BOSTON -- Indications are that the Orioles will alter their pattern in at least one regard when baseball holds its annual free-agent draft on Monday.
Despite the fact they have leaned heavily toward pitchers in the last four years (Chris Myers, Pete Harnisch, Anthony Telford, Gregg Olson, Ben McDonald and Mike Mussina), it is very possible the Orioles will make a pitcher their No. 1 pick for the fifth straight year.
The difference this year could be that instead of going to the college ranks, as they have the last three years, the Orioles will use their top pick to take a high school player. If Baseball America is right in its predictions, and the national publication has an excellent track record, then the Orioles will select lefthander Shawn Estes of Douglas High School in Minden, Nev.
The Orioles' biggest need is for position players, but eight of Baseball America's top 13 prospects are pitchers. Based on an inverse order of last year's finish, the Orioles will draft in the ninth position. "The draft this year leans toward high school players," said one major-league executive, "and they [the Orioles] should have their pick of a couple of good looking players."
There are two high school outfielders who will draw attention from the Orioles if they are available -- Dimitri Young, from Los Angeles, and Al Shirley, of Danville, Va. Doug Glanville, a speedy centerfielder from the University of Pennsylvania, is another possibility.
Besides Estes, there are two other pitchers who could draw interest if they are still around -- righthanders Kenny Henderson, from Ringgold (Ga.) High School, and Tyler Green, of Wichita State.
The Yankees are expected to take lefthander Brien Taylor (EasCarteret HS in North Carolina) with the first pick and Arizona State outfielder Mike Kelly will go to Atlanta if the Braves are willing to pay his $750,000 asking price.
Among those not expected to be available to the Orioles irighthander Joey Hamilton of Georgia Southern, who pitched for Johnny's, the nationally known amateur team in Baltimore.
And if the Orioles want to continue their Stanford tradition, firsbaseman David McCarty is one of the draft's most intriguing prospects.
* REMEMBERING RAY: Remember Ray Miller, who succeeded George Bamberger as the Orioles' pitching coach and helped continue the tradition of excellence? He ran into some problems as manager at Minnesota, where he rubbed some people the wrong way because they thought he was being solicitous when he thought he was trying to be helpful.
He also may have made the common mistake of trying to be "players' manager." That always seems to happen with young managers.
Well, Ray, as Pittsburgh's pitching coach, has been back doinwhat he does best for a few years now and he's doing just fine thank you. Despite all that turmoil in the spring, the Pirates are back on another roll, and the unheralded pitching staff is a primary reason. Check out this statistic: In their last 92 innings, the Pirates have not allowed a home run.
And the pitchers no doubt are wearing T-shirts that bear thMiller credo: "Throw Strikes, Change Speeds, Work Fast."
* SPEAKING OF SUCH THINGS: Dennis Eckersley doesn't worry much about changing speeds, but he works fast automatically by throwing strikes. Despite the fact he took some lumps early, Eckersley still has managed a dozen saves for the A's.
And get this -- the next walk he issues will be the first this yeafor Eckersley. He hasn't walked a batter since last Sept. 16, and you can be assured the pass to Minnesota's Kent Hrbek was semi-intentional.
* OVERHEARD IN THE DUGOUT: One veteran American League pitcher has taken note of the latest wrinkle in Cal Ripken's offensive game.
"I hope he keeps up this bunting kick he's on," said the pitcherwho shall remain anonymous. "I hope he bunts every time he faces me. Infact, I'll tell the third baseman to play back in leftfield. He's such a great player that he's doing me a favor every time he bunts."
Ripken has three bunt singles so far, but all but one of his fivattempts have come as a leadoff hitter when the Orioles were behind by more than a run. Bunting is not a new weapon for the All-Star shortstop, who is off to the best start of his career, just one that has been displayed more often this season.
* COURTESY TRAINING: New ballparks tend to spur this kind othinking, so the Orioles no doubt have taken note. Before the opening of the new Comiskey Park, the White Sox sent Rob Gallas, their marketing guru, to the Florida school for employees of the Walt Disney theme parks.
The idea in this day and age of fancy salaries, ticket prices anluxury boxes is to pamper the customer.
In that regard all the ballparks would do well to copy AnaheiStadium, which sits practically in the shadow of Disneyland and where every customer is greeted as a guest.
* FERNANDOMANIA II: After signing Fernando Valenzuela to a minor-league contract, Angels general manager Dan O'Brien admitted the club did so on the lefthander's reputation.
"We didn't see him throw," said O'Brien. "We didn't have to. We have no doubt he can be successful."
But if there is no doubt Fernando will be successful, why did it take the Angels almost two months to sign him, and why did all the other teams pass? Just asking.
Here's a scouting report from one observer (this one) after Valenzuela's final exhibition outing of the spring: He didn't throw any harder, or any better, than Jim Palmer.
* THIS 'N THAT: Cincinnati reliever Rob Dibble (12-for-12 in save opportunities) has obviously had a positive effect on Randy Myers, who has allowed only one run in 14 innings his last 10 games.
Ryne Sandberg has hit 181 home runs as a second baseman, sixth on the all-time list. Joe Morgan is the position leader with 266, well within Sandberg's range.
Ruben Sierra, who is only 25 years old, has 317 extra-base hits, which ties him with Toby Harrah for the Texas Rangers' club record.