Pirates look forward to kicking off draft
May 29, 2002
PITTSBURGHEd Creech hasnt had a lot of sleep this spring, and thats a trend that figures to continue until draft day.
Creech is in his first season as the Pirates scouting director, and to welcome him to the job he got the No. 1 overall pick. So he has been crisscrossing the United States and making trips into Canada in search of players.
"Theres been a lot of 4 a.m. wakeup calls," Creech said with a laugh. "By the time the draft rolls around, I will have personally scouted between 100-150 amateur players this spring. We have our scouts out in the field working hard. We realize this a big year for us and we want to be as prepared as we can possibly be."
No single player had emerged as a clear-cut No. 1 choice, unlike 1996 when the Pirates knew as early as February they would use the top pick on Clemson righthander Kris Benson.
"Its been a real mishmash of people all spring that weve considered with the No. 1 pick," said Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield, who replaced Cam Bonifay last July. "It really doesnt appear to be the best year to have the first pick because nobody has jumped out as that clear-cut No. 1."
While the focus is on the No. 1 pick, Creech is excited about the entire draft.
"What people tend to forget is we also get to pick at the top of all the other rounds, too," he said. "We have an opportunity to bring a lot of quality players into our organization this year. Thats why were out there looking at as many players as possible.
Still, Creech realizes how special the No. 1 pick is.
"For a scouting director, the draft is like what Christmas morning is for kids," Creech said. "You wait all year and you finally get to open your presents. Having that No. 1 pick means you get to open your presents first."
Upton enjoys ride to top of draft
So how does life at the top look for phenom B.J. Upton? The only way it could get any better is if someone handed him a major league contract today.
He might not have to wait long for that wish to come true. Upton is a shortstop for a small private school in southern Virginia, but he still has up to a dozen scouts eyeballing him every time he takes the field. Hes only 17, but hes a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
Pressure, you say? What pressure? Theres no such thing when playing the game comes as easily as it does for the 6-foot-3, 180-pound Upton.
"Actually, its gotten easier along the way," Upton said. "I still feel like I have to do the best job I can every game. Theres definitely room for improvement. I know theyre looking at little things I can do now."
Through 26 games at Greenbrier Christian Academy in Chesapeake, Va., Upton was hitting .614 (43-for-70) with 10 home runs, 47 RBIs, 51 runs and 21 stolen bases. He had struck out two times all season.
On the mound, he was 4-0, 0.48 with a save to go along with 48 strikeouts and nine walks in 29 innings. His team was undefeated and steaming toward its ninth state title in 11 seasons.
Perhaps the statistic Upton is most proud of has nothing to do with swatting long drives or blazing fastballs past opposing hitters. He had committed just four errorstwo fielding and two throwingdown from 19 in his junior year.
Junior Vizcaino, a regional crosschecker for the Royals, first saw Upton play as a 12-year-old. He knew Upton was special even at that young age, and his impression hasnt changed much over the years.
"He does everything you want in a big league player," said Vizcaino, who has seen Upton play twice this season. "Hes a five-tool player, plain and simple. He can play the game. Since he produces offensively from a defensive position, thats an added bonus."
Is it No. 1 pick or bust for Upton? No, but he wont be intimidated if the Pirates want to take him. Besides, he kind of likes the perspective from the top of the heap.
"Id really like to be the No. 1 pick, but teams are going to pick what they need," Upton said. "If Im the No. 1 shortstop taken, Ill be happy."
As Prepare To Pick (And Pick)
OAKLANDWith seven of the first 39 picks, the Athletics have looked forward to this draft for months.
"Its like having four drafts," general manager Billy Beane said. "Its pretty unique. Its not going to be cheap, but its going to be fun."
As soon as the As knew they would be getting six compensation pickstwo apiece for the free-agent losses of Jason Giambi, Jason Isringhausen and Johnny Damonthey have been planning their budget for what they know will be a pricey endeavor.
