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High hopes for high schoolers
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06/04/2002 4:13 pm ET 
High hopes for high schoolers
Prep stars dominate top of first round
By Tom Singer /

B.J. Upton, a five-tool shortstop, could be considered a six-tool player if you include his pitching ability. (courtesy Greenbrier Christian Academy)
NEW YORK -- The consensus opinion was clear: this spring's draft pool lacked sudden-impact talent.

So Major League clubs did the predictable in today's First-Year Player Draft, going for future impact.

Predictable, but nevertheless virtually unprecedented, as eight of the top nine selections were high school players.

There was one notable exception to the rule, and the Pittsburgh Pirates jumped on it, making Ball State right-hander Bryan Bullington the overall No. 1 pick.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior has the stuff and maturity for a quick ascent, and Pittsburgh general manager Dave Littlefield was swayed to grab him despite unproductive early contract talks.

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"With his determination and competitive nature," Littlefield said, "we feel he will be a great asset to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization."

As the rest of the elite selections were made, one typical trend continued. After Tampa Bay made high school shortstop B.J. Upton its No. 2 pick, the next three selections were pitchers -- always a top commodity at draft time.

However, they were all from the high school ranks. All seven selections following Bullington, in fact, came out of the preps.

Only one other collegiate pitcher was among the top 11, and he is from Canada, left-hander Jeff Francis from the University of British Columbia.

This trend was directly opposite last year's, when St. Paul high school catcher Joe Mauer was the No. 1 choice by the Twins, but eight of the top 11 selections came out of college -- seven of them pitchers.

B.J. (Don't Call Me Melvin) Upton is one thing. Forget five tools; he is a six-tool player, if you consider his prowess on the mound. He won't turn 18 for a couple of months, but he could flower into another Alex Rodriguez and reach the Majors in his teens.

Upton was in the Pirates' sights, too. Once the Bucs went elsewhere, the Devil Rays couldn't resist the best all-around high school player in the draft. Though actually getting him into their farm system will be a challenge. Having already committed to collegiate powerhouse Florida State University, Upton will be a tough sign. Then again, how could Upton improve his leverage?

He is coming off a season in which he batted .614, with 10 homers, 47 RBIs, 51 runs, 21 steals -- and only two strikeouts -- in 26 games. (Those two strikeouts of Upton? Perhaps some enterprising team should have tracked down the high school pitchers responsible and put them on its draft list.) And Upton is the second-highest draft pick in the country.

Make that countries. Francis and fellow Canadian left-hander Adam Loewen, picked fourth by the Orioles, give the Great White North two picks among the top nine.

Pretty noteworthy, considering all the previous drafts, beginning with the original in 1965, had produced only one first-round Canadian: Kevin Nicholson, taken 27th overall by the San Diego Padres in 1997.

Picking third-through-fifth, the Reds, Orioles and Expos all took high school pitchers, with common qualities: they're big, they throw hard, and they need high ceilings.

Cincinnati pick Chris Gruler is a 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-hander who likes to bust hitters in on the hands.

Loewen (6-6, 215) dominated Canadian prep hitters with his sharp breaking ball, heat and change.

Clint Everts (6-2, 170) packs a powerful 12-to-6 curve that commanded the Expos' attention.

Everts, from Cypress Falls High School in Houston, was the biggest top-of-the-draft surprise. One, because he went so high, after being projected as a mid first-round pick. Two, because the Expos, assumed to be on the lookout for short-term help, were the ones to choose the teenager.

Tom Singer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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