By the time the Orioles made their first selection in yesterday's amateur baseball draft, club officials assumed pitcher Beau Hale would be long gone. Power arms, especially ones with so many victories attached, don't usually last until the 14th pick.
That's where the Orioles were situated. And that's where they found Hale, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior who fell into their laps less than 48 hours after leading the University of Texas into the College World Series.
Hale became the second college right-hander taken by the Orioles with their first pick in the last two years, following Clemson's Mike Paradis. Hale was 12-5 with a 2.77 ERA this season, including 40 walks and 125 strikeouts in 139 2/3 innings. He limited opponents to a .206 average, and a 10-0 victory over Penn State on Saturday represented his third shutout.
"He's very strong and durable," said Tony DeMacio, the Orioles' director of scouting. "His arm bounces back very good. And he's improved year by year since he's been at Texas. He's also got a great makeup, and he's a great competitor."
Regarded as the hardest-throwing college pitcher in the draft with a fastball that reaches 96 mph, Hale was projected by the Orioles to be heading to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at No. 6. But Tampa Bay threw scouts a curve by taking high school outfielder Rocco Baldelli of Warwick, R.I., a player the Orioles coveted.
"We all went up to see him this week. We flew six guys up there," DeMacio said. "Had he lost in his tournament game, we might have gotten him. We felt like he was the best player in the draft. But they won, West Coast people flew out, and that's why Baldelli went sixth."
Hale was a combined 2-5 with a 6.39 ERA in his first two seasons at Texas, but scouts were impressed enough with his stuff to project him as a first-round pick. His stock soared in the second game this season, when he threw a no-hitter against Sam Houston State.
"We were surprised he slid down," DeMacio said. "This draft is very unusual compared to a lot of other drafts because a lot of guys have been drafted based on need since the talent pool is a little thinner. Some clubs, small-market clubs, drafted on signability. That's why some of these other kids fall. We feel very fortunate that he was there. In a normal year, if everybody had the same type of budgets, he's gone."
Hale, who comes from the same university that produced five-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens, is seen by the Orioles as a low-risk selection because of his experience and background.
"He comes from a great program and the competition's good," DeMacio said.
Hale, a two-time member of the Big 12 all-academic team, could begin his professional career at rookie-league Bluefield. But Syd Thrift, the vice president of baseball operations, indicated that Hale might report to Single-A Delmarva.
"We were hoping we'd get this guy," said Thrift, who can't begin negotiating with Hale, a 22nd-round selection of the New York Yankees in 1997, until after the College World Series. Paradis received a $1.7 million bonus as the 13th overall selection last season.
The Orioles also obtained the 32nd pick as compensation for the Seattle Mariners signing free-agent reliever Arthur Rhodes this winter. They took third baseman Tripper Johnson of Newport High School in Bellevue, Wash.
Johnson batted .453 with nine doubles, two triples, six homers and 25 RBIs. He was 14-for-14 in stolen base attempts and committed only two errors.
"He's a good athlete who shows power," DeMacio said before comparing Johnson to two current major-league third basemen. "He's a Jeff Cirillo, Ken Caminiti type."
The Orioles lost their second-round pick to the Minnesota Twins after signing free-agent reliever Mike Trombley. They had the 84th and 86th selections in the third round, which they used on right-hander Richard Bartlett and catcher Thomas Arko, respectively.
Bartlett was 7-0 with a 0.54 ERA in seven games at Kamiakin (Wash.) High, walking 10, striking out 49 and allowing only 13 hits in 39 innings.
The Orioles' Texas connection stretched into the fourth round when they chose right-hander Jon Skaggs of Rice University with the 114th pick. Skaggs was 12-2 with a 3.07 ERA in 111 1/3 innings. In the fifth round, the Orioles selected first baseman Douglas Gredvig of Sacramento Community College.
DeMacio's job appeared to grow easier this year without having seven of the first 50 picks, but he found it more challenging because this draft was weaker and shrouded in uncertainty.
"The talent level wasn't like it was last year," he said.