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Padres Focus On Budget

June 7, 2004
By John Maffei

SAN DIEGO--For the Padres, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft was a matter of common cents.

Unwilling to overpay for college players Jered Weaver of Long Beach State and Stephen Drew of Florida State, the Padres decided to stay close to home, choosing Mission Bay High shortstop Matt Bush.

Bush hit .450-11-35. He was 9-1, 0.42 as a pitcher, striking out 91 batter in 66 innings in leading the Bucs to the county's Division III championship. Weaver is 15-1 for Long Beach State and Drew hit .353-17-55 for Florida State. Both are represented by agent Scott Boras. Both would have commanded huge bonuses and contracts close to (if not in excess of) $5 million.

Bush has agreed to terms for a reported $3.15 million bonus.

"Signability always comes into play," said Padres general manager Kevin Towers. "We were focused on some other players early, but their expectations were more than we were willing to spend."

Towers flatly denied a report that he was told not to exceed $3.5 million. Towers also stressed it was important to get Bush signed quickly and get him playing, probably for the organization's club in the Rookie-level Arizona League.

Towers felt that by signing early, Khalil Greene, the team's first-round pick in 2002, jumped a year ahead. Towers was fearful negotiations with Weaver or Drew would drag through the summer.

Since 2001, the Padres have been a college-oriented team in the draft, choosing to build the farm system with more-experienced players like Greene, Jake Gautreau, Tagg Bozied, Michael Johnson, Kennard Jones, Tim Stauffer, Daniel Moore and Colt Morton.

But scouting director Bill Gayton made a drastic change of direction when Bush made a call to Padres area scout Tim McWilliam on Friday night, expressing his interest in becoming a Padre.

"The call surprised me," McWilliam said. "I wasn't home, so when I returned his call, I told him I'd pass his sentiments along to Kevin and Chief, and that we should keep the lines of communication open."

The call was the push the Padres needed and it set off a chain reaction in the draft. Bush said he made the call because McWilliam had established a relationship with him, and he felt it was worth the time to express his feelings.

"As it turns out, it was the right thing to do," Bush said. "I wanted to be a Padre and this is a dream come true. This is my hometown team, the team I root for."

Last year, the Padres went 26 rounds before choosing a high school player. And Gayton's previous two drafts were also heavy with college players. That was all part of a five-year plan to restock a very weak farm system, he said.

With the minor league system back on track, the Padres chose high school players with their first three picks--Bush, catcher Bill Killian of Chippewa Hills High in Michigan and first baseman Daryl Jones of Los Angeles' Westchester High. Killian is the son of William Killian, the Padres' part-time scout in Michigan.

FATHER FIGURES

The Padres hope to save some money with several senior college drafts, but they took some intriguing choices. Righties Vern Sterry (North Carolina State) and David O'Hagan, chosen in the eighth and ninth rounds, were two of the nation's better pitchers in 2004, and Sterry's plus changeup has some Padres officials saying he could be a closer in the Trevor Hoffman mold. The Padres also chose Rice leadoff man Chris "Grit Man" Kolkhorst, whose all-out play and on-base ability helped lead the Owls to the 2003 College World Series championship.

Righthander Matt Montgomery, the club's 14th-round pick out of Okaloosa-Walton (Fla.) Junior College, could also be a closer candidate. Montgomery started his 2003-2004 school year at Young Harris (Ga.) JC but was one of six players kicked off the team in the fall and transferred to Okaloosa-Walton. A consensus of Florida juco coaches and scouts said Montgomery, who touches 96 mph with his fastball and throws in the 90-94 range more often, was the hardest thrower in the Florida JC ranks.

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