For O's, draft has had air of failure

June 04, 2006

It's one of those silly baseball facts that sportswriters like.

When Adam Loewen, the Orioles' top draft pick in 2002, made his big league debut May 23, he and outfielder Nick Markakis (first round, 2003) became the first Orioles' top picks to play together in a game since Mike Mussina and Jeffrey Hammonds did it in 1998.

Silly, but also telling.

The Orioles have become rather adept at whiffing on their initial pick in the first-year player draft. Before Markakis, Hammonds (1992 draft) was the Orioles' last top selection to play for the big league team.

This year's draft begins Tuesday, and for the fifth time in six years the Orioles have a top 10 pick - No. 9. Behind second-year scouting director Joe Jordan, the Orioles believe they are better prepared in the high-stakes craps game. History isn't on their side.

Here's a look at the Orioles' best and worst top picks of all time. Good conscience wouldn't allow it to be split equally between best and worst.

Best

1. Mike Mussina, No. 20, 1990: Sure, he left Baltimore for the Evil Empire after the 2000 season, but "Moose" will always be one of the most effective pitchers in Orioles history. It's hard to believe that 19 teams passed on the brainy, scrawny right-hander from Stanford.

Ouch factor: Seven pitchers were taken before Mussina, including flame-out phenom Todd Van Poppel. There aren't any still in the majors.

2. Bobby Grich No 19, 1967: The draft was only 20 teams deep at the time, and with the penultimate pick of the first round the defending champion Orioles took some surfer boy out of Long Beach, Calif. Grich had a 17-season career and was a six-time All-Star, including three times with the Orioles. It was the club's best 1-2 combo ever, considering that they snagged Texas high school outfielder Don Baylor in the second round.

Ouch factor: Seven players taken ahead of Grich never made the majors.

3. Rich Dauer, No. 24, 1974: With the final pick of the first round, the Orioles took Dauer, a spunky middle infielder out of the University of Southern California, in what was a pretty solid first round (Dale Murphy, Willie Wilson, Rick Sutcliffe). A team leader, he played 10 big league seasons, all with the Orioles.

Ouch factor: The Boston Red Sox took another college middle infielder, Eddie Ford, four picks ahead of Dauer. He never made the majors.

4. Gregg Olson, No. 4, 1988: Known for his devastating curveball, "Otter" was in the majors the year he was drafted and is still the franchise's saves leader with 160. Injuries hampered his effectiveness but didn't shorten his career. He played six seasons with the Orioles but lasted 14 seasons overall and notched one more 30-save year in 1998 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Ouch factor: The Cleveland Indians passed on Steve Avery, Olson and Robin Ventura to take shortstop Mark Lewis - a solid utility player - with the second pick.

Worst

1. Chris Smith, No. 7, 2001: Being named worst in this category is like being called the ugliest Rolling Stone. Smith wins this beauty contest because the pick was a reach from the beginning. The left-hander was a college outfielder who switched schools so he could pitch, and he ended up at tiny Cumberland (Tenn.) University. The buzz was he was a fringe first-rounder. Instead, the Orioles made him their highest pick since 1987 and gave him a $2.175 million bonus. He's out of affiliated baseball.

Ouch factor: The Orioles passed on the Los Angeles Angels' Casey Kotchman, who went 13th overall, and now are in desperate need of a young first baseman.

2. Mike Paradis, No. 13, 1999: Paradis battled injuries and is out of the Orioles' system. It happens. What puts him high on this list is guilt by association. In 1999, the Orioles had seven of the top 50 picks. To date, only All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts - No. 50 - has made an impact in the big leagues. Richard Stahl (18), Keith Reed (23) and Scott Rice (44) are still in the system, but no longer top prospects.

Ouch factor: Although it wasn't a particularly good first round overall, the Toronto Blue Jays' Alex Rios went No. 19 and the Orioles passed on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' Carl Crawford (52) seven times.

3. Wade Townsend, No. 8, 2004: Only in Baltimore could you blow the eighth overall pick and not have it be the franchise's worst draft blunder. The story is Orioles lore: They were set to take shortstop Chris Nelson when owner Peter Angelos vetoed it. The club then took Townsend, a projected closer from Rice University, but couldn't sign him. It turned out OK, though. The Orioles received a 2005 supplemental pick, which they used for highly touted left-hander Garrett Olson, while Townsend blew out his elbow in Tampa Bay's system.

Ouch factor: Nelson, 20, is holding his own, batting .286 with three homers and 30 RBIs through 41 games at Single-A Asheville in the Colorado Rockies' system.

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