June 4, 2000
By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – After spending months on the road evaluating thousands of players, major league scouting directors agree on one thing: This year’s baseball draft is the most unpredictable in recent memory.
No player has emerged as the clear favorite to be taken No. 1 by the Florida Marlins in Monday’s draft, although there is a report saying the Marlins have decided on California high school first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
“We don’t feel that there are many guys who have come to the forefront,” Baltimore Orioles scouting director Tony DeMacio said. “There are a lot of mixed opinions, even in our own room.”
Florida is followed by Minnesota, the Chicago Cubs, Kansas City and Montreal to round out the first five picks.
“There are no top one or two players in this draft, so I think that makes it a little more confusing,” Royals scouting director Terry Wetzel said. “There is some depth, though. If you’re picking 15 or 20, there’s a chance you’ll get as good a player as if you were picking in the top four or five.”
Some early favorites to be selected No. 1, such as California third baseman Xavier Nady and Arizona right-hander Ben Diggins, struggled at times.
“I think that clouded things for everybody,” DeMacio said. “As much as you don’t like to scout performance, performance does enter to a certain point when you evaluate talent. I think that’s why there is so much uncertainty.”
Meanwhile, high school players such as right-hander Matt Harrington, catcher Ben Heard and Gonzalez soared up teams’ charts.
“We’re picking fourth and we really have no idea what the teams are doing ahead of us,” Wetzel said. “In ’93, we picked fifth and knew Alex Rodriguez was going to be the No. 1 pick. When Ken Griffey Jr. came out in `87, you knew he was No. 1. Even last year, you knew Josh Hamilton and Josh Beckett would be the top two. It’s not like that this year.”
Nady, a standout with California and Team USA, broke several school and Pac-10 records. He played third base, second base and shortstop for the Golden Bears and might be the first college position player chosen.
Diggins is still high on many teams’ lists despite showing signs of tiring down the stretch. The 6-foot-7 draft-eligible sophomore is a hard thrower who was drafted two years ago as a hitter.
Auburn right-hander Chris Bootcheck, Texas righty Beau Hale and Notre Dame right-hander Aaron Heilman are expected to be first-rounders, as well as a trio of Stanford players – right-handers Justin Wayne and Jason Young and outfielder Joe Borchard.
Only twice since 1971 have the first three picks been high school players, but this year could be the first since ’71 that the top five are high schoolers.
Harrington, from Palmdale High School in California, has a fastball that routinely hits 95-97 mph. He could become the first high school righty to be taken No. 1, but signability plays a major factor. The Marlins will likely shy away, anticipating Harrington will seek a signing bonus similar to the $3.6 million deal Beckett signed with them as the No. 2 pick.
The Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, citing unidentified sources, reported in Sunday’s editions that Gonzalez agreed to a $3 million signing bonus with the Marlins. Gonzalez, from Eastlake High School in California, has a smooth left-handed stroke and is one of the top hitters available. He hit .645 with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs this season.
Heard might be the best defensive catcher available, but some teams are concerned by the Rancho Bernardo High School star’s hitting abilities.
Jason Stokes, a first baseman from Coppell High School in Texas, shortstop David Espinosa from Gulliver Prep in Florida and Luis Montanez, a shortstop from Coral Park High School in Miami, are also expected to be among the first players selected.
Bobby Hill, drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the supplemental round last year, is again eligible for the draft after the sides could not reach a contract agreement. The former Miami shortstop, whose situation is similar to J.D. Drew’s two years ago, has been playing in the independent Atlantic League.
“There are certainly future major leaguers in this draft,” said Gary LaRocque, director of amateur scouting for the New York Mets. “You have to go after the best available ballplayer and you can’t ever get away from evaluating a player’s tools. Guys win because they have the combination of baseball instincts and the tools.”
Atlanta makes its first selection at No. 29, but has four of the first 51 picks. Oakland and Arizona don’t pick until the second round, and Seattle has to wait until the fourth round – at No. 116 – to make a pick. The Mariners’ wait will be the second-longest in draft history, Tampa Bay’s first pick was No. 132 two years ago.