Orioles take USC outfielder Smith Yankees use top pick to get prep pitcher

June 04, 1991|By Kent Baker

A shriek of delight came from the next room where the Baltimore Orioles just had named their first pick in the free-agent amateur draft.

Choosing ninth in the opening round, the Orioles picked right-handed-hitting outfielder Mark Smith of Southern California, a player they said they didn't believe would be available that late.

"We're very pleased to get this player," said Orioles scouting director Gary Nickels. "We had hopes he might be there for us."

Earlier, the New York Yankees had gone the predicted route and made left-handed pitcher Brien Taylor of Beaufort, N.C., the first pick.

Taylor, 19, blossomed the last two months into a pitcher whose 90-mph fastball struck out 172 opponents in 73 innings. He had an 0.68 ERA.

"He was very impressive," said Yankees vice president Brian Sabean. "He throws 90 at the knees, and there's not many pitchers recently who have done that. In fact, there's not many big-leaguers who can do that."

With their first No. 1 selection since Ron Blomberg in 1967, the Yankees passed on Arizona State outfielder Mike Kelly, the early front-runner. Kelly went to the Atlanta Braves, who picked second.

Baseball America, a publication considered the authority on the draft, had projected that Smith would go to Minnesota Twins, who chose third overall. But the Twins chose slugging first baseman David McCarty of Stanford, and four other teams passed on Smith.

"I'm surprised. I didn't think the Orioles would draft me," said Smith, via a telephone hookup from California.

"There are a lot of predictions you hear, like on ESPN, but you know those aren't set, but I'm excited, I'm ready to go out and play."

The Orioles may have to wait awhile for Smith, who batted .336, hit 16 home runs and drove in 80 runs in 64 games with the Trojans while becoming an All-American this season.

He is considering playing for Team USA, which starts tryouts next week in Tennessee, on the international circuit, which means he probably wouldn't be available to the Orioles until early fall.

But Smith sounds eager to play professionally and said one of the corporate lawyers in his father's firm (Dr. John Douglas Smith is a cancer surgeon) probably will represent him.

"I'm going to try out for Team USA, and I'll play until I get my contract signed," Smith said. "I feel I can play right now, and I'm looking to advance as quickly as I can. I'm optimistic it can be worked out."

One statistic that supports him is a .408 batting average in the Cape Cod League for college players last summer. That is the highest since the league returned to wooden bats six years ago.

Smith has been likened to Tom Brunansky and Kevin McReynolds and is seen as a right fielder in the majors because of a strong throwing arm.

"They see me as a guy who really doesn't have very many holes," he said. "Good average, good power, good defense.

"I think it's going to help that I've played in an area where there are so many good schools. Everybody throws their ace against USC. That's the team they want to beat."

He is the Trojans' career leader in RBI (168), stolen bases (57) and triples (13) and ranks second in hits and runs. His 28 homers tie him with Fred Lynn for eighth on the school's list.

The choice was a departure from the Orioles' formula of the last decade: take pitching. Not since outfielder Jeff Williams in 1980 had they taken a position player in the first round.

"We're pleased to be able to get an offensive player," said Nickels. "We had no plans to avoid pitching. It just happened this was the guy."

General manager Roland Hemond said: "Usually, it's easier for pitchers to be there [in the majors] in a hurry. Hitters need to see a lot of good pitching first.

"Now, there is more pitching in the organization, so we went for a power hitter."

Nickels said Smith probably will start with the Class A Frederick Keys or Class AA Hagerstown Suns if he plays this summer.

Major League Baseball does not release names beyond those in the first round because it doesn't want colleges to use its scouting resources as a recruiting tool.

First round

1, New York Yankees, Brien Taylor, lhp, East Carteret H.S., Beaufort, N.C. 2, Atlanta Braves, Mike Kelly, of, Arizona State. 3, Minnesota, David McCarty, 1b, Stanford. 4, St. Louis, Dmitri Young, 3b-of, Rio Mesa H.S., Oxnard, Calif. 5, Milwaukee, Kenny Henderson, rhp, Ringgold (Ga.) H.S. 6, Houston, John Burke, rhp, Florida. 7, Kansas City, Joe Vitiello, 1b-of, Alabama.

8, San Diego, Joey Hamilton, rhp, Georgia Southern. 9, Baltimore, Mark Smith, of, Southern Cal. 10, Philadelphia, Tyler Green, rhp, Wichita State. 11, Seattle, Shawn Estes, lhp, Douglas H.S., Minden, Nev. 12, Chicago Cubs, Doug Glanville, of, Pennsylvania. 13, Cleveland, Manny Ramirez, of, George Washington H.S., New York.

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