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Orioles Go Greek

June 3, 2003
By Roch Kubatko

BALTIMORE--The Orioles got the hitter they wanted in the amateur draft, while also maintaining a tradition for taking lefthanded pitchers.

With the seventh pick, the Orioles selected pitcher/outfielder Nick Markakis of Young Harris (Ga.) Junior College. He worked out for them the previous day at Camden Yards, and the team projected him as a right fielder, the position be played in college.

Markakis, a 19-year-old lefthanded hitter, batted .439-21-92 with 19 stolen bases, and also went 12-0, 1.68 ERA with 160 strikeouts in 97 innings. Baseball America, which named him its Junior College Player of the Year last year, rated him as the top draft-eligible prospect in Georgia.

"We like him as an outfielder first," scouting director Tony DeMacio said. "He'll play all year at 19, and we think he's going to develop into a fine power hitter."

The Reds chose Markakis in the 23rd round last year, but he turned down a $1.5 million bonus as a draft-and-follow. They also drafted him in the 35th round out of Woodstock (Ga.) High in 2001.

"They gave me one offer and said, 'Take it or leave it.' They didn't try to negotiate at all," he said.

It was a busy week for the Orioles, who signed last year's No. 1 selection, pitcher Adam Loewen, to a five-year, $4.02 million contract shortly before the midnight deadline.

DeMacio indicated all along that he wanted a hitter, but he also has a fondness for lefthanded pitchers. Since 1999, the Orioles have chosen Richard Stahl, Chris Smith and Loewen in the first round.

Club officials must decide where to assign Markakis, but they're certain he'll be used exclusively as a hitter.

"We're not looking at him as a fallback-type player. We think he's going to hit," DeMacio said. "He's got a nice swing. He centers the ball consistently, and we like that as well."

As a freshman, Markakis batted .455-17-74 and went 11-3, 4.53.

"He comes from a great family. He's a plus-makeup kid," DeMacio said. "He was a draft-and-follow for the Reds for two years and continued to come on as a player. They were unable to sign him, so we had interest in him from the very beginning. We watched several games as a pitcher and as a player, so we've seen him both ways, and we felt like he was the best selection for us so far."

The Orioles came within minutes of losing Loewen's rights until offering him a major league contract. He spent a season at Chipola (Fla.) Junior College as a draft-and-follow. The team doesn't anticipate as much difficulty with Markakis, who has a commitment to Clemson.

"We've talked to the family. I think they want to play," executive vice president Jim Beattie said. "He's been through the process two years. He's put his time in playing. We want to get him out this year. As long as the dollars are what they like, I think we'll be able to reach an agreement hopefully fairly quickly."

Outfielder Larry Bigbie is the only player chosen by the Orioles in the first round to make their roster since 1992. Jay Powell (1993) and Jayson Werth (1997) made their debuts with other teams.

"I think his makeup, what he brings as a person, is really going to allow him to maximize his abilities on the field," Beattie said. "This kid really has continued to evolve and we think there's a lot of growth there."

The Orioles reached in the second round to take Texas A&M righthander Brian Finch, who wasn't listed among Baseball America's top 100 prospects. They took a pair of hard-throwing righthanders in rounds three and four in William & Mary's Chris Ray and Southern Mississippi's Bob McCrory.

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