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Weeks making push for No. 1

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June 2

Tuesday's draft is so fluid that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays won't decide whom they'll select with the first pick until sometime late Monday.

Rickie Weeks
Rickie Weeks showed more polish defensively in Arizona.

General manager Chuck LaMar went to see Southern University infielder Rickie Weeks in a regional and is convinced that with Weeks and shortstop B.J. Upton in the middle of the infield, and Rocco Baldelli in center field, the Rays could have the most athletic middle-field defense in the game in three years. LaMar's scouting and development leader, Cam Bonifay, has leaned toward Camarillo (Calif.) high school outfielder Delmon Young, Dmitri's "little" brother who has impressed with his displays of power.

Not that the Weeks-Young decision dramatically impacts the teams below them. Milwaukee is expected to take whomever Tampa Bay passes over with the second spot. The Tigers (Richmond RHP Tim Stauffer), Padres (Wake Forest RHP Kyle Sleeth), Royals (Schwenksville, Pa. OF Chris Lubanski) and Cubs (Tulane 1B-OF Michael Aubrey) are expected to fall as expected.

There are several factors swirling, and it starts with the first pick. Young is looking for the $4.6 million deal Tampa Bay gave Upton last summer. In New York, the commissioner's office is effectively attempting to rig prices, telling teams that the standard for the first pick should be the present-day value of the $3.6 million that the Orioles this past week gave LHP Adam Loewen.

"The commissioner's office rolled the first-round bonuses back almost $100,000 a player between 2001 and 2002," said one agent, "and Sandy Alderson and Frank Coonelly are bound determined to roll it back even farther. The players are faced with the inevitability that the money is going to start rolling backwards every year until someone goes to court and challenges them on a restraint of fair trade."

In the last few years, the approach to the draft has become increasingly scientific. You don't have to have read "Moneyball" to know that an increasing number of teams are evaluating players by production as well as tools, arguing that years ago Ruben Rivera was the prototypical No. 1 pick (had he ever been in the draft). The college vs. high school debate rages, particularly when it comes to right-handed pitchers. The consensus among scouting directors and general managers is that the best pitching prospect in the entire draft is right-hander Jeff Allison from Peabody (Mass.) High School. "He is every bit as good a prospect as Josh Beckett (in 1999)," one GM said. "But we won't take him because of the high school right-hander risk. Beckett may well be great, but we're in the fifth season since he was picked and he has 10 big-league wins."

"High school pitchers are a huge risk," said Pirates GM Dave Littlefield, who was with Florida when Beckett was selected and now is wrestling with the Allison question with the eighth pick. "If this were 1999," said one GM, "Allison would be 1-2-3. But he could slip to the Mets (12th pick) or Reds (14th) simply because of the adage that 18-year-old kids who throw 95 usually are throwing 85 at 23." Like everything else, there are no absolutes -- the Phillies have had unrivaled success drafting high school pitchers thanks to Mike Arbuckle.

All-Star Breakdown
As for where the best players come from, take last year's All-Star Teams:

Round 1: 16 players, including three college and one high school pitchers.

Round 2: Three.

Round 3: Five.

Rounds 4-5: Three.

Rounds 6-10: Four.

Rounds 11-20: Three.

Rounds 21 and higher: Eight, including Robb Nen (32), John Smoltz (22), Mike Piazza(62), Junior Spivey (36), Richie Sexson(25), Mark Buehrle(38), Jorge Posada(24), Eddie Guardardo(21).

International free agents: 18.

Undrafted: One (Eric Gagne).

  • One club that has done extensive predictability studies offers this stat: a team has as good a chance of getting a major-league pitcher selecting a high school pitcher in the 20th round as the first, and in the case of college pitchers, the sixth round is as likely to produce a major-league pitcher as the first.

  • Another club rated the 50 best pitchers in baseball in terms of value, and came up with this rating: College 20, high school 10, Latin America 10, junior and community Colleges 6 and Asia/Australia 4.

