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Padres Could Turn To Bush At No. 1

By Jim Callis
June 6, 2004

On Friday, the first round of Monday's first-year player draft was falling into place. A day later, it was falling apart as rumors swirled through the industry that the Padres were shifting their focus with the No. 1 overall pick.

San Diego appeared to have locked in on Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew earlier in the week. But now teams at the top of the draft are scrambling amid reports that the Padres don't want to accede to Drew's desire for a package similar to what Rickie Weeks received from the Brewers in 2003. The No. 2 choice a year ago, Weeks received a $3.6 million bonus and a major league contract with a guarantee of $4.79 million.

The Padres now are believed to be looking at shortstop Matt Bush from local Mission Bay High. He would come with a cheaper price tag than Drew and isn't expected to go higher than sixth (Indians) or seventh (Reds) if San Diego doesn't select him first.

If the Padres do opt for Bush, it will send a ripple effect through the first round of the draft. Teams that were narrowing down their choices suddenly will be presented with options they didn't think would be available.

The Tigers, picking second, were leaning toward Old Dominion's Justin Verlander over fellow righthanders Homer Bailey (LaGrange, Texas, High) and Jeff Niemann (Rice). But they would be very tempted by Drew.

The Mets, selecting third, had zeroed in on Rice righthander Philip Humber. But if Detroit goes with Drew, New York is expected to take Verlander over Humber.

The Devil Rays may not be affected by a San Diego shift. Their scouts prefer Redan High (Decatur, Ga.) shortstop Chris Nelson, while ownership and manager Lou Piniella are clamoring for a college pitcher who could help the big league club in short order. Their top two pitching choices are Rice righthanders Niemann and Wade Townsend.

At No. 5, the Brewers had been closing in on another righty, Mark Rogers (Mount Ararat High, Orr's Island, Maine). But if the Mets pass on Humber, Milwaukee is expected to snap him up.

Several teams still are hoping for one more look at Niemann, who hasn't been 100 percent this year while coming back from offseason arthroscopic elbow surgery and battling a persistent groin injury. Niemann threw 86-87 mph last weekend against Louisiana Tech, and while there are no long-term concerns about his elbow or groin, it still was disconcerting to clubs choosing at the top of the draft.

Rice, which suffered the biggest one-game upset in NCAA playoff history when Texas Southern beat Humber Friday night, used Niemann to get the last four outs of a Saturday must-win over Lamar. The Owls must defeat Texas A&M twice today to advance to the super-regionals, and Niemann should get a start, especially if Rice stays alive for two games.

Long Beach State righthander Jered Weaver, at one point believed to be the favorite to go No. 1 overall, may fall dramatically because of signability. Weaver, who like Drew will be advised by Scott Boras, reportedly wants a package similar to the $10.5 million package Mark Prior got from the Cubs as the No. 2 selection in 2001.

Weaver continued his dominant season Saturday night, beating host Stanford in NCAA regional play with eight strong innings. He became the 15th player in NCAA Division I history to top 200 strikeouts, and now stands at 15-1, 1.65 with a 201-19 strikeout-walk ratio in 136 innings. But there may not be a team with a top-10 choice that's prepared to take him.

Baseball America will unveil an updated first-round projection later this evening, so stay tuned.

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