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Rays ink Upton, but Bullington remains unsigned

By Allan Simpson
September 17, 2002

Loewen
Bryan Bullington
As the minor league season ended and players started getting ready for instructional league, talks continued to drag between the Pirates and Bryan Bullington, the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft.

But both sides reamained optimistic that Bullington, a righthander from Ball State, would be able to participate in the Pirates’ instructional league program, scheduled to start Sept. 18.

"We keep making progress, though it’s slow, but I don’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary when compared to the pace of negotiations with other high draft picks in recent years throughout the industry," Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said. "We want Bryan Bullington in our organization, and all indications are he has a great interest in playing professional baseball for us. We continue to be hopeful of getting something done."

Bullington, represented by the agency IMG, has decided to sit out the fall semester at Ball State because he would no longer be eligible to sign with the Pirates if he attends a class. While the Pirates would like to have Bullington in instructional league, they are not pushing the talks.

Bullington is eligible to return to Ball State for his senior season in the spring, but it is unlikely he would again be the No. 1 pick as the 2003 draft crop looks much stronger. Bullington’s former coach at Ball State, Rich Maloney, also has left to take over at Michigan.

Both sides have made an effort to keep the negotiations private, but Bullington is reportedly seeking a $5.2 million signing bonus, a shade more than the $5.15 million catcher Joe Mauer got from the Twins as the No. 1 pick last year. The Pirates are apparently holding the line at $3.5 million.

"Everyone would like to get negotiations done the very first day, but these things always unfold at their own pace," Littlefield said.

Just twice in draft history has the No. 1 overall pick not signed at all. In 1971, Illinois high school catcher Danny Goodwin balked at signing with the White Sox and resurfaced four years later as the No. 1 overall selection of the Angels. It happened again in 1983 when Tim Belcher could not agree to terms with the Twins and was selected No. 1 again the following January by the Yankees.

Righthander Matt Anderson, picked by the Tigers in 1997, staged the longest holdout of the No. 1 picks who did sign, as he didn’t agree to terms with the Tigers until Dec. 27.

–John Perrotto

Devil Rays Sign Upton

While negotiations between the Pirates and Bullington progressed slowly, the Devil Rays made a more determined effort to sign shortstop B.J. Upton, the No. 2 overall pick, and finally made a deal.

Upton agreed to a $4.6 million bonus, slightly more than the Rays’ previous offer of $4.5 million with $250,000 up front. Upton had balked at the terms of payment, which will be spread over five years because of Upton’s status as a multi-sport athlete.

The cash-strapped Devil Rays wanted to spread out the payments over several years and backload the contract to reduce the immediate financial impact.

"We think he has a chance to be an outstanding major league player and look forward to watching him progress through our minor league system," said Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar, who along with Devil Rays owner Vince Naimoli and scouting director Cam Bonifay traveled to Upton’s home in Chesapeake, Va., to finalize the deal.

The 6-foot-3, 180-pound Upton hit .641-11-32 and had a .756 on-base percentage his senior year at Chesapeake’s Greenbrier Christian Academy. He was scheduled to report to Tampa Bay’s instructional league camp Sept. 17.

Reds Remain Hopeful

The Reds have put their scouting responsibilities under one roof–that of Leland Maddox–so if three unsigned draft picks in the first five rounds are going to sign, he’ll be the first to know.

Supplemental first-rounder Mark Schramek (Texas-San Antonio), third-rounder Kyle Edens (Baylor) and fifth-rounder Kevin Howard (Miami) were all still available. Schramek, a third baseman, and Edens, a hard-throwing righthander, were both seniors with no college eligibility remaining. While neither returned to class, both were back on campus working out with their old college teams.

Howard was back home in California, but Hurricanes coach Jim Morris said he would be eligible if he returned to school in the spring.

"None of them have given us a deadline, and that’s part of the reason I feel pretty good about signing Edens and Howard," said Maddox, who took over as scouting director for the Reds when Kasey McKeon was reassigned after the draft. "I don’t have the same gut feeling about Schramek, though.

"Just the way the overall makeup of the draft, the way the dollars are allotted and how we’ve spent, I’m not as optimistic we’ll get him signed."

The Reds and Schramek have been so far apart (the Reds’ early offer was just $150,000) that Schramek took the step of exploring a contract with a Japanese team. That leads Maddox to believe a deal may not get done.

"He’s a bright kid and he believes in himself," Maddox said. "I commend him for finding that angle. It might help him to learn to wait (on pitches) and be a more disciplined hitter by playing over there."

But Japan’s Orix BlueWave said they have given up on signing Schramek. Schramek passed a tryout with the BlueWave in July but rejected an offer for a nine-year deal that included a $40,000 signing bonus.

It doesn’t help Schramek’s cause that Howard plays the same position, though Howard always has considered himself a shortstop. Baseball America’s Freshman of the Year in 2000 played both positions at Miami but was primarily a third baseman.

"He thinks he can play short," Maddox said. "He’s a confident, classy young man, very impressive. We met in the airport before we ever drafted him, and he really impressed me. Maybe that makes me overly optimistic about him."

Among other unsigned college players:

• No. 22 pick Bobby Brownlie was still waiting for a final offer from the Cubs, and negotiations were ongoing. Classes started at Rutgers Sept. 3, and Brownlie chose to drop out of school to continue negotiations through the fall semester. Like Howard, he would be eligible to play in the spring if he returns to school.

• No. 21 pick Jeremy Guthrie has until the end of September to sign with the Indians or return to Stanford for his senior year.

• Rockies fourth-round pick Jeff Baker was not in school at Clemson and was working out on his own while negotiations continued. Baker’s mother Dawn denied that the Rockies had offered Baker, a third baseman, a major league contract worth $1.6 million. Baker, like Brownlie and Guthrie, is represented by agent Scott Boras.

Contributing: Wayne Graczyk, John Manuel.

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