05/03/2002 4:49 pm ET
No lock on No. 1
Top pick in 2002 draft anything but clear cut
By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com
When the Pittsburgh Pirates announce whom they have chosen with the first pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, will anyone be able to say "I knew it"?
While there is certainly a wealth of talent available for the upcoming draft -- to be held June 4-5 in New York City -- there isn't quite that buzz about who will be going No. 1. There is no clear-cut choice, no "we have to have that guy" label attached to any player this season as there was with guys like Ken Griffey Jr. in '87 or Alex Rodriguez in '93. That doesn't mean, however, that there aren't impact players out there for the taking, depending on whom you ask.
"Sure, there are no [Mark] Priors in this year's draft," Mets director of scouting Jack Bowen said, in reference to last year's second overall pick by the Cubs. "But there are, without naming names, several top-level guys that can go in the first half dozen or so picks that have separated themselves, depending on who you talk to. There's a good mix of high school and college guys.
"But you really don't know what to expect in the middle of the first round because it's still too early to tell. You just have to try and make sure you do your work on the high school as well as college players. You have to get yourself in good position and be covered no matter what happens."
Tampa Bay has the second pick. The Devil Rays took Dewon Brazelton, a right-handed pitcher from Middle Tennessee, with the third pick a year ago. Where will they turn this time around?
"I think this year, things are a little more benign," Tampa Bay's director of scouting, Dan Jennings, said while on a recent scouting trip in Georgia. "There are some solid guys at the top, but I don't think anyone has separated themselves from the group. It's always difficult because you want to get the best guys possible for your organization but you can only deal with the talent pool that's available.
"It's always vague. A great example of that is a guy like [Albert] Pujols. He's a 13th-rounder and then BAM, he's the Rookie of the Year."
So who are the likely candidates to emerge as potential top picks?
There could be a run on high school players early in the draft because of a perceived lack of top talent in the college ranks. Baseball America has rated Chesapeake, Va. shortstop B.J. Upton as the top-ranked prep school prospect in the country, followed by southpaws Adam Loewen [Surrey, British Columbia] and Scott Kazmir [Cypress Falls High School, Houston].
There is speculation that Loewen and Jeff Francis, a left-handed pitcher from Vancouver, B.C., could become the highest-drafted Canadians in MLB history, an honor currently held by shortstop Kevin Nicholson, who was drafted 27th overall by San Diego in 1997.
University of North Carolina junior shortstop Russ Adams, a Cape Cod League vet, has rebounded from an early-season hand injury to the tune of a .372 batting average and 34 stolen bases through late April. South Carolina's Drew Meyer is a slick fielder with a solid bat (.381 average).
As for pitchers, Rutgers junior Bobby Brownlie remains at or near the top of several lists. He's also a Cape Cod Leaguer who may not be posting dominating numbers (6-3, 2.14), but he's high on the radar screen of almost every team with his darting knuckle curve. Cal State Northridge's Bill Murphy (7-1, 2.43), Ball State's Luke Hagerty (5-0, 1.42) and Bryan Bullington (8-2, 2.19) all bear watching.
For college seniors, Clemson shortstop Khalil Greene is hitting .479 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs through 29 games. Alabama pitcher Lance Cormier, the big right-hander, was off to an 8-0 start, posting a 1.36 ERA and three complete games in nine starts.
Other seniors include Florida State infielder Ryan Barthelemy (.409, 10 HRs, 61 RBIs), Nebraska righty Shane Komine (5-0, 2.10) and diminutive Notre Dame outfielder Steve Stanley (.447, with just three strikeouts in 114 at-bats).
"If you can predict what you're going to get in the draft you'd be a wise and wealthy man," Jennings said. "There's just no way you can do it. Most organizations can't worry about when a player is going to arrive, especially when you're picking towards the top. You're going to have to look for an impact guy and that has to take precedent."
As for whether or not that "impact guy" exists in this year's draft, time will tell.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.