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DRAFT ON TAP
On June 4, 5 and 6, Major League Baseball will hold its annual free-agent amateur draft. More than 1,500 players will be selected, but only about 10% of them will ever play in the big leagues. Guaranteed, a few so-called can't-miss players will not make it. Guaranteed, a few obscure late-round picks will be standouts in three to five years.
Consider this: Two of the top relievers of all time—Dan Quisenberry and Kent Tekulve—were never drafted. Neither were Bobby Bonilla, Tommy Herr, Claudell Washington and a number of other players who have enjoyed productive major league careers. Jose Canseco wasn't chosen until the 15th round of the 1982 draft. Don Mattingly went in the 19th round in '79, after three future NFL quarterbacks—Jay Schroeder, Dan Marino and John Elway—were chosen. "Projecting how players will do is a crapshoot," says Joe McIlvaine, the Mets' vice-president for baseball operations. "It's even more unpredictable when you have a strong high school draft year."
Which is what baseball has this spring. Most observers agree that overall this is a thin year for talent and that, unlike recent drafts, which produced several college players who went almost straight to the majors (e.g., Bo Jackson, Gregg Olson, Jim Abbott and Ben McDonald), this year's draft will be dominated by schoolboy players who will need seasoning. "There's been a shrinking of available players the last 10 years, which is why we have 40-year-old catchers today," says Joe Klein, vice-president of player development for the Royals. "It's cyclical, but this is definitely a down year."
Todd Van Poppel, a righthander from Martin High in Arlington, Texas (page 54), is the prize of this year's crop, but he says he will play for the University of Texas before turning pro. If the Braves, who have the first pick, don't take him, one of 10 other players could go No. 1: catcher-third baseman-pitcher Shane Andrews (Carlsbad [N.Mex.] High), outfielder Tony Clark (Christian High, El Cajon, Calif.), shortstop Tim Costo ( University of Iowa), outfielder Carl Everett ( Hillsborough High, Tampa), righthander Alex Fernandez ( Miami-Dade Community College South), outfielder Adam Hyzdu (Moeller High, Cincinnati), shortstop Chipper Jones (The Bolles School, Jacksonville), catcher Mike Lieberthal ( Westlake Village [ Calif.] High), righthander Kurt Miller (West High, Bakers-field, Calif.), first baseman Mark Newfield (Marina High, Huntington Beach, Calif.).
Will any of them become stars? Who knows? But baseball has to be concerned that so many of the country's top athletes would rather play another sport professionally. McIlvaine says that baseball aggressively pursues two-sport athletes, but "there's no question that basketball and football are the glamour sports. It's difficult to convince them to give up the glamour now and wait to get it later."
Of this year's premier choices, Clark, who is 6'7", is considering playing basketball at Arizona, and Jones and Hyzdu have been recruited to play football by a number of colleges. " Clark is the guy baseball has to key on," says Klein. "That's what the industry needs. He looks like another Darryl Strawberry."
However, just because a kid is a terrific athlete doesn't mean he can be a big league baseball player. Consider Danny Ainge, who batted .220, with 128 strikeouts in 665 at bats in three seasons for Toronto before quitting to play in the NBA. Former Baltimore reliever Tippy Martinez was once asked what he threw Ainge to get him out. "Strikes," said Martinez.
THE HALL CALLS
The accolades keep pouring in for A's slugger Jose Canseco. "He's kind of in a class by himself," says Milwaukee manager Tom Trebelhorn, who watched Canseco hit a pair of homers against the Brewers in a 13-1 Oakland rout on May 24. "I don't know about players from a long time ago, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone quite like him—a guy that strong with a bat that quick. When he's going well, he's a fellow who you think can hit a homer every at bat.