- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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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.
That groaning you heard Monday night was probably just a bunch of GMs and scouting directors venting over the Orioles' midnight signing of Chipola (Fla.) Junior College pitcher Adam Loewen, last year's first-round pick, minutes before he would have gone back into this year's draft pool.
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."
Signability is always a magic word come draft week. But early indications are that you won't hear it as much as usual.
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.
Interleague play is coming, and you know what that means: More complaining than ever about the schedule.
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.
On the other hand, no AL team is hurt more by interleague road games than the Mariners, because their most important hitter, Edgar Martinez, disappears from the lineup.
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 Phillies can't figure out how they could just go through a month in which they barely averaged more than 3½ runs a game. But increasingly, we hear scouts suggest that as good as the names in that batting order look, the problem might be getting those names to fit quite right in the same lineup.
"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."
Talk also continues to float around the cheesesteak grill about the Phillies possibly dealing for Kenny Lofton if Marlon Byrd can't put some distance between himself and the Mendoza Line in the next few weeks. But the Pirates still haven't given up on making a run at the wild card, or at least their first winning season since 1992. So they're not ready to declare themselves sellers yet.
"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."
And despite a new round of clamor in Pittsburgh to rip the current group up and start over, one thing the Pirates still aren't likely to do is trade Brian Giles, who is under contract through 2005, at under $8 million a year.
"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."
One of many bullpen names the Yankees have looked at is their old friend, Jason Grimsley, who leads the AL in holds and appearances. But the Royals aren't sure they want to trade him because he lends so much stability to a young, volatile staff.
"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.
It has only been a year and a half since J.P. Ricciardi left Oakland to become Toronto's GM. But Ricciardi and his buddy, Billy Beane, have already made four deals together. And it wouldn't be shocking to see them go for No. 5 at the trade deadline.
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.
When people start discussing outfield combos who can really run down fly balls, most of the talk gravitates to Torii Hunter-Jacque Jones or Mike Cameron-Ichiro Suzuki. But it's possible that neither of those duos ranks No. 1 anymore.
In some ways, Jack McKeon has been a breath of fresh air in Florida. But wish him luck. Even though the Marlins have won six in a row, Marlins players have been telling their friends that they're basically playing for themselves as they wait for management to break up the team come July.
"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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