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Astros take Pence with first pick
06/07/2004  2:59 PM ET
HOUSTON -- Hunter Pence would have been happy to have been drafted by any Major League team, but the native Texan was doubly thrilled to find out that he was picked by the very team he followed as a kid.

Pence was listening to the First-Year Player Draft on on Monday with his mother and girlfriend and couldn't believe his ears when he heard the Houston Astros selected the University of Texas at Arlington left fielder as their first pick.

"I knew a couple of people who were supposed to go in that round, so I was rooting for them," he said. "I heard my name and my phone started ringing and my mom was going crazy.

"I've been an Astros fan my whole life. I'm really proud to be drafted by this ballclub. When I heard the Houston Astros were picking me, I couldn't believe it."

Pence, a native of Arlington, Texas and product of Arlington High School, recently completed his junior year. He batted .395 (75-for-190) with eight doubles, five triples, eight home runs and 35 RBIs. He had a .616 slugging percentage and was 10-for-10 in stolen base attempts.

"He's a plus runner, has plus power, but his bat has a ways to go," director of scouting David Lakey said. "He has a below-average arm, so he's limited to left field.

"He has a combination of speed and power that is somewhat rare in the draft. He's a corner guy and we feel like he can be a corner guy in the big leagues."

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Pence, the 2004 Southland Conference Player and Hitter of the Year, garnered first-team All-Conference honors in back-to-back seasons, also earning the award following the 2003 campaign. He played his freshman year at Texarkana Junior College and was originally drafted in 2002 by the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Astros historically select pitchers as their first picks. They had not selected an outfielder since taking Michael Rosamond in 1999. But this year, they were open to filling some needs in a minor league system thin on position players.

"This is a guy that addresses one of these needs," Lakey said. "Pitching is important, but we feel we have depth in the system in pitching. You're not going to sacrifice a quality pitcher just to get a position player, but we felt this was a good choice.

"We felt like he was a guy who fit with what we were looking for -- a speed-and-power guy."

The Astros targeted the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Pence a while back and kept a close eye in him through the spring, even though he missed three weeks with a hip flexor strain.

Pence was aware that the scouts were watching.

"It was kind of stressful at times, but I like the pressure and enjoy showcasing what I can do," he said.

Because they lost their first-round pick to the New York Yankees with to the free-agent signing of Andy Pettitte last December, the Astros had to wait until the 64th pick to take their first selection.

This is the second consecutive year the Astros have not had a first round-pick. Last year, the Giants took their spot in the order because of the signing of Jeff Kent as a free agent.

The Astros made good use of their time in the war room on the fifth floor of Union Station while waiting for their turn.

"Well, we ate lunch and took some names off the board," Lakey said. "We enjoyed our lunch while they picked the first round."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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