Cool reaction to O's draft appropriate

June 03, 1999|By KEN ROSENTHAL

No one will call them the Seven Dwarfs, not when high school left-hander Richard Stahl goes 6 feet 7 and college outfielders Larry Bigbie and Keith Reed 6-4. But did the Orioles draft the Magnificent Seven? Probably not.

Seven picks in the top 50 is a fine place to start for an organization in desperate need of youth, but the Orioles' recent draft history suggests caution, as does the recent history of teams with multiple early-round picks.

Nineteen times before yesterday, teams benefiting from free-agent compensation gained five or more selections in the first two rounds. Those 19 teams drafted a total of 110 players, according to Baseball America. Of those, 38 have reached the majors.

That survey doesn't present a complete portrait, because players drafted in the past two years haven't been given a full chance to develop. But even if you discount those players, the success rate is less than 50 percent.

In other words, it would be a coup if four of the Orioles' top seven picks reached the majors -- and an even bigger coup if one or two of them became stars.

The baseball draft is probably the most inexact in professional sports. It also might be the least meaningful, with the number of players signed from outside draft-eligible countries (the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico) more than doubling in the last decade.

The Orioles need to become more of a player in the international market if they are truly intent on rebuilding their farm system. The draft is too much of a crapshoot, and with teams now finding players in the Pacific Rim as well as Latin America, too limited a talent source.

Maybe Clemson right-hander Mike Paradis will be an ideal fit for Camden Yards, using his power sinker like the pre-1999 Scott Erickson. Maybe Bigbie will develop into another Andy Van Slyke, Paul O'Neill or Shawn Green. And maybe Stahl will become the pitcher the Orioles project, a power left-hander to pair with Matt Riley into the 21st century.

Let's not forget Reed, a late-blooming, high-ceiling type described by scouting director Tony DeMacio as a "bigger Eric Davis." And let's not forget that DeMacio signed two-time Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine out of Billerica (Mass.) High School, a comforting thought knowing that he took high school left-handers with the 13th, 34th and 44th picks.

Draft day often is the best day of the year for the Ravens, and in this lost season, the same might prove true for the Orioles as well. Still, it's difficult to get too excited over players who won't make an impact for four or five years -- if they make an impact at all.

The Orioles thought they had scored one of the great coups in draft history when they landed Jeffrey Hammonds out of Stanford with the fourth pick in 1992. But Hammonds never became a regular, much less the next Rickey Henderson. And the player selected two places behind him -- a high-school shortstop named Derek Jeter -- might be the next American League MVP.

Ben McDonald, the first pick in the 1989 draft, was another can't-miss prospect. But he, too, was hindered by injuries, and won only 58 games for the Orioles. Frank Thomas was the seventh pick in that draft, Mo Vaughn the 23rd, Chuck Knoblauch the 25th. And the might-have-beens only start there.

The Orioles blew two chances to grab Craig Biggio in '87, taking pitching busts Chris Myers and Brad DuVall before Houston selected Biggio at No. 22. They also passed on high school outfielder Manny Ramirez in '91, choosing USC's Mark Smith four places ahead of him.

Virtually every team can tell such horror stories, but the Orioles haven't developed an impact position player for their own club since Cal Ripken. The closest they came was with outfielder Steve Finley, a 13th-round pick in '87 who became an All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner after being traded for -- ahem -- Glenn Davis.

Perhaps soon their luck will change, if not with Calvin Pickering, Ryan Minor and Co., then perhaps with catcher Jayson Werth, the former No. 1 pick at Single-A Frederick. At the very least, yesterday's bounty should increase the Orioles' minor-league depth, giving them added flexibility for trades. Beyond that, expectations should remain low.

General manager Frank Wren was with Montreal when the Expos chose five future major-leaguers with 10 picks in the first two rounds of the '90 draft. Still, the only star of the group was outfielder Rondell White. And that draft probably was the best that any team with multiple early picks ever had.

The Royals had five picks in the first two rounds in 1992, and landed Jim Pittsley, Johnny Damon, Jon Lieber and Michael Tucker.

The Cardinals had six in '91, and added Brian Barber, Allen Watson and Dmitri Young. Solid drafts, to be sure. But nothing to transform an organization's future.

Heck, even when the Orioles had five early picks in '78, their only return was Ripken (in the second round) and Larry Sheets.

The Angels failed to produce a major-leaguer with five picks in '92. The A's essentially struck out with seven in '90.

It's the baseball draft. It's an inexact science.

If the Magnificent Seven produces a Fantastic Four, yesterday will go down as a spectacular success.

Pub Date: 6/03/99

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