Orioles look to reverse 1st-round draft drought

Hoping No. 13 is lucky, new scouting director out to make strong start today

June 07, 2005|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,SUN STAFF

Joe Jordan understands the recent history.

Baseball's first-year player draft has not been kind to the Orioles. The club's top pick hasn't done anything for the big league club since Stanford outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds was selected in 1992.

Jordan hopes to reverse that ugly trend with today's No. 13 pick overall, the deepest the Orioles have selected since 1999.

"It's all about trust," said Jordan, the Orioles' first-year scouting director. "It's about taking the right guys and then turning them over to player development to people who are good at what they do."

The baseball draft, which starts with the first of 18 rounds at 1 p.m. today and concludes with 32 rounds tomorrow, is the sporting world's ultimate inexact science.

There's no guarantee that first-round bonus babies will ever make it big. And the Orioles' organization has been the poster child for first-pick busts with Rick Elder, Mike Paradis, Beau Hale and Chris Smith in 1998 to 2001 alone. Jordan, however, said his relationship with new minor league director David Stockstill should give the organization an advantage it may not have had in the past.

"Our communication has been wonderful and maybe that hasn't been here as a whole and the two departments weren't as cohesive as they have been today and that they will be," Jordan said. "If you don't have trust in that department, then you get too conservative. ... You can't be a coward in this business."

Jordan replaces Tony DeMacio, a highly respected talent evaluator whose drafts included current Orioles Brian Roberts, Larry Bigbie and Erik Bedard as well as Smith and Paradis (the 13th pick in 1999), who are both out of the organization. Last year, DeMacio was prepared to take high school shortstop Chris Nelson with the eighth overall pick, but was overruled by team owner Peter Angelos, who urged the selection of highly touted Rice pitcher Wade Townsend.

The Orioles couldn't reach a deal with Townsend, who re-enrolled at Rice last fall. He's expected to go in the first round again, but he's off-limits to the Orioles after refusing to sign a consent-to-reselect form.

"The player absolutely has the right to say, `No, we don't want to do business again with you.' And that's what he did," Jordan said.

Undeterred, Jordan said he believes the club's first pick will be a staff consensus, though ultimately, "from everything I've been told, this will be my pick."

A former national cross-checker for the Florida Marlins, Jordan comes from an organization that preferred high-ceiling, high school talent to more established college players. In contrast, five of the Orioles' past six top picks played some college ball.

Jim Beattie, the club's executive vice president, said the Orioles would continue their recent philosophy: Take the best player available regardless of experience or position.

"I think we are still going to go out and get the best athletes and best available players we can," Beattie said. "Joe has his style, and that's consistently on line with his style."

Beattie and Jordan agree this is a deep draft, especially with position players. It's also a confusing one. Besides Chesapeake, Va., shortstop Justin Upton, the younger brother of Tampa Bay Devil Rays prospect B.J. Upton, the top is muddled.

Beattie said there are as many as 40 players with top 10 talent, which could benefit the Orioles, who also pick 48th overall as compensation for losing Townsend. It's hard to predict which way they'll go. They could focus on catching depth with Southern California's Jeff Clement, Virginia high school star Brandon Snyder or Texas' Taylor Teagarden.

Clement, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior, has prodigious left-handed power, great makeup and solid defensive skills, but he might not be available at No. 13. Snyder, 18, the son of a former major league pitcher, is 6-2, 190 pounds and can catch or play infield. He impressed during workouts at Camden Yards on Wednesday. Teagarden is seen as a strong defender with average offensive skills, but he's represented by super-agent Scott Boras, whom the Orioles don't deal with often.

Baseball America has predicted the Orioles will select Jay Bruce, a 6-2, left-handed high school player from Beaumont, Texas, who projects as a corner outfielder. If they want pitching, options include Florida high school player Chris Volstad and a trio of Boras clients: Mike Pelfrey from Wichita State, Luke Hochevar from Tennessee and Craig Hansen, a closer from St. John's.

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