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Handicapping The First Round

By Jim Callis
June 4, 2002

With the Pirates ready to make the first overall selection in the 2002 first-year player draft, the picture for the first round is starting to come into clearer focus, at least compared to Monday morning.

Bryan Bullington
Photo: Stan Denny
Pittsburgh tried to get Ball State righthander Bryan Bullington to accept a $4 million predraft deal, but was rebuffed. Similar efforts to come to terms with Virginia high school shortstop B.J. Upton and then Canadian prep lefthander Adam Loewen also failed.

That put the Pirates back where they started. They now will take Bullington and let the negotiations unfold as they may. There's also word that the Bullington camp (he's advised by IMG) was backing off its reported asking price of $6 million and that the teams might be able to reach an agreement relatively quickly.

In other draft news, an MRI exam on Rutgers righthander Bobby Brownlie revealed no looseness or damage to his labrum or rotator cuff, ending rumors that were swirling around the scouting community. Brownlie's struggles down the stretch apparently were caused by nothing more serious than biceps tendinitis and a bruise above the humerus bone. However, it's still uncertain where the player once rated as the draft's top prospect is going to fit in the first round.

Here's our updated look at how the first round will unfold on Tuesday:

1. Pirates. Owner Kevin McClatchy prefers a college prospect over a riskier high school choice, even if the consensus three best talents in this draft are from the prep ranks. Coming back to Bullington after their search for a predraft deal proved fruitless made sense, because no other college player merits going No. 1. Virginia Tech lefthander Joe Saunders is mentioned as a second college choice, but he would be a reach this high. Projected Pick: Bryan Bullington.

2. Devil Rays. Tampa Bay has one of the worst financial situations among major league franchises yet won't be deterred by Upton turning down the Pirates. If money were the chief concern, the Devil Rays might turn to Georgia high school outfielder Jeremy Hermida, but that's not expected to be the case. Projected Pick: B.J. Upton.

3. Reds. The Cincinnati organization is split right down the middle on whether to take Texas high school lefthander Scott Kazmir or California prep righty Chris Gruler. Kazmir's price tag is considerably higher than Gruler's, and this decision is expected to go down to the wire, with general manager Jim Bowden casting the deciding vote for Kazmir. Projected Pick: Scott Kazmir.

4. Orioles. Baltimore was thought to prefer a bat and be zeroing in on Hermida entering last weekend. But now the Orioles may go with a pitcher, preferring Loewen and also looking at Gruler. If they revert to a position player, it will come down to Hermida and Missouri high school outfielder John Mayberry Jr. Projected Pick: Adam Loewen.

5. Expos. Word is Montreal is leaning toward righthander Clint Everts, Kazmir's teammate. However, New Jersey-based scouting director Dana Brown may be tempted by local product Brownlie, which could set up some interesting negotiations with Brownlie adviser Scott Boras. And if Bullington didn't go No. 1, the Expos would snatch him here. Projected Pick: Clint Everts.

6. Royals. Kansas City would love the opportunity to choose either Loewen or Kazmir, but that probably won't happen. If Bullington somehow got past the Pirates and Expos, he'd be a consideration. But the Royals are most likely to wind up with Florida high school righthander Zack Greinke. Mayberry, whose father starred for Kansas City in the 1970s, once was high on the team's list but isn't any longer. Projected Pick: Zack Greinke.

7. Brewers. A hot weekend rumor was that because Milwaukee gave draft-and-follow Manny Parra a seven-figure bonus, it would have to go cheap with the seventh pick and would take Clemson senior shortstop Khalil Greene. That's apparently unfounded, as the Brewers say their 2002 draft budget won't be affected by Parra's signing. Gruler would be the best player available on the consensus draft board, but Florida high school slugger Prince Fielder put two balls into Miller Park's upper deck during a weekend workout. Special-assignment scout Bill Lajoie also has fond memories of Prince's father Cecil from his days as Tigers GM. California prep infielder Scott Moore, doesn't have Fielder's power but would be a safer position-player pick. Projected Pick: Chris Gruler.

8. Tigers. Detroit was another team associated with Fielder but seems to have backed off him. The Tigers were interested in Stanford righthander Jeremy Guthrie, but the Boras client's $5 million asking price will have them look in another direction. They might take Gruler if he's available, but likely will have to choose between Hermida and Moore. Projected Pick: Scott Moore.

