Choices aplenty, O's not picky

O's eye `best' in draft of any age or position with 7 picks in first 50

June 01, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Rather than take a plan into tomorrow's amateur draft, the Orioles are bringing something more closely resembling a philosophy.

Pitcher or position player? Left-hander or right? High school or college? To scouting director Tony DeMacio, there's no clear preference.

"We'll just take the best players available," said DeMacio, who was hired Dec. 4 after spending the past four years as the Chicago Cubs' East Coast scouting supervisor.

"We have not been told anything other than that, and we're approaching the draft to line up our board and take the best players available."

They'll get an unprecedented number of chances. The Orioles have seven of the first 50 picks, including four in the opening round, the most ever for a team in the draft's 35-year history. Montreal had seven of the first 48, and eight of 52, in 1997, but all except one were sandwich picks between the first two rounds.

The Orioles are reaping the rewards of their losses, getting compensation picks for the departures of their Type-A free agents. The Orioles pick 13th, 18th, 21st, 23rd, 34th, 44th and 50th.

As for having four first-rounders, DeMacio said: "This is very unusual. It's an aberration, really.

"It gives us the chance to maybe add to what we've done here the last couple of years. They've had some real good drafts. If we can add to that and stock the system up a little more, you can get guys to the big leagues and also make some deals. If you do a good job drafting all the way through, you may get a kid in the 10th or 15th round. If you can make a good deal with a kid like that, that's a good draft. People don't look at that. They only look at the top guys."

For the past two years, the Orioles have moved away from a tendency to grab college players in the first round. Last spring they used the 26th selection on outfielder Rick Elder of Marietta, Ga. And in 1997, they used their two picks on high school catcher Jayson Werth and outfielder Darnell McDonald -- choices made under the direction of Gary Nickels, the previous scouting director who was fired after last season.

Those selections marked the first time they had taken a high school player since left-hander Chip Myers in 1987. The Orioles since had chosen Auburn reliever Gregg Olson in '88, Louisiana State pitcher Ben McDonald with the first overall pick in '89, Stanford pitcher Mike Mussina in '90, Southern California outfielder Mark Smith in '91, Stanford outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds in '92, Mississippi State pitcher Jay Powell in '93 and Nebraska pitcher Alvie Shepherd in '95. They didn't have first-round selections in 1994 or '96.

"It's not an exact science. You try to project and hope that you're right more than some of the other guys," DeMacio said.

The consensus this year is that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays will use the first overall pick on outfielder Josh Hamilton of Raleigh, N.C. Hamilton, a left-handed hitter, batted .514 with 13 homers, 36 RBIs and 17 steals for Athens Drive High. His fastball has been clocked at 94 mph, but his offensive skills will keep him off the mound.

Right-hander Josh Beckett of Spring, Texas, appears the only player capable of leapfrogging over Hamilton. Otherwise, the Florida Marlins most likely will take him with the second pick.

So where does this leave the Orioles? Baseball America has rated left-hander Ty Howington as the 13th-best player in the draft. Howington, 6 feet 5, 220 pounds, went 9-3 with a 2.19 ERA, 18 walks and 116 strikeouts at Hudson Bay High in Vancouver, Wash. Farther down the line, the Orioles are looking hard at left-handed-hitting outfielder Carl Crawford, who batted .563 with seven homers, 28 RBIs and 29 steals at Jefferson Davis High in Houston. He dazzled scouts at a pre-draft workout.

Other possibilities are left-hander Richard Stahl of Covington, Ga., left-handed-hitting outfielder Vince Faison of Lyons, Ga., and Mississippi State right-hander Matt Ginter. Faison batted .531 with six homers and 24 RBIs. Ginter's numbers weren't overly impressive -- 8-7 with a 4.37 ERA -- but he struck out 102 in 91 innings and is regarded as having the best slider in college baseball.

"There's some nice left-handed high school pitching. Position players are not very plentiful. There's a little bit of power early. I think it's going to be mostly a high school draft early," DeMacio said.

"We're going to line them up and take whoever is the best guy at 13. If it's a high school guy, it's a high school guy, if it's a college guy, then we'll go that route. There's no preference. It's just trying to get them in the right order, what we think is the right order and taking that best player, regardless of whether it's a college or high school player."

Then there's the matter of signing them, a costly proposition that the club appears ready to tackle.

"That's the big challenge," DeMacio said. "Right now, we're approaching it like we're going to try to sign them all. We have not been told otherwise, as far as our budgeting has been concerned."

Pub Date: 6/01/99

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