Devil Rays expected to go Young in draft
The Devil Rays are leaning toward selecting high school phenom Delmon Young first overall in Tuesday's draft.
The eve-of-the-draft line on the top 10 picks in Tuesday's draft:
1. Devil Rays: Delmon Young, OF, Camarillo (Calif.) HS.
2. Brewers: Rickie Weeks, 2B, Southern.
3. Tigers: Tim Stauffer, RHP, Richmond.
4. Padres: Kyle Sleeth, RHP, Wake Forest.
5. Royals: Chris Lubanski, OF, Kennedy-Kenrick HS, Schwenksville, Pa.
6. Cubs: Ryan Harvey, OF, Dunedin HS, Palm Harbor, Fla.
7. Orioles: Nick Markakis, LHP, Young Harris (Ga.) JC.
8. Pirates: Paul Maholm, LHP, Mississippi State.
9. Rangers: John Danks, LHP, Round Rock (Texas) HS.
10. Rockies: Ian Stewart, 3B, La Quinta HS, Garden Grove, Calif.
Loewen loomed as by far the best college pitcher in this draft and would have been a top-three pick. So his signing (for five years, $4 million) shakes up the rest of the first round. "A lot of teams," says one AL scouting director, "are in scramble mode right now because of this."
But an NL scouting director forecasts: "This guy can be a No. 1 or 2 starter, without question. He can be another Mark Mulder. In some ways, he might be more like a Jeremy Affeldt because his command can come and go. But he's a big, strong power pitcher with a delivery that makes you say, 'I can see this guy going 230-240 innings a year.' He can be real special."
On the other hand, the question many baseball people always ask, after any draft pick gets a major-league contract, is whether this guy can develop into all he's supposed to be before he runs out of options in three years.
"It sure puts some pressure on the kid," says one scouting director. "This guy has a lot of upside, but I'd have been leery of that. With his age (19) and where he is in his development, you're really putting pressure on this guy."
For one thing, no Scott Boras clients are expected to go in the top 10 picks, unless Texas takes Rice first baseman Vince Sinisi. For another, rumors that Weeks was looking for $7 million apparently are unfounded. So only Baltimore, which just had to cough up $4 million for Loewen, is expected to base a top-of-the-round pick on signability. Hence the choice of Markakis.
And you can expect the grumbling to start with the two teams atop the AL West -- the Mariners and A's. They play two common opponents -- the Marlins and Phillies. But just compare their nine other interleague games:
Oakland's designated "rival" -- the Giants, for six games.
Seattle's designated "rival" -- the Padres, for six games.
Oakland's other NL East opponents -- the Braves.
Seattle's other NL East opponents -- the Mets.
Bear in mind that the difference in the AL West race last year was interleague play. The A's went 16-2 against the NL. The Angels went 11-7. So even though Anaheim actually had a better record against AL teams, it finished four games out of first. And that's why many players hate interleague play.
In the last three seasons, Martinez has started one game in an NL park (at first base, on July 18, 2000, at Los Angeles). So in the 25 games he hasn't started, all the Mariners have been able to get out of him is four pinch-hits (in three years), with one home run, one sacrifice fly and two RBI.
Amazingly, they were still able to go 15-10 in those games. But this year, Seattle's offense seems to orbit around Martinez more than ever.
"He's the crutch all the rest of the guys in that lineup lean on," says one AL scout. "He puts everyone else in their comfort level. They all rely on Edgar to be in the middle of every big rally. I swear, he gets 80 percent of their big hits. And every inning that he's coming up, he changes the other team's approach, because in the late innings, it doesn't matter what reliever you bring in. He hits good pitching. And this year, he's showing the power he didn't show last year."
"The names are good," says one NL executive. "But you also have to look at how they all fit together. There's a meshing that has to take place. There's nothing wrong with (Jim) Thome, (Pat) Burrell and (Bobby) Abreu, but put those guys in a row, and you've got a lot of non-contact."
You could look it up. Last year, those three totaled an incredible 735 trips to the plate in which the ball never left the batter's box (409 strikeouts, 315 walks, 11 HBP). So there is a ton of pressure on the hitters in front of and behind that threesome to generate on-base percentage at the top of the order and clutch hits in the 6-7-8 holes. But so far, at least, that hasn't happened.
And those problems have been magnified by Burrell's almost inexplicable struggles (.207 batting average, 61 strikeouts but only 38 hits, and a lower slugging percentage -- .440 -- than Todd Pratt).
