O's weigh options with low draft pick List is rich in pitchers, poor on position players

June 04, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

It's that time of year again, when virtually unknown amateur baseball players camp out by their phones awaiting a call from a major-league team.

The 1996 June free-agent draft begins today, minus the pomp and circumstance that surround the selections of basketball or football players each year. The Orioles will choose 51st overall and team officials met last weekend to determine a direction to take with the pick.

Because of the Orioles' low draft position, it is difficult to determine what they might do. Director of scouting Gary Nickels said the team finished its draft board yesterday, but numerous scenarios exist.

Although the organization lacks position players, the strength of the draft is at pitcher.

Possibilities include Brian Falkenborg, a 6-foot-6 high school pitcher from Redmond, Wash., who worked out for the Orioles when the team was in Seattle last week; Jason Marquis, also a high school pitcher from New York City; Providence College first baseman Pete Tucci; and Southern Cal outfielder Jacque Jones.

"We're calling other clubs to see what's out there in front of us -- seeing what might happen," Nickels said. "But it's really tough to tell."

Clemson pitcher Kris Benson is expected to be taken first overall, by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Benson went 14-0 and led the nation with a 1.40 ERA for the Tigers. He struck out 15 batters in 7 1/3 innings in a recent College World Series game.

But signing Benson won't be easy. He may command a salary exceeding the record $1.6 million that Josh Booty, 1994's first overall pick, garnered from the Florida Marlins.

But the Pirates are keeping quiet about Benson, fearful of speaking too highly about him and triggering a situation like the Orioles went through in 1989, when they were trying to sign Ben McDonald out of Louisiana State. McDonald, now pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers, parlayed his glowing endorsements from the club into a $375,000 signing bonus.

Baseball America anticipates pitchers being selected with six of the first seven picks and 60 of the top 100 draft choices.

The only position player expected to go in the top five is San Diego State first baseman Travis Lee, who hit .355 with 14 home runs and 60 RBIs this past season. The Minnesota Twins are expected to take Lee with the second pick.

The two expansion teams scheduled to begin play in 1998 will take part in their first drafts. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays will select 29th, followed by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Pub Date: 6/04/96

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