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2003 Draft Notes

May 22, 2003

BALTIMORE–Negotiations between the Orioles and their first-round draft pick from last year, Adam Loewen, always have come down to dollars and sense.

The Orioles had until May 27 to sign Loewen, or he would reenter the draft. Baseball insiders rate him as the top amateur pitcher in the country, and he would be a likely top-five pick if he re-entered the draft.

So what is that worth to the Orioles?

They held firm on a $2.5 million offer last year, before Loewen enrolled at Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla., and club sources indicated that majority owner Peter Angelos wouldn’t go any higher this time. Loewen’s agent, Michael Moye, countered at $3.9 million, and his price might be going up.

Loewen, a 6-foot-6 lefthander from Surrey, British Columbia, went to Chipola after the Orioles made him the fourth overall selection and negotiations bogged down. He’s the highest unsigned pick ever to attend junior college, which allows him to continue negotiating with the Orioles and go right back into the draft if things don’t work out.

Loewen went 6-1, 2.47 at Chipola and scouts clocked his fastball between 90-94 mph. His curveball already was deemed major league caliber. But the Orioles, whose original offer was $2 million, weren’t close to matching the $4.2 million that pitcher Gavin Floyd received from the Phillies as the fourth pick in 2001.

Club officials considered Floyd a special case, and didn’t believe Loewen should receive the same figure simply because he also was taken fourth. The Orioles gave another lefthander, Chris Smith, $2.175 million after choosing him seventh in 2001. Pitcher Chris Gruler accepted the Reds’ $2.5 million offer last year as the third selection in a predraft agreement.

"We have had enough people in this organization see Adam Loewen from the top on down," director of baseball administration Ed Kenney said. "Everybody that needed to see him saw him. We’ll make an educated decision on how we value him."

The Orioles also are reluctant to dole out a huge bonus to Loewen because other pitchers they’ve taken early in the draft, including first-round picks Richard Stahl, Beau Hale and Smith, have been plagued by arm and shoulder injuries. Hale and Erik Bedard, the organization’s top prospect who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, aren’t expected to pitch this season. Stahl made only two appearances at Class A Delmarva last year.

The Orioles were allowed to resume negotiations with Loewen after his season ended on May 10, when Chipola lost to Manatee Community College in the Florida state juco tournament.

So much has changed since Loewen turned down their original signing bonus. Baseball’s new labor agreement resulted in a depressed market for free agents last winter, forcing many players to settle for less money. And the Orioles’ front office is different, with general manager Syd Thrift being replaced by Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan.

Though Flanagan insisted that Angelos hadn’t given any restrictions on the latest bonus offered to Loewen, some club sources said it was doubtful the figure would be anywhere near $4 million.

"I think it’s going to come down to whether we believe that he’s the right guy," Flanagan said. "We haven’t been told anything as far as a scale, or what we can or can’t offer. It’s going to be our decision."

The Orioles will choose seventh in the draft this year. They also would receive a supplemental pick between the first two rounds, No. 37 overall, if they can’t sign Loewen.

–Roch Kubatko

Padres Still Wrapping Up 2002

SAN DIEGO–Some drafts are made on draft day. Others take more time to develop.

In the case of the Padres, the 2002 draft could be made in the days just prior to the 2003 draft.

If the timing is right, San Diego hoped to sign as many as eight of last year’s picks, including its second-round selection, Clemson first baseman Michael Johnson.

"We’re excited about the possibilities," scouting director Bill Gayton said. "We took a lot of kids last year, especially deep in the draft, who are having big years this season."

Along with Johnson, the Padres were hoping to sign two other fifth-year seniors: righthander Chuck Bechtel (25th round, Marist College) and outfielder Brian Wahlbrink (42nd round, UC Riverside). Johnson was hitting .331-10-41 for Clemson. Wahlbrink was hitting .386-11-39, and Bechtel was 7-3, 1.38 with 84 strikeouts and 22 walks in 72 innings.

The problem the Padres faced is that Johnson, Bechtel and Wahlbrink’s teams could all qualify for postseason play. And should they advance to the Division I super-regionals, the Padres would lose them.

"You hate to root against teams, but if we could sign Johnson it would certainly make last year’s draft more complete," Gayton said. "Plus, Bechtel is having a big season, and Wahlbrink is a guy we like. Depending on what happens, we might only have a day or two to negotiate with these guys."

The Padres also had several players under control who were attending junior colleges.

Shortstop Andy LaRoche, who’s at Grayson County (Texas) JC after being a 21st-round pick last year, is the top-rated draft-and-follow prospect the Padres have.

Gayton said he also likes 20th-round pick George Kottaras, a catcher at Connors State (Okla.) JC; 30th-round pick Danny de la O, a lefthander at Fresno City College; 31st-round pick Jared Wells, a righthander at San Jacinto (Texas) JC; and 45th-round pick Chad Etheridge, a lefthander at Columbia State (Tenn.) JC. All could be solid picks if they do not sign with the Padres by the May 27 closed period and re-enter the draft.

Wells was clocked at 97 mph recently, and helped San Jacinto to the Junior College World Series. He has a scholarship to Lamar if he doesn’t sign. "Wells is the No. 1 pitcher on one of the top JC teams in the country," Gayton said.

"We’d love to sign all these guys, but we could lose them all, too," he said. "But we’ve been given the money to take a run at these guys, knowing it won’t be like this every year.

"You hope in situtations like this that you hit on every guy, and they all turn out to be stars. But you also hope to hit on at least one. Time will tell, but these guys could make last year’s draft a really good one."

