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Draft filled with uncertainty
Drew, Burrell stand out, but questions abound
Posted: Monday June 1, 1998 9:00 AM
By Allan Simpson, Baseball America
In a year of wide disagreement on the talent pool in baseball's amateur draft, Phillies scouting director Mike Arbuckle can't even get a consensus from his own staff on the best player available.
The Phillies are drafting No. 1 overall this year for the first time in franchise history. They had narrowed their priority list to four players two weeks before D-Day. But to complicate matters, each of the club's four crosscheckers favored a different player.
"Each of our guys likes the player they've followed the most, Arbuckle said."
Philadelphia's short list included left-handers Ryan Mills of Arizona State and Mark Mulder of Michigan State, and third basemen Pat Burrell of Miami and Sean Burroughs of Wilson High in Long Beach. Arbuckle had seen all four several times but said he had not made up his mind whom to choose.
"We'll bring all our people in [this week], listen to what everyone has to say and I'll make an informed decision at that time," said Arbuckle, who made it clear he would make the call.
The lack of a consensus No. 1 pick further confuses an already complicated draft, scheduled for Tuesday through Thursday.
Arbuckle and Phillies general manager Ed Wade insist that the saga of outfielder J.D. Drew was not a factor. Drew was selected with the second overall pick but the Phillies were unable to sign him and he will re-enter the draft. Even though they have the top pick, the Phillies can not draft Drew without his permission.
The Phillies drafted Drew because they need power. That is still an organization priority. They have given strong indications they would still take the best bat available and that would be Burrell, a career .443 hitter for the top-ranked Hurricanes.
His status became a bit uncertain because he missed seven weeks with a stress fracture in his back. Though all medical reports were favorable, the Phillies had only a weekend of NCAA regional play to assess Burrell's status.
"Obviously, we've got a lot of loose ends to tie up," Arbuckle said.
Clouding the issueThere is no guarantee that Drew will be selected by a team that will pay him anything near the $11 million that he and agent Scott Boras are asking. A team such as the Athletics, picking second overall, might even lowball him and offer less than what the Phillies have on the table.
As far as the Phillies are concerned, Burrell is the wild card.
"There is no clear-cut favorite," Wade said, "but he can certainly help clarify the situation for us. We hope to get a chance to see him play. That would go a long way to figuring out what we're going to do."
Burrell had an MRI and was cleared by doctors to play in the NCAA Atlantic I regional. Three days before the regional he took live batting practice for the first time since being sidelined and passed the initial hurdle. Arbuckle was there to see it and was scheduled to watch him in the regional.
"I feel great," Burrell said after facing live pitching for the first time in weeks. "There was no pain at all. My timing was off a bit, but I felt like I hadn't missed a day. It has been frustrating not being able to play, but I was told it would take time, to just be patient."
Because Scott Rolen is entrenched at third, the Phillies would ask Burrell to move across the diamond to first base. He has indicated a willingness to do so. "I've played third my entire life," Burrell said. "I've worked hard at it. But if that's what they want, it would be fine with me to go to first base."
If Burrell's back problem turns out to be more serious than expected, the Phillies would turn to Mulder, Mills or Burroughs, probably in that order. All have been closely scrutinized by Wade, Arbuckle and all of the Phillies' high-level scouts.
The 6-foot-5 Mills and 6-6 Mulder have been routinely compared with each other. Arbuckle says Mills has the better stuff but has been plagued by inconsistent performance. Mulder has pitched better and is more consistent. Neither, however, has been as dominating as Clemson right-hander Kris Benson was when he was an easy choice as the No. 1 pick in the 1996 draft.
Tough Draft To FigureWhile Phillies officials labor over whom to take with the No. 1 selection, there also is little consensus elsewhere in the first round.
"We can't make heads or tails of what teams are looking at this year," said Orioles scouting director Gary Nickels, whose team has the 26th pick. "It's a very level draft. There should be more surprises this year because of the equality of talent."
Scouts are in rare agreement on the five players who stand out: Burrell, New Jersey high school right-hander J.M. Gold, Mills, Mulder and Georgia high school outfielder Corey Patterson. They should go in rapid order.
From there, it's a crapshoot.
With the continued escalation of bonuses, signability will undoubtedly be an issue on where certain players will be drafted. It's possible that last year's record bonus of $2.505 million, given by Detroit to first overall pick Matt Anderson, will be broken again.
Some of the more difficult signings this year should be four or five players who are also standout high school quarterbacks with major-college aspirations: Adam Dunn (Texas), Drew Henson (Michigan), Matt Holliday (Oklahoma State) and Jared Jones (Florida State). All are considered first-round talents, but questions about signability may drop them.
Stanford quarterback Chad Hutchinson, who was drafted in the first round three years ago and decided not to sign, also has teams in a quandary. He has indicated an interest in playing professional baseball but his price tag will be considerable -- possibly the highest of anyone.
Obviously, signability will be a key issue for the Phillies in the wake of their failure to sign Drew. With the public pressure that goes with a No. 1 pick, they are not in a position to get bogged down in another tedious negotiation.
"From all the work we've done," Arbuckle said, "we think all the players we're considering want to play. We've heard nothing out of the ordinary. We don't foresee another situation like last year."
The Major League Baseball Players Association filed a grievance in an effort to get Drew declared a free agent, but arbitrator Dana Eischen ruled that MLB did not violate its Basic Agreement with the Players Association when it altered the language of some draft rules last September.
MLB interprets both the old and new rules to mean that Drew has to go back into the draft if he doesn't sign with the Phillies. Drew played last summer in the Northern League, which is professional but not a member of the National Association.Baseball America
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