Hammonds says no rush, no problem Orioles' top pick confident of signing

June 17, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

CLEVELAND -- Jeffrey Hammonds, the Orioles' No. 1 draft choice, says he has no timetable for signing his first professional contract or for his arrival in Baltimore.

"You can probably tell me more about that than I can," Hammonds said, when asked how fast he felt he could get to the major leagues. "I'm still looking at it as a kid. I'm just an amateur player coming into the game."

Hammonds hit the ball hard while going 1-for-4 and driving in his team's only run as the U.S. Olympic team suffered its first loss, 7-1, to Team Nicaragua in a preliminary to the Orioles-Indians game last night.

The center fielder from Stanford University reiterated that being drafted by the Orioles was ideal for him, and that he anticipated no problems agreeing to a contract. But he also said negotiations had yet to reach the serious stage.

"There's been some talk, but only on a very preliminary basis," said Hammonds. "Basically we're talking on an introductory level -- money hasn't come into it yet."

Before the draft, there were rumors Hammonds would come with a $1.8 million price tag, but that figure appears to have been exaggerated. Four of the first five choices have signed, and Hammonds (selected fourth overall) probably will agree to a deal similar to the $700,000 package the Houston Astros gave No. 1 pick Phil Nevin.

Hammonds said he briefly considered the possibility of skipping the Olympics and going right to professional ball, as Orioles reliever Gregg Olson did four years ago.

"Before I was drafted, I let everybody know that I intended to play for the Olympic team -- even before Coach [Ron] Fraser invited me," said Hammonds.

"Being drafted by the Baltimore Orioles was an ideal situation for me," said Hammonds. "If they had come in and put something on the table, there was a very slim possibility [that he would've turned pro immediately]. But, basically, they've backed off and just let me play the game."

Hammonds is being represented by his brother, Reggie, and legal adviser Jeff Moorad, who also has Olson and Mark McLemore as clients. Players of Hammonds' stature in the recent past have been able to command major-league contracts, but that isn't likely this year.

Anyone signed to a major-league contract this year must be protected or exposed in the expansion draft in November. "That doesn't bother me," said Hammonds. "There are a lot of things that can compensate for [the lack of] a major-league contract.

"Right now, I don't know what they might be, but I could be signed in two days," Hammonds said, meaning not that the actual signing would happen in that span, but that negotiations could move rapidly once they become serious.

"I think it will happen that fast -- I really do," said Hammonds.

The Olympic team, meanwhile, opened its exhibition campaign with three victories against Venezuela last week at the training camp in Millington, Tenn. It defeated Nicaragua, 4-1, in Pittsburgh on Monday night, and is to play in Atlanta and Indianapolis the next two nights before returning to Millington for three games during the weekend.

After that, the U.S. squad will continue to tour the United States and Cuba, playing 20 games in 27 days, including July 11 against Korea at Camden Yards.

"It's been fun," Hammonds said of his Olympic experience, "although it's a lot of travel."

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