–John Maffei

Harrington Tries, Tries Again

Righthander Matt Harrington’s unique saga includes three previous draft selections and stints with three independent leagues. He still hasn’t signed with a team in Organized Baseball, though, and could be selected for the fourth consecutive time this year.

It all started when the Rockies selected Harrington out of Palmdale (Calif.) High with the seventh overall pick in 2000. After contentious, protracted negotiations, Harrington never came to terms with the Rockies. He reportedly turned down a bonus around $4 million.

The Padres used their second-round choice on Harrington in 2001, and sources said they offered him a $1.2 million bonus. Harrington’s agent, Scott Boras, said specific dollar figures were never discussed.

The Devil Rays took a flier on Harrington in the 13th round in 2002 and hold his rights until the closed period begins May 27. Serious negotiations have never taken place, and he’s not expected to sign with Tampa Bay.

That would send Harrington into the draft pool for a fourth consecutive year. He probably won’t go as early as the 13th round, or even in the first 20 rounds of the draft’s first day. A team is more likely to select him with a late pick and use his summer work in Fort Worth of the independent Central League to evaluate his progress, essentially taking a draft-and-follow approach. And it might be to Harrington’s advantage if he isn’t drafted at all, allowing him to sign with any team that develops interest as the summer goes on.

Boras said he and Harrington would have no comment on Harrington’s situation.

Harrington, 21, has been following a conditioning program, trying to regain the velocity he showed in high school. He had appeared in five games for the Fort Worth Cats, including one start. He was 0-1, 5.73 with seven strikeouts and two walks in 11 innings.

Harrington began last season in the independent Western League, playing for the Long Beach Breakers near his hometown of Palmdale. He went 0-3, 6.68 with 25 strikeouts and 24 walks in 32 innings before being released in July. Harrington finished the year with Fort Worth, going 2-3, 6.84 with 24 strikeouts and 10 walks in 25 innings. Harrington also played with the St. Paul Saints of the Northern League in 2001.

Harrington was considered among the top talents in the 2000 draft based on a fastball that sat at 94-95 mph and topped out at 98. In a workout with the Padres last spring, Harrington’s fastball reached 93 and he had yet to develop a feel for his breaking ball, which was a question during his high school career.

If Harrington is drafted for the fourth time, he’ll still need to be picked three more times to tie the record of seven, held by six players. Thirteen players have been chosen six times, though only Blue Jays leftthander Mark Hendrickson has accomplished the feat since the January phase of the draft was eliminated in 1987.

–Will Kimmey

Draft Dots

• The ballyhooed potential changes to the draft are at least a year away, if not more. The joint union-management committee that was formed after the new labor agreement did finally meet this spring, but it did not resolve anything. The sides have agreed that the draft will be no less than 20 and no more than 38 rounds, with Major League Baseball preferring the higher number and the union favoring the lower number. Major issues like a possible worldwide draft remain a long way from resolution. The committee plans to meet again in May or June, with no timetable set for implementing changes.

• In addition to the usual assortment of players with relatives in baseball and other sports, two college prospects have fathers who gained fame in the entertainment industry. California corner infielder Conor Jackson’s father is actor John Jackson, who is best known for his role as Admiral A.J. Chegwidden on the CBS drama "JAG". UNLV outfielder Patrick Dobson’s father is actor Kevin Dobson, best known for his roles on "Kojak" and "Knots Landing". Jackson is a potential first-round pick, while Dobson is expected to go later in the draft.

• This year’s draft doesn’t have a team with a bonanza of picks on the scale that we’ve seen in the last few years. Last year, for instance, the Athletics had an amazing seven of the first 39 picks. The Braves get four extra picks this year for losing free agents Tom Glavine and Mike Remlinger, but they aren’t particularly high ones: Nos. 35, 36, 44 and 80. And the Braves lose their own first-round pick, the 30th overall, to the Royals for signing Paul Byrd. The only teams that will lose multiple picks are the Phillies, who won’t pick until the third round after signing Jim Thome and David Bell; and the Mets, who lose their second- and third-round picks for signing Cliff Floyd and Tom Glavine. The Mets didn’t lose their first-round pick because it’s in the top 15 overall (12th).

• Led by potential No. 1 overall pick Rickie Weeks, Southern won the Southwestern Athletic Conference title for the fourth time in five seasons on May 4, but didn’t play a Division I game again until NCAA regional play started May 30. A two-game series at Oklahoma State in mid-May was canceled by a scheduling conflict for Southern coach Roger Cador, who didn’t want to send his team on the road without him. That left scouts scurrying for a last-minute look at the Jaguars’ talented team, led by Weeks, in a May 21 game against the Baton Rouge River Bats of the independent Southeastern League. Weeks was one of eight to 10 Jaguars expected to be drafted.

• Southern was one of several schools that expected to send a lot of players into the draft, with Arizona State, Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State likely to be the most significant contributors. Though it may not have a player chosen in the first two rounds, Arizona State should have at least 10, and possibly 12 or 13 players drafted. The Sun Devils’ best prospects are outfielder Andre Ethier and righthander Beau Vaughan. Fullerton could have four players picked in the first two or three rounds and as many as 10 players drafted. Righthander Wes Littleton and outfielder Shane Costa are the Titans’ best prospects. Not to be outdone, rival Long Beach State will also make a significant impact. With the exception of lefthander Abe Alvarez, the 49ers can’t match Fullerton’s frontline talent, but catcher Todd Jennings leads a group of seven or eight other Dirtbags who will get drafted.

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