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Pujols could have been another Cards loss to Sox
by Jim Callis
BOSTON—Getting swept in the World Series was plenty bad enough, but it could have been worse for the Cardinals.
Albert Pujols could have been playing for the Red Sox.
Boston came this close to drafting him in 1999, when it blew first-round picks on Rick Asadoorian, Brad Baker and Casey Fossum.
Midway through the draft's first day, Pujols' name rose to the top of Boston's draft board. His age couldn't be verified beyond a shadow of a doubt and his asking price was in the six figures, but his bat was enticing. So scouting director Wayne Britton placed a call to Pujols.
Britton asked Pujols, then an infielder at Maple Woods (Mo.) Community College, if he'd consider signing for ninth- or 10th-round money. Pujols said no, so Britton passed him up. The Cardinals took Pujols in the 13th round, initially offered him $10,000 and signed him late in the summer for $60,000.
Two years later, when Pujols was starting a big league career that right now seems destined for Cooperstown, Britton said Pujols had taught him a valuable lesson.
"I should have just taken Pujols and seen if we could have signed him," Britton said. "I decided after that that I'd never pass up a player in the lower rounds because he said he wouldn't sign."
Despite letting Pujols get away, Britton did make an astute late-round choice by grabbing Dallas Baptist outfielder Lew Ford in the 12th round. In subsequent drafts, he signed Freddy Sanchez in the 11th round in 2000 and Kevin Youkilis in the eighth round in 2001.
Britton, replaced as scouting director after the Red Sox changed ownership in 2002, has spent the last two years as a crosschecker with the Yankees.
Bay Just Needed A Chance
Before launching his Rookie of the Year candidacy with the Pirates this year, Jason Bay bounced from the Expos to the Mets to the Padres, getting traded for the likes of Lou Collier and Steve Reed. He had a hard time finding a home, and an even harder time getting drafted.
He was eligible for the draft every year from 1996-99 and had consistent success in high school, junior college and college, but never got selected. Bay won the West Coast Conference batting title with a .388-15-47 senior season at Gonzaga in 2000, but he still attracted little attention.
Fortunately for him, Expos area scout Scott Goldby asked regional crosschecker Dave Malpass to check out Washington State outfielder Jason Grove. Grove went 4-for-11 in three games against Gonzaga, showing the offensive skills that would get him drafted in the third round by the Yankees.
Bay outdid Grove, however, going 8-for-14 with two homers, a double and a stolen base. He didn't overwhelm Goldby and Malpass, but he did grow on them. They talked each other into turning him in as a possible pick.
The first day of the 2000 draft passed with Bay once again getting overlooked. When the 22nd round came around, the Expos needed an outfielder to fill a hole at short-season Vermont. They decided to take Bay, one of the better draft picks in recent years—even if they have little to show for it.
Sleepers From Arizona
One of my favorite events on the baseball calendar is First Pitch Arizona, the annual fantasy symposium staged by Baseball HQ's Ron Shandler. Besides all the baseball talk, the gathering provides the opportunity to check out Arizona Fall League action.
Here are five sleepers who have attracted scouts' attention this fall:
• Reds righthander Todd Coffey. A 41st-round pick out of high school in 1998, he missed all of 2000 with a strained elbow and didn't get out of Rookie ball until 2002. Coffey put together a 64-6 strikeout-walk ratio in 59 innings in the upper minors this year, and his fastball has ranged from 91-96 mph in Arizona. His breaking ball is decent, too.
• Mets first baseman Brett Harper. The son of former big league catcher Brian Harper, Brett went even lower in the draft than Coffey. A 45th-round selection in 2000, he signed as a draft-and-follow out of Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College in 2001. He hit just five homers in his first three pro seasons, but bashed 16 in 2004 and has some of the best raw power in the AFL.
• Mets righthander Matt Lindstrom. Because he went on a two-year Mormon mission, Lindstrom was 22 when he signed as a 10th-round pick out of Ricks (Idaho) Junior College in 2002. While he always has been old for his level and has yet to graduate past Class A, his control improved significantly this year. He threw more strikes without compromising the velocity on his fastball, which touched 97 in Arizona, and his slider has made strides as well.
• Dodgers catcher Russell Martin. A converted third baseman drafted in the 17th round in 2002, Martin has adapted quickly behind the plate. He can gun throws down to second base in 1.85 seconds, and he offers power and plate discipline as well.
• Dodgers righthander Steve Schmoll. Los Angeles signed Schmoll in 2003 as a fifth-year senior out of Maryland, where he set the season and career strikeout records. A sidewinder, Schmoll hides the ball well, making his 88-92 mph fastball seem faster. He also has good command, and could move quickly after posting a 1.81 ERA this year.
You can reach Jim Callis by sending e-mail to email@example.com.