Infielder Bautista, 23, grabbed in Rule 5 draft

Pirates prospect hit 14 HRs in Single-A

O's don't lose any former No. 1 picks


December 16, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - The Orioles were successful on two counts yesterday during the Rule 5 draft at baseball's winter meetings. They didn't lose any of their former first-round amateur picks, and they got a player who could be worth a gamble.

Every team passed on outfielder Keith Reed and pitchers Mike Paradis, Beau Hale, Richard Stahl and Chris Smith in the major league phase of the draft. Reed, Paradis and Stahl were part of the 1999 class of players who joined the organization, with Hale following in 2000 and Smith in 2001.

Choosing sixth yesterday, the Orioles took infielder Jose Bautista from the Pittsburgh Pirates' Triple-A affiliate in Nashville. He must remain on the 25-man roster all season, as Jose Morban did this year, or be offered back to the Pirates for $25,000.

A gap hitter with developing power, Bautista batted .242 with four homers and 20 RBIs at Single-A Lynchburg, after hitting 14 homers at Single-A Hickory in 2002. He missed half the season after punching a wall and breaking his hand.

"With his potential, we think he has a chance to be an everyday big leaguer in the next couple of years," said Doc Rodgers, Orioles director of minor league operations. "When that happens, we don't know, but he has all the tools and the abilities and the makeup. He was clearly our top guy."

He wasn't the only guy, however. The Orioles also were willing to take right-hander David Bennett off Nashville's roster, but the Milwaukee Brewers selected him fifth.

Bautista, 23, is hitting .286 with two homers, eight RBIs and 17 runs in 27 games for Tigres de Licey in the Dominican Winter League. Though he was announced as a third baseman yesterday, he has been playing the outfield and also can move to second base.

"One thing about him is he's versatile," Rodgers said. "The more things you can do to help the club, the better chance you have to stick."

Rodgers received glowing reports on Bautista from the scouting department and the Frederick Keys, a Lynchburg opponent this season. A club official raved about Bautista's "exceptional" hands, his range at third and his base running, and indicated he could play more frequently than Morban (61 games) did in 2003.

In the minor league phase of yesterday's draft, the Orioles lost pitchers Sean Babula, Tim Corcoran and Richard Bartlett, first baseman Luis Jimenez and outfielder Alex Gordon off Double-A Bowie's roster.

Unlike previous years, the Orioles didn't make any selections in the minor league phase, an indication that their talent and depth have improved.

"We're starting to turn the corner in the organization," Rodgers said.

Club officials were relieved that their five former No. 1 amateur draft picks remained in the system, even though Hale, Stahl and Smith have been injured for most of their professional careers, Paradis was 5-10 at Bowie this year and Reed hit .258 for the Baysox. It wasn't likely that anyone would try to stash them on a 25-man roster.

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