9. Rockies. At times in the last three days, Colorado thought it might be able to get Bullington with the ninth pick. That won't happen. There were rumors Monday that they offered Clemson third baseman Jeff Baker, a Boras client whose stock is dropping, a $2.4 million deal, but the Rockies insist that didn't happen. They're going to pursue a discount, with Florida high school outfielder Denard Span the most likely candidate. Because Span was an all-state wide receiver, his bonus can be spread over five years per draft rules pertaining to two-sport players. Greene and University of British Columbia lefthander Jeff Francis are two other possibilities. Projected Pick: Denard Span.

10. Rangers. Texas gave up its second- through fifth-round picks to sign free agents Chan Ho Park, Juan Gonzalez, Todd Van Poppel and Jay Powell, so this one has to count. New scouting director Grady Fuson always preferred college picks while he was with the Athletics, and that won't change. The Rangers are expected to add another Boras client to their stable, taking Guthrie over Brownlie. South Carolina shortstop Drew Meyer would be a cheaper fallback option. Projected Pick: Jeremy Guthrie.

11. Marlins. The new Florida regime says it will spend money on draft picks, just like it did in Montreal while cutting costs elsewhere. That would seem to end talk that the Marlins would sign Texas high school outfielder Brent Clevlen to a predraft deal below slot value. Florida is picking in a fortuitious spot, as it figures to have one blue-chip prospect fall here. The best bet is Hermida, with Greinke and Gruler also possibilities. Projected Pick: Jeremy Hermida.

12. Angels. Anaheim was all over Moore early, but its interest has cooled and it will look elsewhere even if he's available. If the Angels opt for an arm they'll take Saunders, and if they go for a bat they'll choose Florida high school third baseman Matt Whitney. Projected Pick: Joe Saunders.

13. Padres. San Diego has the best feel for local high school lefthander Cole Hamels. At least one team considers Hamels the best pitcher in the draft, but he broke the humerus bone in his left arm as a sophomore and several clubs consider him a medical risk. The Padres' team doctor performed the surgery on Hamels and has cleared the team to take him, but San Diego prefers a collegian. Though the Padres are loaded with hitting prospects, that won't preclude them from taking Greene. Projected Pick: Khalil Greene.

14. Blue Jays. New GM J.P. Ricciardi is another Oakland disciple, so Toronto will go the college route. Francis, once a possibility for the Pirates at No. 1, makes a lot of sense for a pitching-starved, Canadian-based franchise. He'll get the nod over North Carolina second baseman Russ Adams and Kentucky righthander Joe Blanton. Projected Pick: Jeff Francis.

15. Mets. New York has an outside chance at landing one of two pitchers its covets, Everts or Saunders. Most likely, both will be gone and the Mets will have to go in a different direction and look at the thin crop of college position players. Ohio State outfielder Nick Swisher, whose father Steve was a 1973 White Sox first-round pick, will get the nod over Adams and Meyer. Projected Pick: Nick Swisher.

16. Athletics. Oakland has seven picks before the second round begins and will have to keep an eye on its modest budget. There are reports that the Athletics will take only college prospects with their first 10 choices, with the possible exceptions of Moore and Washington high school lefthander Jon Lester. Oakland definitely will stick with collegians in the first round, and the three position players it likes the most are Adams, Swisher and Greene. After fearing that they'd lose Adams to the Blue Jays, the A's will be quite pleased to get the player they targeted weeks ago. Projected Pick: Russ Adams.

17. Phillies. Looking for a future replacement for pending free agent Scott Rolen, Philadelphia has been monitoring Whitney closely for weeks. Unless Gruler somehow slides this far, the Phillies are expected to stick with Whitney. Hamels or Mayberry also could prove tempting. Projected Pick: Matt Whitney.

18. White Sox. Chicago likes college pitchers and that's not expected to change in 2002. Blanton is the leading candidate, with lefthanders Luke Hagerty (Bullington's Ball State teammate) and Francis also in the mix. Projected Pick: Joe Blanton.

19. Dodgers. Los Angeles will grab a high school position player here. Mayberry is a consensus better prospect over the other candidates (Span, Fielder, Whitney and Moore) who could be available. California high school lefthander Greg Miller is a possibility at No. 31 with the top sandwich pick. Projected Pick: John Mayberry Jr.

