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Baseball
Tim Kurkjian
June 03, 1991
A Mild Draft
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June 03, 1991

Baseball

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CHALLENGING THE CATCHER

Perhaps the best measure of a catcher's effectiveness against would-be base stealers is the number of times he's tested. We checked the frequency of theft attempts when there was a runner at first with second base open and came up with the catchers who get the most—and least—respect.

ATTEMPTS TO STEAL SECOND

OPPORTUNITIES

PCT.

THE BEST

Ron Karkovice, White Sox

81

1,122

7.2%

Dave Valle, Mariners

148

1,811

8.2%

Mike Macfarlane, Royals

121

1,454

8.3%

Benito Santiago, Padres

175

2,071

8.5%

Lance Parrish, Angels

210

2,339

9.0%

THE WORST

Gary Carter, Dodgers

143

778

18.4%

Mackey Sasser, Mets

164

940

17.5%

Mike Fitzgerald, Expos

186

1,172

15.9%

Craig Biggio, Astros

311

1,976

15.7%

Mike LaValliere, Pirates

188

1,209

15.6%

Minimum 125 complete games caught since start of 1989 season, through May 25

SOURCE: STATS, INC.

A Mild Draft

Gary Nickels, the always optimistic scouting director of the Orioles, calls the talent pool for this year's amateur draft, which runs from June 3 to June 5, "not poor, about in the middle." But another scouting director reflects the consensus of baseball people when he says that the crop is "very weak. There are two players, then a drop-off to the next seven, then a big drop-off."

The top two prospects are Brien Taylor, 19, a lefthanded pitcher from East Carteret High in Beaufort, N.C., and Mike Kelly, 21, who plays centerfield for Arizona State. The Yankees, with the first pick in the draft, are expected to select Taylor, who has been compared with Vida Blue. "He has restored my faith that there are superstars out there," says Nickels. The Braves, picking second, are considering taking Kelly, an Ellis Burks- or Cesar Cedeno-type who excels in every phase of the game except throwing. But Atlanta is hesitating because Kelly may be difficult to sign.

Kelly was the favorite to be the No. 1 pick until rumblings began to be heard about his contract demands. There is speculation that he wants a multiyear deal worth between $750,000 and $1 million. In 1989 Baltimore pitcher Ben McDonald set the current standard for No. 1 picks when he was chosen first out of LSU and signed a three-year, $900,000 deal after a long, acrimonious negotiation.

The Braves and others could pass on Kelly because of his asking price. "He could really slide, perhaps as far as the 10th player taken," says one assistant general manager. There's also talk that Kelly may have Scott Boras as his contract adviser. Boras is known as a tough negotiator who can put a team through a summer of hell trying to get a player signed. Ask the Orioles. Boras is McDonald's agent. Like McDonald in '89, Kelly is a polished prospect who is only a college junior and thus has additional bargaining power because he can return to school for another year.

Signing Taylor, however, shouldn't be hard. He will probably get around $300,000, and all agree he is worth it. He has remarkable control for a 19-year-old. Plus, he's 6'4" and 205 pounds, with a fastball that has been clocked at 94 mph. Facing high school hitters is not an accurate gauge of big league ability, but he has dominated so completely—68 strikeouts in his first 26 innings this year—that he went from being a bright prospect to most likely the top choice in the draft. George Steinbrenner's Yankees might have opted for Kelly as a quick fix for their offense, but today's Yankees are heavy in outfielders and short on pitching. The selection of Taylor may bode well for a more patient approach in the Yankee organization.

Taylor is trying to remain calm about the prospect of his being the top pick. "The draft has been a distraction," he says. "People are always talking to me about it. Some days I just wish it would get here." He adds, however, "It is pretty important to be the Number One pick. You have to be real good to be that."

After Taylor and Kelly, the solid No. 3 pick is Dmitri Young, a high school shortstop from Oxnard, Calif. Another who could go high is John Burke, a sophomore at Florida who raised his stock last Thursday when he became the sixth pitcher ever to throw a no-hitter in the NCAA playoffs. He struck out 14 and walked only two in leading the Gators to a 2-0 victory over Furman. Others who could be among the first 10 picks are high school pitcher Kenny Henderson of Ringgold, Ga., Florida State first baseman Eduardo Perez, USC outfielder Mark Smith, Stanford first baseman David McCarty, Penn outfielder Doug Glanville and pitchers Joey Hamilton of Georgia Southern and Tyler Green of Wichita State.

The main reason the draft is so soft this year is the shortage of good college players. "Look back to the 1988 draft," says Joe Klein, the Royals' vice-president for player personnel. "[Major league baseball] signed most of the good players right out of high school, so there's not an abundance of college juniors." This year's draft, Klein says, is especially short of catchers, shortstops, lefthanded pitchers and big-time hitters.

"People are worried about expansion and not having enough pitching," says Klein. "I'm not. But I wonder where the hitters are going to come from. Hitters have a bigger adjustment than pitchers from college or high school ball to pro ball. Going from aluminum to wood bats is one adjustment. Kids are facing better velocity for the first time, and they're finding pitchers who throw breaking balls for strikes. The day will come when we'll have every-day big leaguers hitting only .190 at the skill positions."

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