of whom was nominated for a Nobel Prize, the other a favorite to win one this year -- who has come fast. Crockett was voted the top pitcher in the Cape League last summer, and while he started slowly in the cold spring after some elbow problems, finished very strong, throwing a perfect game in his last start. Crockett can flat-out pitch, although his long arm action and post-Cape injury has scared some teams that originally had him as a sandwich pick.

  • Matt Harrington and Tyrell Godwin: Harrington is the California right-handed pitcher who turned down $4 million from the Rockies as the seventh pick last year, but because he can't go to school, chose the Northern League and the St. Paul Saints. Harrington has not thrown very well there, and there is speculation that he has arm problems. If so, agent Tommy Tanzer has insurance on him. Whether or not the insurance company would push the case if he ends up pitching is another matter entirely.

    Godwin was a first-round pick of the Yankees out of high school, went to North Carolina on an academic scholarship, was picked in the sandwich round last year but had his contract voided by the Rangers because of a pre-existing knee injury. He has worked extremely hard in Arizona to get back in shape, but teams are afraid of the knee and worried that after all this time, his speed and power may not translate to baseball.

  • Bryan Bass: He is the shortstop at Seminole high school in Florida who was ruled ineligible midway through the season. He played in the Florida High School all-star game and was named MVP, so he's back in the mix as a high pick.

  • Justin Pope, RHP, Central Florida: A favorite because his hero is Turk Wendell, from the slider to all his actions on the mound. Anyone who idolizes Turk must be a great guy.

  • Chad Gaudin, RHP, Crescent City (Louisiana) Baptist HS: He's 5-9, 155 pounds, pitched for one of the smallest high schools in one of the most fascinating states, but 203 strikeouts in 89 innings is good enough for me to want to watch him.

  • Mike Conroy, OF, Boston College HS: Of course I'm prejudiced when it comes to Northeast players, but this left-handed hitting outfielder has an excellent gap power swing and could go in the second round, perhaps to Cleveland.

    "If any outsider got to sit in on our meetings, they'd be less critical," says one GM. "It's so tough, and the scouts work so hard and so many people care so much it breaks your heart when kids don't pan out. The important thing is to treat every round like the first couple. Remember, Mike Piazza was a 62nd-round pick."

    "The Braves got Wes Helms in the 10th round, Kevin Millwood in the 11th, Jermaine Dye in the 17th and John Rocker in the 18th," says LaMar. "That shows what hard work will do. I was with the Pirates when we took Kurt Miller with the fifth pick in the country, and I still can't believe he only got a cup of coffee. But that's how unpredictable it can be. I've had scouts tell me Matt White is the best high school pitching prospect they ever saw.

    "But I look at the draft one way and one way only. It's the most important day of the year."

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     ESPN's Peter Gammons previews Tuesday's 2001 MLB draft.
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