20. Twins. The top player left on Minnesota's draft board when it picks 20th figures to be a high school pitcher, most likely Hamels. There's a very slim chance Everts, whom the Twins adore, might drop this far. Minnesota at one time seemed focused on Span, but that was before the Rockies decided to take him. Clevlen, Lester and Oklahoma high school first baseman Corey Shafer also have been associated with the Twins. Projected Pick: Cole Hamels.

21. Cubs. Chicago is one of the tougher teams to figure and compounding that task is the fact that the club also has three sandwich picks at Nos. 32, 36 and 38. Among the possible scenarios is that the Cubs will: take multiple Scott Boras clients; opt for some college seniors to save money; choose a catcher to address the system's greatest weakness. Chicago wasn't afraid to spend $10.5 million on Mark Prior a year ago and could bail out Brownlie if he slides as expected. Other names mentioned at No. 21: Mayberry, Span, Francis and Blanton. In the sandwich round, possibilities include Texas high school righthander Mark McCormick, Wake Forest righthanded reliever Dave Bush and Georgia prep catcher Brian McCann. San Diego State righthander Rory Shortell is another potential sandwich choice. Projected Pick: Bobby Brownlie.

22. Indians. Cleveland wants the awesome raw power of Fielder, whose body (he has carried 300 pounds on his 6-foot frame) scares several teams. If Fielder doesn't go to the Brewers at No. 7, the Indians may get their wish. They had some interest in Georgia high school outfielder Jeff Francouer, a top defensive back recruit by Clemson, until Francouer's camp announced a $4 million asking price Monday. California prep infielder Sergio Santos is a contingency if Fielder isn't available and could be Clevleand's sandwich pick at No. 33. Projected Pick: Prince Fielder.

23. Braves. Atlanta's appreciation for homestate prospects is no secret. They covet Hermida, who won't get past the Marlins. Their next choice would have been Francouer until his bonus demands exceeded what the Braves are looking to pay. Georgia high school righthander Micah Owings and McCann also are on Atlanta's list, but they make more sense with Atlanta's sandwich pick at No. 34. So the Braves will look beyond the Peach State at Hagerty or Meyer. Projected Pick: Luke Hagerty.

24. Athletics. If Swisher or Greene were still on the board, Oakland would take them. With those two hitters gone, the Athletics will start grabbing college pitchers. Their preferred list for the first round includes Francis, Blanton, Hagerty, Nevada righthander Darrell Rasner and San Diego State lefty reliever Royce Ring. Projected Pick: Darrell Rasner.

25. Giants. San Francisco has shown interest in Rasner, Villanova righthander Brian Slocum and Nevada high school righty Kevin Jepsen. As the draft drew closer, the Giants appeared to be moving toward Fresno State righthander/catcher Ben Fritz. Projected Pick: Ben Fritz.

26. Athletics. Sticking with its college plan, Oakland could take another pitcher here before pursuing several hitters. Projected Pick: Royce Ring.

27. Diamondbacks. This is one of the more uncertain picks in the first round. Arizona likes college pitching, but targets Blanton and Hagerty probably won't be around any longer. Northeast Texas CC righthander Derick Grigsby and Cal State Northridge lefthander Bill Murphy might be overdrafts at No. 27, so the Diamondbacks could go for a higher-ceiling position player like Meyer or possibly North Carolina high school righthander Jason Neighbrgall. Neighborgall may have the best stuff of any pitcher in the draft, but a price tag in excess of $4 million has scared off teams. Projected Pick: Drew Meyer.

28. Mariners. Seattle is capable of making stunning selections—remember Michael Garciaparra at No. 36 last year—but may go more conventional to start off its 2002 draft. Fritz and Meyer are on the Mariners' short list, but they're getting more enamored of local product Lester. Projected Pick: Jon Lester.

29. Astros. Houston plays the draft as close to the vest as any club. Reports were circulating as the draft approached that the Astros were nearing an agreement with Texas high school lefthander James Loney. They've also had success with Nevada pitchers, so don't rule out Rasner or Jepsen. Short, hard-throwing righthanders also have worked for Houston, which could mean they'd go for Grigsby. Projected Pick: James Loney.

30. Athletics. There's little agreement on the top catcher in the draft, but Houston's Chris Snyder can make as good a case as anyone. He's one of several college hitters Oakland will look at here and at Nos. 35, 37 and 39. Others include Maryland infielder John McCurdy, Clemson first baseman Michael Johnson and Notre Dame outfielder Brian Stavisky. Harvard righthander Ben Crockett is a lock to go to the A's with the 39th choice. Projected Pick: Chris Snyder.

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