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2004 Draft Tidbits

May 30, 2004

WOODINVILLE, Wash.--It's not as if Matt Tuiasosopo is the first athlete who has ever had to weigh a career in college football against one in professional baseball.

That said, the situation surrounding this two-way talent out of Woodinville High ranks is at least a little unusual. Tuiasosopo, the best high school football and baseball prospect in Washington, could be selected in the first round of the draft.

But Tuiasosopo, who projects as a shortstop or third baseman professionally, says he'll give equal consideration to playing football. After all, he has already signed a letter of intent to play football for the University of Washington, where two older brothers have played.

The lure of continuing the family tradition might be tough to deny, though Tuiasosopo said he's focused on what might happen with the draft.

"I'm anxious about it," he said. "I've been trying to stay focused on the season, since it's the last season playing here. I'm trying to have fun. I have no idea what will happen . . . but I'm pretty excited about it."

Tuiasosopo told scouts this spring that he would consider signing a professional contract only if he's drafted in the top three rounds.

That might have seemed like a tall order before the season, but Tuiasosopo has opened the eyes of scouts with his smooth footwork, strong arm and fluid swing. Some teams have pegged Tuiasosopo as a shortstop, some as a third baseman and others as an outfielder.

Tuiasosopo's first preference is shortstop, where he played when he wasn't pitching for Woodinville High this spring. He hit .398 with one home run for the Falcons, who finished 16-7 after losing in the state playoffs.

His coach, Terry Agnew, said Tuiasosopo didn't see many good pitches this season. He batted .424 with seven home runs as a junior.

"He struggled a little this year," Agnew said. "Part of that might have been the scouts that have been around. He's also been a little impatient, not getting many pitches to hit. But he's a very gifted athlete."

Yet as naturally as baseball comes to Tuiasosopo, he's regarded as equally gifted in football. Considering his family background, it's easy to see why.

Tuiasosopo, a 6-foot-2 and 205-pound quarterback, passed for 778 yards and four touchdowns last season for a run-oriented team. He rushed for 831 yards and 10 more scores.

Turning his back on a football commitment to Washington wouldn't be easy for Tuiasosopo, who has been around the Washington program for a decade. Older brother Marques, now a backup quarterback with the Oakland Raiders, starred at Washington from 1997-2000. Zach will be a senior fullback next season. On top of that, Tuiasosopo's older sister Leslie played volleyball for the Huskies. Tuiasosopo's father Manu, was a defensive lineman at UCLA and later with the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.

Tuiasosopo said he doesn't feel additional pressure to stick with football just because of his connections to Washington. "I always think there's going to be talk about that because of my brothers and sister," he said. "But I don't think it will make the situation that much more difficult."

The interest in the state is high because Washington does not have a clear starting quarterback for the coming season. Many fans see Tuiasosopo as a better alternative than the three players already on campus.

The one decision Tuiasosopo has made is that he won't try to balance college football and professional baseball.

"At first I thought I wanted to do both," he said. "But in talking to my dad, scouts and the coaches at Washington, I decided that it would be best to focus on one. I've always played three sports (including basketball), so I am excited to see what I can do when I concentrate on just one sport."

--COREY BROCK

Skyscraping Pitcher Has Options

CINCINNATI--Andrew Brackman winds up to pitch, and 15 radar guns go up. And that's just in the bullpen before the game.

It was quite a scene whenever Brackman, Moeller High's 6-foot-10 pitching ace, took the hill this spring. He is the undisputed top baseball prospect in Cincinnati, and he attracts at least a dozen scouts whenever he pitches.

On the elevated mound, the skyscraping Brackman appears eight feet tall. Some call him a righthanded Randy Johnson.

Into the wind goes Brackman. Up go the guns. First pitch, 87 mph. Second pitch, 89. Third pitch, breaking ball, 77. And so on.

The high mark is 91 mph. Brackman says his best has been 93.

"I see them back there," Brackman said. "I don't let them faze me, because I'm used to it. It's always good to have people there watching you."

The scouts don't do interviews, at least on the record. But their jackets and briefcases bear team logos: Braves, Red Sox, Cubs, Astros, Orioles . . . and yes, the hometown Reds are there.

"I would describe him as a potential early-round pick," one scout said. "First, he's an athlete. Second, there's the size. Third, he's already pretty good in terms of his velocity and breaking ball. Fourth, he's extremely projectable."

Which means, the best is yet to come.

Brackman also has options. As the state's top high school player in both basketball and baseball, he has signed with North Carolina State. He averaged 20 points a game in basketball this season and was runner-up for Ohio "Mr. Basketball" honors.