  • Matt Anderson (0-2, 5.27, Triple-A), Paul Wilson, Brien Taylor all were the first picks in their respective drafts.

  • Roger Clemens *: was undrafted out of high school in 1980, while teammates Rich Luecken and Reynard Noble went in the first and second round. Future teammates Al Nipper (eighth round) and Oil Can Boyd (16th) were drafted and signed by Boston. (* Clemens was picked in the 12th round in 1981 out of San Jacinto JC by the Mets, who picked Steve Phillips in the fifth round. He was the 19th pick in the '83 draft by the Red Sox, after the following pitchers were selected: Tim Belcher, Stan Hilton, Darrel Akerfelds, Jackie Davidson, Joel Davis, Rich Stoll, Wayne Dotson, Brian Holman, Ray Hayward and Erik Sonberg. Incidentally, the Red Sox wanted Stoll.)

    "It can be totally unpredictable to the point where when you look back it's all a crap shoot," Colorado's Dan O'Dowd said. "But it's still a vital part of our industry."

    "It's exciting to everyone in the organization because everyone focuses on it," Kansas City's Allard Baird said. "It's a time when all the work the area scouts do is rewarded. It's especially important to middle- and small-market teams because we have to work our tails off in Latin America and in the draft. We need to be right in those areas, because we can't get involved in the free agents or the big international scouting. But it's also important to get players that we can use in deals when we get close enough to compete for first place."

    That normally has been the Yankees' draft strategy -- take players who will move up quickly that can be used to deals. Jason Arnold and John Ford-Griffin were picked in 2001 and brought Jeff Weaver to the Yankees a year later. Oakland drafts for commodities, both for the A's and for trades that keep them in races.

    The Minnesota Twins have been very successful in developing talent. But while they have prospects like Justin Morneau (third round) and Joe Mauer (No. 1 pick in 2001 draft) coming, they picked Adam Johnson second in the nation in 2000, and out of the 1998 draft, the Twins, Marlins and Pirates haven't produced a major-leaguer. In fact, Torii Hunter is their only No. 1 pick.

    Twins Breakdown
    Twins How Twins GM Terry Ryan has built the Minnesota Twins:

    Draft: Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Matt LeCroy, Corey Koskie, A.J. Pierzynski, Doug Mientkiewicz, Eddie Guardado, LaTroy Hawkins, J.C. Romero, Brad Radke.

    Trades: Todd Sears, Cristian Guzman, Kyle Lohse, Rick Reed, Joe Mays.

    Rule V draft: Johan Santana.

    Free Agents: Kenny Rogers, Bobby Kielty (undrafted), Dustan Mohr (released), Luis Rivas (Latin America).

    Even with the Twins, the draft is unpredictable, which is why teams were scrambling with what ifs. If Baltimore were to take Ball State OF Brad Snyder at No. 7 and the Pirates switched to La Quinta (Calif.) HS third baseman Ian Stewart at No. 8, that would mean that Colorado would take LSU infielder Aaron Hill, which might mean that after Cleveland takes Round Rock (Texas) HS left-hander John Danks at No. 11, the Mets at No. 12 could choose between Allison and Dunedin (Fla.) HS slugger Ryan Harvey, who this week was in the mix with Tampa Bay for the top pick after his incredible power workout.

    If Toronto were to switch from Houston right-hander Brad Sullivan to Hill, Sullivan could fall to No. 17, which might cause Boston to switch to Sullivan from Baylor outfielder David Murphy. Oakland has two consecutive picks, and is leaning toward California third baseman Conor Jackson and Georgia Tech outfielder Matt Murton; Boston hoped for Murton at No. 32. The Yankees reportedly will take Rice first baseman Vince Sinisi, who may fall despite his hitting ability because of cost -- he's a draft-eligible sophomore with Scott Boras as an agent.

    And four years from now, who will be the rising major-league stars? If you ask me, they'll be Young, Sleeth, Murton, Sullivan and Aubrey.

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