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First-Round Handicap
Our initial look at who will go where

By Allan Simpson
May 21, 2004

One of the few certainties about this year's draft is that pitching will dominate the first round. As many as 21 or 22 pitchers could be picked, which would top the record of 20 set in 1999 and matched in 2001.

Less certain is which pitchers will be picked and where. Most clubs had yet to finalize their draft boards as Baseball America went to press.

It's all added to the uncertainty of how the draft will unfold, but here's what we've heard and how we see the first round:

1. PADRES. General manager Kevin Towers made it clear in early April, just as the Padres were opening new Petco Park, that still-unbeaten Long Beach State righthander Jered Weaver would be the No. 1 pick, barring unforeseen developments. Weaver still is favored to go No. 1, though the Padres were also taking one last, hard look at Rice righthander Jeff Niemann (the favorite of scouting director Bill Gayton) and Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew.

Weaver may not have as much upside as Niemann and other pitchers in the draft--and with Scott Boras as his adviser he could demand a Mark Prior-like contract, in the $10 million range--but he's the safest pick. He could also provide pennant-race help in September if the Padres are still in contention in the National League West.

   PROJECTED PICK: Jered Weaver.

2. TIGERS. The Tigers, with a pressing need for pitching, have followed Old Dominion righthander Justin Verlander just as long and just as hard as the Padres have Weaver. But Verlander's inconsistency has caused the Tigers to reconsider the selection. The looming presence of the 6-foot-9 Niemann may be too tempting, especially if he's healthy again and performs close to his 2003 level in his last two or three starts.

   PROJECTED PICK: Jeff Niemann.

3. METS. The Mets have paid close attention to Weaver, Verlander and Rice's trio of pitchers, but an opportunity to select the best college position player in the draft, Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew, may be too tempting. The pick would be sure to raise eyebrows in New York, however, as the Mets already have the makings of a formidable infield, with Kaz Matsui and Jose Reyes in the middle and Double-A third baseman David Wright on the horizon.

   PROJECTED PICK: Stephen Drew.

4. DEVIL RAYS. A pitching-rich draft would appear to be made to order for a team like the Devil Rays, who are loaded with everyday talent but thin on pitching throughout their organization. The Rays have a history of drafting high-impact high school talent, however, and apparently won't waver from that approach. They focused this spring on Georgia shortstop Chris Nelson--despite the presence of B.J. Upton, the minors' best prospect--and Texas righthander Homer Bailey. They also expanded their short list in May to include rising Florida prep righthander Eric Hurley.

   PROJECTED PICK: Chris Nelson.

5. BREWERS. The Brewers have completely revitalized their organization during Jack Zduriencik's four-year watch as scouting director. He prefers high school talent, while GM Doug Melvin favors college players, so it will be interesting which philosophy wins out. If it's a college player, as expected, the choice may come down to Niemann or fellow Rice pitcher Philip Humber. Bailey and Missouri lefthander Scott Elbert are the preferred high school choices.

   PROJECTED PICK: Philip Humber.

6. INDIANS. The Indians have had a strong interest in polished Vanderbilt lefthander Jeremy Sowers since he was an unsigned first-round pick of the Reds in 2001. They've also closely watched San Diego high school shortstop Matt Bush.

   PROJECTED PICK: Jeremy Sowers.

7. REDS. A new administration in Cincinnati would consider taking Sowers again if he's available, but the team has also looked at several other pitching options: Niemann, Humber and New Orleans righthander Thomas Diamond at the college level, and Elbert and Maine righthander Mark Rogers at the prep level. The organization needs pitching but may be tempted to go for a tools-oriented player like Bush, who some scouts say resembles longtime Reds shortstop Barry Larkin.


8. ORIOLES. Baltimore targeted Maryland prep righthander Nick Adenhart for this spot, but had to explore other options when he took himself out of a start in early May and faced injury questions. The Orioles turned their attention to Pennsylvania high school catcher Neil Walker and Princeton outfielder B.J. Syzmanski. But they would have a difficult time passing up Verlander or Drew if one were to slide.

   PROJECTED PICK: Justin Verlander.

9. ROCKIES. With the worst team ERA in baseball, the Rockies need a college pitcher capable of reaching Colorado quickly. They have pursued Diamond and Sowers, along with Boston College righthander Chris Lambert, Clemson lefthander Tyler Lumsden, Virginia Commonwealth righthander Justin Orenduff and Rice righty Wade Townsend. But they'd also be tempted to fill another organization need if prep shortstops Bush and Nelson are available.

   PROJECTED PICK: Wade Townsend.

