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Brewers take Cruz at No. 1

By Josh Boyd and Allan Simpson
December 16, 2002

Enrique Cruz
Photo: Morris Fostoff
NASHVILLE–The Brewers kicked off the most active day in Rule 5 Draft history when they selected Mets infield prospect Enrique Cruz with the first overall pick.

In all, 28 players were drafted in the major league phase, the most since Major League Baseball began tracking players in 1980. The previous high was 24 in 1994.

Baseball executives figured the 2002 draft was going to provide more activity than in the past. The Reds, Blue Jays and Red Sox made three selections each; the Athletics drafted two and acquired a third–righthander Buddy Hernandez from the Padres for infielder Jose Flores–while the Tigers drafted one and traded for two more.

"We don’t expect to keep them all," A’s general manager Billy Beane said. "But it’s an economic move. We’ll have the player for three years at minimum salary."

Beane identified three factors leading to Monday’s flurry of picks: Cost analysis, roster flexibility ("Teams had a lot more roster space than normal this year," he said) and a good pool of available talent.

"It’s a way to get control of a young pitcher for $50,000 (the price for selecting a player in the draft)," Cubs GM Jim Hendry said after using the fifth pick to snag lefthander Derek Thompson, who was subsequently dealt to the Dodgers for cash. "You take a flier. He could end up becoming the 10th or 11th man on your staff."

Thompson was one of four Indians farmhands selected. Shortstop Hector Luna (Devil Rays), lefty Matt White (Red Sox) and infielder Marshall McDougall (Rangers) were also taken. The Pirates and Diamondbacks lost three players each.

"We had a lot of tough calls," Indians assistant GM/scouting director John Mirabelli said. "We put a lot of time and a lot of energy into putting together our 40-man roster. We went back and forth a lot of times. In the end we only had 40 spaces.

"The way we looked at it, we had Thompson and Luna as the 41st and 42nd players on our list. We expected to lose them. Losing McDougall and White was a bit more of a surprise."

White, 25, enhanced his stock this winter pitching for Aguilas in the Dominican League after moving to the bullpen at Double-A Akron this year. White will compete with former Diamondbacks lefty Javier Lopez, another Sox Rule 5 pick, in spring training.

"(White’s) stuff got better in winter ball," Boston GM Theo Epstein said. "He was dominating and has had his fastball up to 93. (Lopez) is a sidearmer who gives a little bit of a Mike Meyers look."

Rule 5 Notes

• Cruz became the first position player tabbed with the top Rule 5 pick since shortstop Tomas Perez in 1994. After hitting .291-6-45 with 33 steals and 21 doubles at high Class A St. Lucie, Cruz will have an opportunity in a utility role in Milwaukee.

"We like his athletic ability and his upside," Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik said. "We felt it was worth the risk. He’s got some pop and the age is right."

Scouts still project power to come for the 20-year-old Dominican native as he fills out his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame. It will be a huge leap for the raw Cruz, primarily a third baseman who has the actions and arm for short. "Some teams it pays out to draft an everyday guy, but it really hasn’t worked lately except for (Orioles outfielder) Jay Gibbons," one scout said after draft.

"We drafted him to make the big league team," Zduriencik said. "He’s played short, he’s played third and we think he’s got a chance to play a little second."

• After selecting hard-throwing lefty Wil Ledezma from the Red Sox with the fourth pick, the Tigers added depth by acquiring a potential bullpen arm in righthander Matt Roney (a Rockies prospect selected by the Pirates) and infield insurance with third baseman Travis Chapman (selected by the Indians from the Phillies).

"I think we could keep all three," Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said. "But I don’t want to force them on (manager Alan Trammell).

Dombrowski said Chapman offers insurance for Dean Palmer, who is coming off an injury, and projects Ledezma and Roney as potential starters down the road. The oft-injured Ledezma turned some heads with his 95 mph fastball this winter in Venezuela, but his command and secondary stuff is still in the early stages of development. The Rockies brass admitted Roney earned strong consideration for a spot on their roster. The 22-year-old righthander has also been plagued by arm trouble since being drafted in the first round in 1998.

• Three one-time first-round picks in the amateur draft (also known as the Rule 4 draft) were selected in this year’s Rule 5. They include righthander Blake Williams, selected in the second round of the major league phase by the Reds; Thompson (Indians supplemental first-rounder in 2000) and Roney (Colorado’s first-rounder in '98). The Cardinals originally drafted Williams with the 24th overall pick out of Southwest Texas State in 2000. He is coming off Tommy John surgery, which limited him to five innings last year in short-season New Jersey.

• One veteran executive said the Padres bagged the sleeper of the draft in Dodgers outfielder Shane Victorino. "He is the underdog of the draft for me. A true center fielder, he is a good table-setter and he’s only been hitting lefthanded for a while. I think his bat is going to play. He got a lot better during the Arizona Fall League." Victorino hit .258-4-34 with 45 stolen bases (in 61 attempts) and a .328 on-base percentage after jumping to Double-A Jacksonville in 2002.

• The Rockies picked Diamondbacks outfielder Victor Hall, then traded him to the Astros for righthander Nelson Cruz.

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