06/05/2002 10:51 pm ET
Draft comes to an end
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- And so, after 50 rounds and 1,482 selections, the phone lines went dead in Conference Room D at MLB headquarters.
The 2002 First-Year Player Draft may in the future be recalled as one of the best ever. Only hindsight is crystal clear in such events.
But for the present, drafting tendencies seemed to bear out the prevailing sentiment going in: That this year's talent pool didn't have a deep end.
By the end of the process, no obvious trends emerged. When you put this many rounds and names in the blender, it is unlikely to end up with significant variations year-to-year.
Nevertheless, the most reliable confirmation of that acknowledged talent shortage is the absence of traditional baseball powerhouses at the top tiers of the draft. In a typical year, the cream flows from magnet universities in California and the South.
This time, UCLA doesn't appear until the 154th selection (outfielder Ben Francisco). Louisiana State first pops up at No. 171 (outfielder Sean Barker) and Georgia Tech at No. 176 (outfielder Jason Perry).
USC, a traditional darling of scouts? Not until No. 334, midway through the 10th round, when the Indians took first baseman Bill Peavey.
Right from the beginning, this was a draft of concessions.
The Pittsburgh Pirates spent their valuable first pick on a fourth-year college pitcher whom they themselves immediately labeled as a best-case scenario No. 3-type starter.
Ball State right-hander Bryan Bullington became the first pitcher taken overall No. 1 in the draft since 1997 (Matt Anderson, by Detroit), and the first thing he had to hear was ways he can improve.
"We still look at him as a couple of years away," said Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield. "On the plus side, that may mean ... he'll be an even better pitcher than we see now. He's improved a lot and, beyond the radar gun and the things that are easy to measure, he's a smart guy, he's very competitive and very determined."
The things you normally hear about Nos. 1 aren't so tentative or tempered.
The next eight teams picking all went for high-school players. Or, by definition, for "futures."
Tampa Bay spent its No. 2 selection on a spindly shortstop; B.J. Upton has the potential to be great, but not for several years. Heck, last year's No. 2 (Mark Prior) is already in the Cubs' rotation.
A total of 17 high-school players went in the first round, the most since 1996. Last season, only 12 of the first 32 picks came out of the preps.
Oddly, while a lot of their competition focused on young players whom they can develop, the Oakland A's went in the opposite direction. This was significant, because of the considerable pressure on the A's to ace this draft after the loss of several free agents endowed them with seven picks within the first 39.
And Oakland spent all seven of those, including four in the first round alone, on college players. Going further, each of the A's first 23 selections was of a college player.
Even bountiful drafts include many selections whom clubs have no immediate plans to sign, but want to reserve the right to do so if the player improves sufficiently in the next 12 months, prior to the ensuing draft. Hollywood calls it "taking out an option." Baseball refers to such prospects as "draft-and-follow" guys.
The 2002 draft entered the draft-and-follow stage a little earlier than usual.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.