10/30. RANGERS. From his days in Oakland, scouting director Grady Fuson generally favors performance over tools, and college players over high school players. But he will make exceptions and almost certainly would do so again if either Bailey or outfielder Greg Golson, two prominent Texas high school talents, is still on the board. The same exception would apply to Elbert. There are plenty of polished college arms in Texas alone to interest the Rangers, from the Rice trio to Texas A&M lefthander Zach Jackson. PROJECTED PICKS: Homer Bailey (10)/Greg Golson (30).

11. PIRATES. Following ownership's wishes, the Pirates have played it safe the last three years by going for college pitching. The word this year, though, is that they'll take a high school position player: either Walker, a product of suburban Pittsburgh, or Nelson. Pirates GM Dave Littlefield has seen Walker several times while scouting director Ed Creech, who lives in Georgia, has been a regular at Nelson's games. If Nelson is gone, as expected, the Pirates would consider California high school shortstop Trevor Plouffe, who is not a consensus first-round talent.

   PROJECTED PICK: Neil Walker.

12. ANGELS. The Angels don't have a second- or third-round pick and will go for broke with their first-rounder. They will not hesitate to take Bailey, Bush or Nelson--the three best high school players in the draft--in this spot. Plan B would also be a prep player, either Rogers or California righthander Philip Hughes.

   PROJECTED PICK: Mark Rogers.

13. EXPOS. The Expos are a franchise in limbo and have every reason to go after an undervalued college reliever capable of helping the big league club almost immediately. They did it a year ago when they surprised everyone by selecting Cal State Fullerton's Chad Cordero, who reached Montreal in a matter of weeks. Two closer candidates they have pursued this year are Texas righthander Huston Street and William & Mary lefthander Bill Bray. They've also looked closely at Diamond, a former college closer, and Townsend, whom many clubs project as a reliever. Expos GM Omar Minaya also has scouted Elbert personally, further clouding the hardest pick to predict.

   PROJECTED PICK: Thomas Diamond.

14/29. ROYALS. The budget-conscious Royals have already coughed up $1.05 million to sign Luis Cota, the best draft-and-follow from 2003. With three of the first 31 selections this year, they may resort to cost-cutting measures such as predraft deals and drafting college seniors in the early rounds. They took a similar tack a year ago when they signed their fifth- through ninth-round picks, all college seniors, for $1,000 apiece. With their first pick, the Royals have looked at Princeton outfielder B.J. Szymanski and two other college power hitters, Miami (Ohio) first baseman Mike Ferris and Oklahoma State third baseman Josh Fields, who could reach Kansas City quickly. For local impact, they've also kept a close eye on Elbert, a Missouri high school product. Florida high school lefthander Gio Gonzalez and Lambert are also on their wish list. The Royals are hoping they'll be available with their second and third picks--if they can afford them. PROJECTED PICKS: Mike Ferris (14)/Gio Gonzalez (29).

15. DIAMONDBACKS. Arizona has made college pitching its priority and should have numerous arms to choose from. Among those it has pursued hardest are Diamond, Lambert, and lefthanders Glen Perkins of Minnesota and David Purcey, out of Oklahoma.

   PROJECTED PICK: David Purcey.

16. BLUE JAYS. Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi is a disciple of Athletics GM Billy Beane. He has brought the A's approach to his current organization, which has scouted college players almost exclusively, with the priority being a lefthander. They like Sowers but more realistically are looking at Jackson, Perkins and Purcey. They would also consider Virginia Commonwealth righthander Justin Orenduff.

   PROJECTED PICK: Zach Jackson.

17/28. DODGERS. The Dodgers have three of the first 33 selections, but the player they select first will settle a debate about whether the Dodgers will stick to the old-school, tools-oriented approach of scouting director Logan White or adopt the performance-based philosophy of new GM Paul DePodesta. If White continues to call the shots, as most insiders believe, he should continue to emphasize the kind of high school talent that has revitalized the farm system. White has been looking at Elbert and Rogers, along with local products like Hughes, Plouffe and righthander Mark Trumbo. Wisconsin high school righthander Erik Cordier and Texas high school outfielder Brandon Allen are also White favorites. But he might be forced to balance his picks with a proven college pitcher like Florida righthander Justin Hoyman or Long Beach State lefthander Jason Vargas. PROJECTED PICKS: Scott Elbert (17)/Justin Hoyman (28).

18. WHITE SOX. The White Sox would prefer a college pitcher and have pursued such arms as Diamond, Hoyman, Perkins, Purcey and Vargas, but they may find it irresistible to pass on a big bat like Ferris or Szymanski.

   PROJECTED PICK: B.J. Syzmanski.

19. CARDINALS. Few clubs have a handle on what the Cardinals are planning. They appear to be the latest organization to buy into the stat-savvy approach in analyzing talent. College lefthanders like Jackson, Perkins and Purcey are ideal selections for the Cardinals, as is Oklahoma State third baseman Josh Fields.

