For change, Orioles build with long ball, not fastball By: Doug Brown

June 04, 1991|By Evening Sun Staff

At 1:10 p.m., a cheer went up in the Orioles' meeting room, almost as if someone had hit a home run.

Maybe Mark Smith will do that for the Orioles someday. Yesterday he was their first-round selection, and ninth overall, in baseball's annual free-agent draft.

Smith, 21, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound outfielder, is leaving Southern Cal after three years to seek his way in pro ball. He bats and throws right-handed. A native of Arcadia, Calif., Smith is cut from the same mold as Tom Brunansky, a burly slugger with a strong arm who plays rightfield for the Boston Red Sox.

"We were a little surprised he was still there when we picked," said Orioles scouting director Gary Nickels. "He's a Brunansky type. We project him as a rightfielder."

In a draft top heavy with pitchers and outfielders, some observers expected the Orioles to select pitcher Shawn Estes of Gardnerville, Nev. Estes was taken moments later, as the No. 11, by Seattle.

Smith is the first non-pitcher to be the Orioles' top choice since Jeff Williams in 1980. An outfielder, Williams never made it to the majors.

Three other outfielders were drafted before Smith yesterday. Atlanta took Mike Kelly of Arizona State as the second pick, St. Louis took Dmitri Young as the fourth and Kansas City took Joe Vitiello as the seventh.

Smith had a career batting average of .336 in 188 games at Southern Cal, with 28 home runs, 166 RBIs and 57 stolen bases in 75 attempts.

In the Cape Cod League last summer, Smith became the only player to bat over .400 (.408) since the league switched from aluminum to wooden bats in the mid-1980s. He was named the league's MVP and was declared the best pro prospect, ahead of Kelly, the No. 2 pick yesterday.

"Smith is a more advanced amateur player," Nickels said. "He's at the level where he can move on pretty quickly. We're pleased to get an offensive player."

If Smith signs, he probably will play this summer with Double A Hagerstown or Single A Frederick rather than Triple A Rochester, Nickels

indicated.

None of the principals would talk about how much money Smith might command. First-round selections last year signed for an average of more than $250,000, a 37 percent increase over 1989. Each pick got a bonus of at least $175,000.

Interviewed by speaker phone hookup, Smith said his father, John, a cancer surgeon, "will handle negotiations with his corporation lawyer."

Smith intends to sign. He gave no indication he would threaten to return for his final year at Southern Cal if the Orioles' offer isn't to his liking.

However, he hopes to play for Team USA in the Pan Am Games in August. The tryouts start June 9 in Wilmington, Tenn.

"Team USA is a good experience for a player," Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said. "He can sign with us while he's still with Team USA, but he can't receive any payment until after those games."

Smith is not lacking in confidence.

"I feel I'm a solid everyday player without many holes," he said when asked to describe himself. "I think I can hit between .270 and .300 with good power, maybe 20-30 home runs."

The Orioles were swayed in part by the fact Southern Cal plays in a strong league, the Pac-10. Sometimes, Hemond observed, "you get more polished players" out of the Pac-10 and "California youngsters have an advantage because they can play year-round against good competition."

"We had the best competition in the nation," Smith said. "Everybody threw their ace at us."

Baseball announces the names of the 26 first-round selections, but clams up about subsequent draftees until they sign. The only first-round selection with even a remote local connection is Joey Hamilton of Georgia Southern, a righthander who pitched for Johnny's, the Baltimore sandlot power. He was drafted No. 8 by San Diego.

About 1,500 players are expected to be chosen in the three days of the draft. It is staged by conference call out of the commissioner's office in New York.

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