"If it's the right situation, I'd like to play minor league baseball and also play basketball in college," Brackman said. "I'm open."

Brackman's baseball fortunes were set back this spring by shoulder tendinitis, which limited him to strict pitch counts in his first few games back. Since then, he had gotten stronger and better. He threw complete games in his last two regular season outings, allowing no earned runs.

He pitched Moeller into the Ohio district playoffs, beating Kings High 9-0 in the sectional finals. In that game, Brackman threw a three-hit shutout and struck out 10, yet said he did not have his best stuff.

"I didn't really have it," Brackman said. "I don't feel 100 percent yet, but it's getting there."

Kings senior Dane Youtz, the city's fifth-leading hitter at .509, tripled off Brackman and worked a walk. "I'll be honest, he's got nasty stuff," Youtz said.

Entering the district playoffs, Brackman's record was 4-0, 0.25. He had 48 strikeouts in 28 innings and had allowed 10 hits, with nine walks. He throws a fastball, curve and knuckle-curve that's his out pitch.

Moeller coach Mike Cameron has been on the job 37 years and sent 25 players to pro ball, including Buddy Bell, Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey Jr. He says Brackman is his most heavily recruited pitcher, including major leaguer Bill Long.

"It's been a while since we've had a pitcher get this much attention," he said. "That's why I always carry this cell phone."

--TOM GROESCHEN

The Cincinnati Enquirer

A's, Twins Get Extra Picks

OAKLAND--Once again, the Athletics will have an excellent opportunity to secure much of the best draft-eligible talent.

Thanks to compensation picks awarded as a result of the free-agent defections of Miguel Tejada and Keith Foulke, Oakland will have six of the first 67 selections in the draft. This mirrors 2002, when the A's had seven picks in the first and supplemental rounds, and last year, when they made four of the first 62 selections.

A's general manager Billy Beane declined to identify a specific position of need in the draft because the years required to develop most big leaguers defies timetables.

"As a general rule, you always want to draft as much pitching as you can," said Beane, adding that while premium position players are often scarce after the early rounds, it's possible to find pitchers later in the draft. "I don't think there are any set rules."

For example, the A's are deep at third base with Eric Chavez signed through 2010 and prospects Mark Teahen and Brian Snyder excelling in the minors. "That's not to say if we thought the best player out there was a third baseman, we wouldn't take him," Beane said.

With the opportunity, of course, comes a potentially expensive obligation. "It's not cost-benign," Beane said, pointing out that the A's spent more than $9 million in signing bonuses in 2002. More than half of that went to Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton and shortstop John McCurdy. "For us, it's always a balance between getting the best player you can but also understanding that there are significant costs."

The A's did their best to minimize the financial burden in the '02 draft, widely known now as the "Moneyball" draft. They signed catcher Jeremy Brown, the 35th overall pick, for a $350,000 bonus that was the lowest among the first 66 selections.

The Twins also gained four extra picks this year, two each for losing free agents Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins. The Twins have three of the first 25 picks, and six in the first 61.

Like the A's, the Twins always have to keep an eye on the bottom line, so the opportunity to make so many extra selections comes with a definite cost. The penurious franchise has perhaps the worst track record in baseball for signing premium picks over the draft's 40-year history.

Scouting director Mike Radcliff said the Twins expected to have extra picks this year because of free-agent losses, so they began planning last year. The team signed extra players on the international market to stock their Rookie-level affiliates in the Gulf Coast and Appalachian leagues, meaning they won't have to fill those rosters with players from the draft.

"We knew about the extra picks last year, and we planned accordingly," he said. "And now we're trying to put that plan in place. We've got enough bodies at Elizabethton and the GCL, so we look at this as an opportunity to get quality."

So instead of signing 25-30 players out of this draft class, Minnesota might sign just 12-14, putting almost their entire signing budget into the early extra picks.

The approach will allow the Twins to go for legitimate talent with their extra picks, Radcliff said. He said he does not expect to go after a lot of college seniors, who are cheaper to sign because they have no negotiating leverage.

"We've got a little extra money this year," he said. "We're not going to go straight-up slot money through each of the first 20 rounds, but we have enough to go after quality."

--CHRIS HAFT

DFE Fever Dies Down

Teams signed a record 78 draft-and-follows prior to last year's draft, including Chipola (Fla.) Junior College lefthander Adam Loewen, who signed a major league contract with the Orioles just minutes before he would have re-entered the 2003 draft.

Loewen, the fourth overall selection in 2002, received a $3.2 million signing bonus. He was the only unsigned first-round pick in draft history to attend a junior college.