   PROJECTED PICK: Josh Fields.

20/22/25. TWINS. With five selections before the second round this year, the Twins have one eye on talent and another on their budget. Among the high school arms they've pursued are Elbert and Hurley, along with Rhode Island righthander Jay Rainville; they've also looked hard at local product Perkins. The Twins also have their sights on Plouffe and Missouri shortstop Blake DeWitt, two of the best pure hitters in the nation; and Hurley's high school teammate Billy Butler and California outfielder Chuck Lofgren, two of the nation's better power-hitting prospects. PROJECTED PICKS: Eric Hurley (20)/Glen Perkins (22)/Jay Rainville (25).

21. PHILLIES. Purcey ranks high on the Phillies' wish list. If he's gone, as expected, the Phillies would consider Orenduff or South Carolina lefthander Matt Campbell.

   PROJECTED PICK: Justin Orenduff.

23. YANKEES. The Yankees have an opportunity to rejuvenate a barren farm system with three of the first 41 selections. They haven't tipped their hand, so it's not clear if they'll take the same conservative approach of recent drafts. In that case, they'd consider college pitchers like Hoyman or Alabama lefthander Taylor Tankersley. If they decide to opt for higher-risk/higher-reward talent, Szymanski, Arizona State first baseman Jeff Larish, Golson and Washington high school shortstop Matt Tuiasosopo would be in their mix. More likely they'll split the difference and consider a polished high school pitcher like Hughes.

   PROJECTED PICK: Philip Hughes.

24/26. ATHLETICS. With four picks before the second round, the A's have a golden opportunity to create a sequel to the "Moneyball" draft of 2002. They should go for college hitters who are long on performance and/or plate discipline. They'll also look at pitchers with impressive track records but limited stuff. The pool of position players who fit their profile includes Ferris, Arizona State shortstop Dustin Pedroia, Stanford outfielder Danny Putnam and Cal State Fullerton catcher Kurt Suzuki. Campbell, Central Florida righthander Matt Fox, Texas lefthander J.P. Howell, North Carolina State righthander Michael Rogers and Texas closer Huston Street are on their short list of pitchers. Surprisingly, the A's have shown interest in a couple of premium high school players, specifically Plouffe and Puerto Rican outfielder Reinaldo Alicano. PROJECTED PICKS: Danny Putnam (24)/Huston Street (26).

27. MARLINS. The Marlins will see how the first round unfolds, but they are known to have a strong interest in Jackson, Rogers and Georgia outfielder Dexter Fowler.

   PROJECTED PICK: Dexter Fowler.

Here's how BA assesses the six teams that don't have first-round picks:

64. ASTROS. The Astros love big, hard throwers, and no one throws harder than 6-foot-3, 240-pound Collin Mahoney, a catcher-turned-closer who reached triple digits on the radar gun this spring for Clemson.

   PROJECTED PICK: Collin Mahoney.

65. RED SOX. The Red Sox have wholeheartedly gone to performance-based approach and will jump on the best college player in that mold who slides to them. Among the candidates are Larish, James Madison outfielder Mike Butia and Rutgers outfielder Jeff Frazier. PROJECTED PICK: Jeff Frazier.

66. CUBS. Cubs GM Jim Hendry and Notre Dame coach Paul Mainieri are longtime friends, and you can bet Mainieri has let Hendry know that his best prospect, 6-foot-5 righthander Grant Johnson, is healthy again after missing last year with labrum surgery. Johnson is a Chicago kid to boot.

   PROJECTED PICK: Grant Johnson.

70. GIANTS. The Giants prefer hard throwers and had a large delegation on hand to see Rice righthander Josh Baker duel San Jose State righthander Matt Durkin in early May. Durkin was up to 95 that day.

   PROJECTED PICK: Matt Durkin.

71. BRAVES. The Braves typically look at high school talent from their backyard and have plenty of candidates to pick from, like Georgia prep pitchers Michael Schlact, Luke Putkonen and Tim Murphey. They'd also snap up Fowler if he slides. California lefthander Eric Berger, Tennessee two-way star Kyle Waldrop and Tuiasosopo would also be considerations.

   PROJECTED PICK: Kyle Waldrop.

93. MARINERS. By signing lefthander Eddie Guardado and outfielder Raul Ibanez as free agents, the Mariners forfeited their first two selections. New scouting director Bob Fontaine had a strong preference for college players when he had the same position with the Angels. He'll consider a potential high-impact talent that slides through the draft or one of many college players, like Maryland outfielder Justin Maxwell, that are first-round talents but were injured for all or part of the 2004 season.

   PROJECTED PICK: Justin Maxwell.

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