ROSEMONT,ILL. — ROSEMONT, Ill. -- The Orioles today took a calculated risk, releasing pitcher "Texas" Mike Smith to clear a roster spot for the major-league draft. But their plans were foiled when Minnesota took the player they wanted, Class A outfielder Pat Howell.
Ignoring the other players left unprotected, the Orioles then passed at their turn. It was the first time in four years they did not make a selection in the draft. Afterward, club president Larry Lucchino approached general manager Roland Hemond and cried, "Damn it!"
Lucchino was only half-serious. Smith, 27, is not considered a major loss, and a source said the Orioles have a good chance of re-signing him if he clears waivers on Thursday. That much is expected; the Orioles were unable to trade Smith, a hard thrower who has spent most of the past two years at Triple A.
Howell, 22, is a switch-hitter who batted .264 and stole 79 bases for the New York Mets' Class A Columbia (S.C.) affiliate last season. The Twins must offer him back to the Mets for half his $50,000 draft price if he does not remain on their roster the entire 1991 season.
That clearly is a possibility, but it's a chance the Orioles also were willing to take. In fact, they were so confident they would land Howell, they prepared a press release announcing his selection. But after the first three clubs passed, the Twins made Howell the first overall pick.
"He's crude as hell," Twins general manager Andy MacPhail said, "but he can run like hell."
Orioles farm director Doug Melvin agreed: "He has great running speed. Vince Coleman-type running speed."
The teams drafted in reverse order of finish, with the two leagues alternating. The Orioles picked 10th even though they won only two more games than the Twins last season. Informed he upset the Orioles' plans, MacPhail said, "Oh good, I didn't know that. I'm glad to hear that."
Two years ago the Orioles took Smith in the same draft after releasing outfielder Jeff Stone.