Even tough the Phillies scored 11 runs Wednesday on a night when Burrell was benched, one scout says: "They can't win without him hitting, because if he doesn't, nobody will pitch to Thome. If Burrell's not hitting behind him, we treat Thome just like Bonds. We wave four fingers at every opportunity."
"It's a dilemma," Pirates GM Dave Littlefield admits. "As a general manager, what you want to do is win a championship. And obviously, we have a long ways to go to do that. But you also realize that you want to make progress, by putting a better product out there every year.
"We're in a situation where we don't have a lot of close-to-the-big-leagues Double-A and Triple-A talent that can help us next year, and no real major-league excess. So we've got to keep an eye on the long term at the same time we're looking at the short term. If things don't go as we hope, then trading (players like Lofton and Reggie Sanders) can be one way to obtain more talent at a relatively cheap rate. But we're still at a point where we're not that far away from .500. So we'll see. We just want to do things that make sense."
"We get a lot of calls on him, believe me," Littlefield says. "And as I've always said, we'll listen. But realistically, I don't expect to be trading him."
Officials of three clubs that have been in contact with the Mets say they'd be surprised if they haven't changed general managers by this time next week. Which, at this point, would be the humane thing to do for GM Steve Phillips, who has felt like an endangered species for weeks. Phillips' assistant, Jim Duquette, is still expected to be named interim GM, with the opportunity to make the job permanent.
Duquette's prospects for hanging onto the job long-term could hinge on what kind of deadline deals the Mets can make. So we asked one NL executive to rank the Mets' trade candidates in order of their attractiveness.
1. Armando Benitez: "Whatever you think of him, his numbers are pretty damn good. He can be a warrior at times. He can be a choker at times. He can drive you nuts, but most of those closers do, anyway."
2. Roberto Alomar: "I know the thinking is that he'll flip the switch back on once he's out of New York, but I don't believe that. He'll be better when he gets out of there, but I don't think he'll be the guy I once thought was the best second baseman I've ever seen. He's not as quick. He's older. He doesn't do anything as well as he used to. But he can be better than he's been there. And somebody will buy into that."
3. Jeromy Burnitz: "Put him in the right lineup, and his bat will be more productive than it is on that team. You've got to protect him. He's got to get fastballs. But in the right setting, he has some appeal. Left-handed power guys always do."
4. Pedro Astacio: "You worry about his track record since the (shoulder) injury. You have to learn to deal with that -- pitch through soreness, pitch through some pain -- and I'm not sure he has. There will be some appeal. But you just have to know what he is -- an end-of-the-rotation guy. He can still get people out, but he's a high-maintenance guy."
"He's one of those dependable, productive guys who protects our young pitching and our young starters," says GM Allard Baird. "And he's given us veteran leadership on our staff, which is really important."
But if K.C. is out of the race and gets the right offer, it's possible Grimsley could re-enact Mike Williams' saga two years ago with Pittsburgh -- when the Pirates traded him at the deadline, then re-signed him that winter as a free agent.
Come July, Oakland will be hunting for a top-of-the-order bat and a power set-up arm. And Toronto has made no secret it will be willing to deal Shannon Stewart and Kelvim Escobar. So it's not hard to see that blockbuster falling into place seven weeks from now.
Escobar is in the rotation at the moment. But Ricciardi has been telling fellow GMs he thinks Escobar's best role is as a strikeout set-up force between the sixth and eighth innings, who could go as long as three innings if needed.
"They all know that exactly what happened last year (when they traded Cliff Floyd and Ryan Dempster during the break) will happen this year," says one source. "So that makes it a little tough to get motivated to play as a unit."
Promotion of the Week
Whoopi Goldberg, renowned agent Bean Stringfellow and the brilliant band, Tag Team, which sang the everlasting hit, "Whoop, there it is," will be happy to know the hot new minor-league promotion of the year is, believe it or not, Whoopee Cushion Night.
Many readers have been e-mailing us to inform us of this monumental development. So for your whooping pleasure, you can pick up a free whoopee cushion in all these ballparks:
July 3 in Bowie, Md. (Baysox vs. Akron)
July 14 in Lakewood, N.J. (Blue Claws vs. Delmarva)
July 21 in Trenton, N.J. (Thunder vs. Reading)
And it's all sponsored by (who else?) B&M Baked Beans.
Question: David Cone heads for The Rest Of His Life with six 200-strikeout seasons on his page of the baseball encyclopedia. In the division-play era, only six pitchers had more 200-strikeout seasons than that. Can you name them?
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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