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Draft projections turn into chaos

By Jim Callis
June 3, 2002

We promised you an updated mock first round on the morning before the first-year player draft begins. Instead, we offer you chaos.

The Pirates hold the No. 1 overall choice in the June 4-5 draft, and as of Thursday had zeroed in on Ball State righthander Bryan Bullington. As a courtesy, they informed the teams picking second (Devil Rays) and third (Reds) of their intention.

The next step for Pittsburgh was trying to get Bullington to agree to bonus parameters before Tuesday. And that’s where the top of the draft has begun to fall apart.

Several sources have told Baseball America that Bullington, who is being advised by IMG, declined to accept a $4 million bonus offer from the Pirates over the weekend. Pittsburgh reportedly was told that any predraft agreement would have to start at $6 million.

The Pirates then made an identical $4 million proposal to their second choice, Virginia high school shortstop B.J. Upton. Upton, advised by Larry Reynolds, apparently turned that down as well.

Pittsburgh, which had narrowed its focus for the No. 1 pick to Bullington, Upton and Canadian prep lefthander Adam Loewen, talked to Loewen’s camp today and the Pirates reportedly were turned down again. The Pirates are now expected to reconsider Bullington or turn to Virginia Tech lefthander Joe Saunders as a fallback source.

Tampa Bay also is seeking to come to terms before the draft with its pick. The Devil Rays have been expected to take Upton, though his decision to rebuff the Pirates may affect that choice as well. However, because Upton was a promising college football prospect, the team that signs him can take advantage of draft rules for two-sport players and spread his bonus over a five-year period without having to give him a major league contract.

Cincinnati has zeroed in on a pair of high school pitchers, California righthander Chris Gruler and Texas lefty Scott Kazmir. The majority of Reds officials are believed to prefer Gruler, but Kazmir has general manager Jim Bowden, scouting director Kasey McKeon and assistant scouting director Johnny Almaraz in his corner.

Kazmir flew to Cincinnati to throw a bullpen session in front of Reds brass on Sunday, two days after Gruler worked out for the club. Word quickly spread threw baseball that Kazmir threw lights out, not much of a surprise considering he did so throughout the high school season. But Kazmir and his adviser, Brian Peters, left town without coming to an agreement with the Reds.

Though the Kazmir camp may be seeking a deal similar to the one another Texas high school phenom, Josh Beckett, got from the Marlins as the No. 2 pick in 1999–a major league contract worth $7 million, including a $3.625 million bonus–that may not deter Cincinnati. Bowden hasn’t been afraid to draw a negotiating line in the stand and stick to in the past.

In 1999, the Reds barely budged on their initial offer to first-round pick Ty Howington, and waited most of the summer before signing him for $1.75 million. The next year, they took two Scott Boras clients who were considered tough signs, and landed both David Espinosa and Dane Sardinha with creative major league deals that included no up-front bonus money. Last year, Cincinnati failed to sign first-round pick Jeremy Sowers, who’s now at Vanderbilt.

With the fourth pick, the Orioles have been expected to take Georgia high school outfielder Jeremy Hermida. Those plans could change, however, if Upton or Loewen is available. There’s also an outside possibility that Baltimore could take a college lefthander with their top pick for the second straight year, following Cumberland’s Chris Smith in 2001 with either Saunders or the University of British Columbia’s Jeff Francis.

At No. 5, the Expos are believed to be trying to work out a predraft agreement with righthander Clint Everts, Kazmir’s teammate at Cypress Falls High in Houston. Everts, who is advised by Reynolds, shouldn’t be a difficult sign because if he doesn’t go fifth it’s unlikely that he would go before the Mets pick at 15th or the Twins choose at 20th. But Montreal would prefer to take a college pitcher and indications are that they would jump on Bullington if he were available. There is also a possibility they could settle on Rutgers righthander Bobby Brownlie, a player they had targeted until concerns grew over the seriousness of an arm problem.

Today promises to be hectic for scouting directors and their teams as they try to find partners for tomorrow’s draft dance. As soon as things start to settle, we’ll deliver that updated mock first round, either tonight or first thing Tuesday morning.

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