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Marlins agree to terms with Gonzalez

By Mike Berardino

Adrian Gonzalez
Photo: Wagner Photography

FORT LAUDERDALE--The Marlins will take high school first baseman Adrian Gonzalez with the top pick in Monday's draft, several baseball sources confirmed.

Gonzalez, who starred at Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, Calif., has agreed to a $3 million signing bonus, sources said. That figure represents a nearly 25 percent rollback from the bonus the Devil Rays paid last year's No. 1 pick, outfielder Josh Hamilton, and reverses a long-running inflationary trend at the top of the draft.

Neither Marlins scouting director Al Avila nor Gonzalez' adviser John Boggs would confirm the agreement. But Boggs did allow that the Marlins "definitely like Adrian. They like his whole makeup."

Boggs also stressed the player's willingness to sign quickly.

"Money is not the driving factor here," said Boggs, who represents Padres star Tony Gwynn. "The family wants this young man to get on with his career. They're saying, 'Let's go.' They're not looking at robbing the bank today because they know their son isn't really a major league ballplayer."

Baseball rules prohibit predraft deals, but there's no precedent for penalty. The Astros reached a predraft agreement in 1992 with third baseman Phil Nevin but faced no disciplinary action, and less prominent deals are reported every year.

After giving $7 million and a big league contract to Texas high school righthander Josh Beckett last summer, the cash-strapped Marlins were determined to avoid another protracted (and expensive) negotiation. The Gonzalez deal marks the first time since the Nevin signing that the bonus for the No. 1 pick was lower than the previous year's.

Scouts say Gonzalez, a San Diego State signee, is an exceptionally smooth fielder with the best pure swing among this year's high school crop. His defense has drawn comparisons to Mark Grace, while his lefthanded bat reminds some of a young Rafael Palmeiro. Gonzalez, playing in an inferior league about 10 miles from the Mexican border, hit .645 with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs as a senior.

Gonzalez is viewed as a compromise pick in a draft class considered the most muddled in recent memory. Several of the Marlins' top scouts were divided in their recommendations.

The other finalists included San Diego high school catcher Scott Heard; Palmdale, Calif., high school righthander Matt Harrington and Hanover, Penn., high school lefty Mark Phillips. Heard, once considered the frontrunner, was the runner-up after struggling to a .287 batting average this season.

Gonzalez becomes just the second first baseman taken with the top pick in the draft's 36-year history. Ron Blomberg, taken by the Yankees in 1967, was the other. He later earned the distinction as the first DH in big league history.

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