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From Owl To Oriole

June 7, 2004
By Roch Kubatko

BALTIMORE--Before the Orioles selected Wade Townsend with the eighth pick of the draft, he had to wait while two other members of the Rice rotation were chosen ahead him.

"I guess I'm the worst one," Townsend said, laughing.

If that's true, it wouldn't be a knock on his talent.

The junior righthander went 12-0 with a 1.80 ERA--numbers that hardly require an apology. He walked 45 and struck out 148 in 120 innings while helping Rice to the NCAA tournament.

"I was really excited," Townsend said. "I didn't know who was looking at me. It was really a shock when I heard my name called."

Scouting director Tony DeMacio began monitoring Townsend in February and watched him pitch numerous times. He saw a pitcher who could hit 95 mph with his fastball, though it registered 87-91 earlier in the season. He also saw one of the nastiest curveballs in the draft.

"He has a great arm and a bulldog mentality," DeMacio said. "He's a strong, physical kid who's going to give it to you every day. We feel like we're very fortunate to get him."

Townsend was named an academic all-american and the Western Athletic Conference pitcher of the year, an honor that separated him from teammates and fellow righthanders Philip Humber and Jeff Niemann.

"With the experience he has and the way he's pitched, we feel very good about him," general manager Jim Beattie said. "We really felt this draft was pitching rich and there were a lot of good arms. We ended up with a very good one."

Some scouts have projected Townsend as a major league closer, though they also view him as having the ability to pitch in the front end of the rotation.

"I'll let player development take care of that," DeMacio said.

The Orioles haven't decided where they'll assign Townsend, but his innings will be limited to avoid injury.

"We don't think he's too far away (from the majors) with all the experience he has," Beattie said.

The Orioles passed on another college pitcher, Long Beach State righthander Jered Weaver, though they wouldn't use signability issues as an excuse.

"With respect to (Townsend), you have a junior in college and our sense is he wants to get out and play," Beattie said. "But we have reasons for not taking some guys besides signability. We make our own determinations."

BIRD SEED

In the third round, the Orioles selected catcher Jeffrey Fiorentino, who batted .348-17-67 at Florida Atlantic University.

Bryce Chamberlin's injury helped scuttle Washington State's season, but he was still selected in the sixth round. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound righthander had his jaw broken in two places during an off-campus fight in mid-April and missed the rest of the season. His 84-87 mph slider is one of the draft's best breaking pitches.

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