The draft-and-follow pickings don't appear to be nearly as plentiful this year. South Mountain ( Ariz.) Junior College righthander Luis Cota was the most attractive player and probably the only one who would have resurfaced among the first 100 picks if he re-entered the draft.

But Cota signed with the Royals for $1.05 million in mid-May. The Royals drafted the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder in the 10th round last year and controlled his negotiating rights.

Only drafted players who attend junior college are subject to the draft-and-follow rule. Teams have until May 31--one week before the draft--to sign their players or have them go back into this year's draft pool.

Even though they have three of the first 31 picks in this year's draft and are under strict budget constraints, the Royals made it a priority to sign Cota, whose fastball was clocked at 96 mph. He was player of the year in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference, one of the nation's strongest juco leagues. On the year, he went 12-0, 0.87 with 107 strikeouts in 93 innings.

Cota was one of only four players drafted in the top 10 rounds last year who didn't sign and attended junior college. The highest pick was Community College of Southern Nevada righthander/outfielder Jordan Parraz, chosen in the sixth round by the Phillies.

East Los Angeles Junior College catcher Angel Sanchez was one of California's top junior college players this spring, but he's not under control to a big league club from the 2003 draft, nor will he be drafted this year.

Sanchez signed with the Cubs as a 45th-round pick last year out of West Covina High, but his contract was voided when he did not pass his physical. The Cubs determined that Sanchez had a damaged elbow and exercised their right to cancel the contract on the basis of a preexisting injury.

Sanchez, who received no money from the Cubs, enrolled at East Los Angeles last fall and had an outstanding 2004 season, leading his school to a No. 2 seed in the state juco playoffs. He hit .310-13-49 while showing rapid improvement defensively in his first full year behind the plate. He showed no ill effects from his damaged elbow.

East L.A. coach James Hines was so impressed with Sanchez' development that said he would be a third- to eighth-round pick if he were eligible for this year's draft. But because Sanchez previously signed a contract, he is not eligible. He's a free agent, at liberty to sign with anyone.

Hines says as many as 10 teams have inquired about signing Sanchez.

Threes Are Wild

When Fresno State righthander Jered Weaver is selected in the first round of this year's draft, he and his brother Jeff, a 1998 first-round pick of the Tigers, will become the sixth set of brothers to be drafted in the first round.

The Weavers, however, will be upstaged when Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew is drafted in the first round, probably a pick or two after Jered. He'll become the third Drew brother drafted in the first round, following his oldest brother J.D. in 1998 and older brother Tim in 1997. Both Drew brothers were first-round picks in 1997, but J.D. elected to not sign with the Phillies that year and was redrafted in the first round a year later by the Cardinals.

Speaking of draft trios, Rice righthanders Philip Humber, Jeff Niemann and Wade Townsend all are expected to be drafted in the first round--possibly even in the first 12 to 15 picks. No college has ever had three pitchers drafted in the first round.

On two previous occasions, a college team has had three players drafted in the first round in the same year. In 1979, Michigan righthander Steve Perry, lefthander Steve Howe and outfielder Rick Leach went in the first round. In 1989, Fresno State outfielders Tom Goodwin and Steve Hosey and shortstop Eddie Zosky were first-rounders. All but Perry played in the big leagues.

Say Who?

There's just an outside chance he'll be drafted, but Lexington, Ky., high school outfielder Willie Mays is certain to attract his share of national attention if he is.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Mays not only shares his name with the Hall of Fame outfielder, but he also has a similar flair for the game. He's an athletic center fielder with bat speed and drilled 17 home runs for Bryan Station High as both a sophomore and junior. He tailed off this season, and though he remains one of the top high school prospects in Kentucky he'll probably end up at the University of Kentucky.

While Mays is no relation to his famous namesake, there are a number of players in this year's draft who are related to former major leaguers.

Among sons of ex-big leaguers who are expected to be early- to mid-round picks are Oklahoma State outfielder Rod Allen (son of Rod), Oregon high school shortstop Wally Backman (son of Wally), Pennsylvania high school lefthander Nick Francona (son of Terry, grandson of Tito), New Hampshire high school righthander Andy Gale (son of Rich), Auburn outfielder Sean Gamble (son of Oscar), Auburn second baseman Tug Hulett (son of Tim), Tennessee high school shortstop Cale Iorg (son of Garth), Florida high school shortstop Josh Johnson (son of Larry Doby Johnson), California high school shortstop Andrew Romine (son of Kevin), California high school lefthander Drew Saberhagen (son of Bret), Pennsylvania high school catcher Neil Walker (son of Tom) and Illinois high school outfielder Kenny Williams (son of Kenny, and the current GM of the White Sox).

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