Prep stars lean toward Chipola JC

By Allan Simpson
August 23, 2002

You might not know about Chipola Junior College right now, but the Florida school could put itself on the map if two of the top players from the June draft don’t sign contracts.

Shortstop B.J. Upton, the No. 2 overall pick from Chesapeake, Va., continues to negotiate with the Devil Rays, while lefthander Adam Loewen, the No. 4 selection from Surrey, British Columbia, is in contract talks with the Orioles.

Negotiations are progressing with Upton but dragging with Loewen. If either player doesn’t sign, his primary option would be to head to Chipola, in tiny Marianna, Fla.

“Adam’s already enrolled here and Upton called the other day about coming here as well,” Chipola baseball coach Jeff Johnson said. “I’m not counting on them coming still, but it would be pretty unbelievable if they did.”

Classes started at Chipola on Monday, but prospective students have 14 days before they must attend their first class. So each player has more than a week to continue negotiating.

Both players also have committed to four-year colleges: Upton to Florida State and Loewen to Arizona State. Classes at both schools begin Monday. That option appears less likely because each player has indicated a preference to sign–if not now, then next spring. By attending their first class at those schools, they would not be eligible for the draft again until 2005.

By attending junior college, they could continue talking with their current teams and sign as draft-and-follows until a week before next year’s draft. If they didn’t sign, they would go into the 2003 draft.

Upton also has considered attending Riverside (Calif.) Community College, while Loewen might hold off enrolling at Chipola until January.

The Devil Rays continue to close the money gap with Upton and have set Monday as a deadline to sign him. They reportedly have raised their offer to $4.5 million, with $250,000 paid right away. Two weeks ago, they were at $4.1 million with $100,000 payable immediately.

The hang-up appears to be the payment terms. The cash-strapped Devil Rays want to backload the contract–either in the form of a major league contract or through Upton’s status as a multi-sport athlete, which allows payments to be spread over five years.

Loewen is nowhere near as close with Baltimore. He is looking for a bonus of about $4.2 million, identical to what the Phillies gave righthander Gavin Floyd, the No. 4 pick in last year’s draft.

Baltimore’s has reportedly countered with $2 million–$500,000 less than No. 3 pick Chris Gruler (Reds) and No. 5 pick Clint Everts (Expos) signed for. The Gruler and Everts bonuses remain the largest from this year’s draft, though No. 1 overall pick Bryan Bullington (Pirates) remains unsigned.

The Orioles have taken a hardline stance in negotiations with their draft picks this year. They signed their second-round (first baseman Corey Shafer) and third-round picks (outfielder Val Majewski) for significantly below slot money after lengthy holdouts.

Should Upton and Loewen enroll at Chipola, they would bolster an already impressive Indians roster. Among other unsigned picks from this year’s draft to enroll at Chipola, which went 46-12 last spring and finished second in the state junior college championship, are righthander Friedel Pinkston, the eighth-round pick of the Expos, and catcher J.P. Lowen, the 15th-round pick of the Braves. Righthanders Kellen Ludwig, a 12th-round pick of the Giants, and Tony Mandale, a 17th-round pick of the Angels, also returned to school.

In addition, outfielder Jay Mattox, an unsigned fourth-round pick from the 2001 draft who attended Louisiana State as a freshman, has transferred to Chipola.