The As picks are Nos. 16, 24, 26, 30, 35, 37 and 39. The seven players drafted in those spots last year signed for a total of $7.8 million. The As will try to keep the costs down by drafting players who wont be looking for record-setting bonuses.
"The picks dont do you any good unless you sign them," Beane said. "You want to make sure you sign them all. We probably will continue with our previous philosophy, sticking with college players because they are more signable; there is a little less risk."
The clubs trend over the past five years or so has been to go for more polished college players, avoiding tools players, particularly when those are high schoolers.
Beane said this years draft crop is particularly rich in high school players, which could benefit the As if those players push the good college players down to the second half of the first round.
The As hold the biggest collection of picks in this years draft, but other clubs have had similar bonanzas in the recent past. The Indians replenished their farm system with five of the first 51 picks last year, failing only to sign first-round righthander Alan Horne.
In 1999, the Orioles had seven of the first 50 selections, while the Padres made six of the first 49 selections. And in 1997, the Expos had eight of the first 52 selections. Only righthander T.J. Tucker from that haul has played in the big leagues so far.
Because this is such an important draft for the organization, Beane has been doing a little extra scouting himself to help out first-year scouting director Eric Kubota. Beane said he was planning to attend the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conference tournaments.
Kubota sees the draft as a golden opportunity, but he admitted there is more pressure to make the right choices with such a collection of picks.
"Its kind of a catch-22," he said. "But if we do our job right, we are going to get a lot of good players."
Fuson Deals With Pressure
DALLASGrady Fusons shoes are not real comfortable these days, and it has nothing to do with trying to wear boots now that he has joined the Rangers.
Instead, the pinch comes from the situation presented the assistant general manager as he prepares for his first draft in Texas. Fuson has been hailed as the savior of the player-development system since leaving his scouting directors post with the Athletics, but circumstances are against him this year:
After making the 10th overall selection in the draft, he has no more picks until the sixth round because of all the free agents the Rangers signed. For a time, the Rangers sixth-round choice was in question because of the signing of Dan Miceli, but Major League Baseball did not award the pick to the Rockies as compensation.
He is expected to find starting pitching, but when the Rangers pick there might not be a college starter Fuson is comfortable taking that high.
He is trying to restock a farm system for an organization that didnt have a second- or third-round pick last year, didnt sign its fourth- or ninth-round choices and lost its 10th-rounder to retirement after one season.
"This is like any job," Fuson said on his ever-present cell phone from Virginia, where he was looking at more players. "Sure, there is pressure. There is pressure to get a big league player with that first pick, but thats part of the job. The job is about trying to make the right call and not worrying about the pressures."
In Oakland, Fuson made his reputation by drafting the heart of a great, young rotationTim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. All were college pitchers.
He brings the same philosophy to the Rangers, with one caveat: He wont force the issue. If Fuson isnt enamored of the available talent, he could go with a position player. Thats what the Rangers did last June, bypassing pitching for Mark Teixeira.
If Fuson goes for college pitching, the choices might come down to Stanford righthander Jeremy Guthrie or Rutgers righthander Bobby Brownlie, both of whom are represented by Scott Boras. The Rangers are on Boras frequent-client plan, with 10 of his players in the organization.
Other possibilities include lefties Joe Saunders of Virginia Tech and Jeff Francis of the University of British Columbia. If Fuson breaks away from the college-pitcher plan, he might opt for Houston high schooler Clint Everts, a righthander.
"If all things are equal, I like to take college pitchers in the first two rounds," Fuson said. "But that doesnt always mean you force taking the college pitcher over a high school pitcher. My concern with high school pitchers is that there is just major, major risk involved, from injuries to making adjustments.
"If, as a staff, we dont feel that good about the pitching, then weve got to put ourselves in position to take a position player who is going to help us. Thats what the Rangers did last year, and that was the right call."
This time its Fusons call.
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