Hoping for draft repeat

Picking 9th, 32nd, O's seek haul like last year

talent pool shallow

June 06, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

Brandon Erbe and Garrett Olson have already become two of the Orioles' hottest pitching prospects. Nolan Reimold has impressed club officials and scouts with his power. Brandon Snyder was named the top prospect in the Appalachian League last season because of his ability at the plate.

The Orioles' haul in the 2005 First Year Player Draft, the first for scouting director Joe Jordan, has produced impressive dividends so far. As the Orioles prepare for this year's draft, which starts today, they will adhere in the early rounds to the same game plan from last year. Regardless of need or position, the club will select the player who it feels has the most ability.

"My philosophy is pretty simple," Jordan said. "It's tools, it's athletes, it's baseball players. We have to find those three ingredients as much as we can."

The Orioles have the ninth overall selection in the first round today and a sandwich pick, No. 32 overall as compensation for free-agent closer B.J. Ryan signing with Toronto. The talent pool teams will select from will be considerably weaker than last year, according to draft analysts.

Jim Callis, executive editor of Baseball America, called it the thinnest draft since 2000. Callis said that Long Beach State infielder Evan Longoria would have been a "mid first-round pick" last year, but he will likely be the first position player taken today.

In person, Jordan has scouted around 250 potential prospects and Orioles scouts and cross-checkers have watched hundreds more. Jordan considers infield and catching depth as two of the organization's biggest needs, but position players figure to be at a premium in a pitching-heavy draft class.

"The position player pool, from high school and college, was really good last year. It's just not the case this year," Jordan said. "We'll get them lined up and make a decision as this thing evolves."

Jordan, of course, wouldn't tip his hand on where the Orioles are leaning with the No. 9 pick, but he acknowledged that because of the nature of this year's draft, if the "right position player is there, you probably have to go try and get it and then get pitching later."

The Orioles are known to have a strong interest in Bill Rowell, a power and left-handed-hitting infielder from Bishop Eustace Prep in New Jersey. Rowell worked out at Camden Yards last week and is projected to play either third base or a corner outfield spot at the next level. His stock has risen recently and he may not be available at No. 9.

"He's probably one of the top bats in the high school ranks," said Callis, who acknowledged that the uncertainty of who Kansas City is going to take with the No. 1 pick has made prognosticating the first round difficult.

The Orioles are also expected to consider right-handed college pitchers Joba Chamberlain (Nebraska) and Daniel Bard (North Carolina); and high school pitchers Jeremy Jeffress, a right-hander from South Boston, Va., and Clayton Kershaw, a lefty from Dallas.

Another interesting option could be Tim Lincecum, the University of Washington right-hander who is widely considered to have the best arm in the draft. However, potential signing issues and Lincecum's size - he's 6 feet, 165 pounds - has made his position in the draft unsettled.

"I think he's just so good where even if you weren't thinking he was going to be there for you, you'd at least have to think about taking him pretty hard," Callis said.

Jordan will have the final decision. In the 2004 draft, Orioles owner Peter Angelos was criticized for insisting that his team take a college pitcher with the first pick. That turned out to be Rice's Wade Townsend, whom the club couldn't sign.

"I was given all of the horror stories before I came," Jordan said. "Mr. Angelos called me before last year's draft, and the last thing he told me is, `You're the scouting director, you take who you take and I'll support you.' And then he gave me the money to sign the players. That's all a scouting director should want and deserve."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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