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The Mariners, who held the first pick in the free-agent amateur draft last Thursday, considered making Wichita State reliever Darren Dreifort the No. 1 choice because he probably could have helped them in a pennant drive this year. But in the end Seattle chose Miami high school shortstop Alex Rodriguez (SI, March 22) because his raw talent was too great to pass up.
How good is Rodriguez? "He's the best [amateur prospect] I've ever seen," says the scouting director for one American League team. "He might be the best player ever in the draft [which began in 1965]. He's as talented as Ken Griffey Jr., but he plays with more intensity. The Mariners loved Dreifort, but you couldn't pass on this guy."
Blue Jay general manager Pat Gillick says the three players in draft history with the greatest potential for impact have been Darryl Strawberry, chosen No. 1 by the Mets in 1980, Griffey Jr., picked first by the Mariners in the '87 draft, and Rodriguez.
The 17-year-old Rodriguez is 6'3" and 195 pounds—a big, quick, rangy shortstop. In his senior year at Westminster Christian he batted .505 with nine home runs; he also stole 35 bases in 35 attempts. One of the things scouts like most about him is his zest for the game.
Rodriguez is expected to sign with Seattle, but the negotiations aren't going to be easy. He is represented by Scott Boras, the hard-line agent who in recent years has jacked up the price on top draft picks (page 61). This time Boras could be asking for a package worth $2 million, and there is talk that the initial contact between him and the Mariners didn't go smoothly.
"We're going to offer a very fair package; I'm not concerned," Seattle general manager Woody Woodward said last Saturday. "I think we can get it done. Alex really wants to play, and that's a key. It's the right time for him to play pro ball, put a lot of money in the bank and start his way to the big leagues."
Dreifort, who was selected second, by the Dodgers, could pitch in Los Angeles this season. His size is imposing (6'2", 205), his fastball has been clocked in the mid-90's, and he was 10-1 with a 2.23 ERA and four saves in 27 games entering the College World Series. Dreifort blew a save against Arizona State in the first round of the Series last Saturday, but then he hit a home run in the 11th inning to beat the Sun Devils 4-3 and get the win.
As the Wichita State DH, Dreifort entered the Series batting .330 with 20 home runs and 58 RBIs in 51 games. But the Dodgers want him for his arm, and among drafted players he's probably the closest to being ready to play in the majors.
O FOR FOUR