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Focus turns from drafting to signing
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06/05/2002 11:26 pm ET 
Focus turns from drafting to signing

Left-hander Jeff Francis of the University of British Columbia has already agreed to terms with the Rockies. (Richard Lam/AP)
Now that the two-day First-Year Player Draft is over, with 1,482 players selected, clubs have now switched their focus from scouting, ranking and drafting players to actually signing them. Clubs retain the rights to players until about a week before the following year's draft.

The Cincinnati Reds didn't need that long to sign their first-round pick, right-handed high school pitcher Chris Gruler from Brentwood High School in California.

The third-overall pick received a $2.5 million bonus, exceeding the $1.95 million outfielder Austin Kearns received in 1998 as the highest in club history, in a deal that was announced shortly after Gruler was selected.

"What we agreed upon is better than what he would have gotten anywhere else," said Ryan Ware, Gruler's advisor from Reich/Katz/Landis. "That's why we were willing to get something done quickly."

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Reds general manager Jim Bowden didn't want negotiations to drag out through the summer.

"We have a limited budget," he said. "When I talked to (Gruler) a few weeks ago in Northern California, (he) told me money was not an issue. He wanted to sign, go out and play, I said if we end up taking you, I'm going to take you at your word."

The Reds were not able to come to terms with their top pick from last year, left-hander Jeremy Sowers, who decided to play for Vanderbilt University instead. This year Reds scouting director Kasey McKeon also announced the club has verbal agreements from third baseman-catcher Joey Votto, a second-round choice, and first baseman Walter Olmstead, a sixth-round pick.

"So these kids are excited to join us," McKeon said.

Another first-round pick, lefty Jeff Francis of the Colorado Rockies, has already agreed to terms. The ninth overall pick is looking at a bonus in the $1.85 million range. Currently, the club is working on arrangements for the Canadian out of the University of British Columbia to undergo a physical.

Anaheim Angels scouting director Donny Rowland announced the signing of first-round draft selection Joe Saunders (12th overall), a left-handed pitcher from Virginia Tech.

Saunders, a 2002 All-Big East first team selection and the league's strikeout leader, will be assigned to rookie-level Provo of the Pioneer League. The terms of the contract were not disclosed, but the Washington Post reports the signing bonus is worth $1.825 million.

"I'm pleased we were able to agree with Joe so quickly and to know that his development towards the Major Leagues will start immediately," Rowland said. "We're excited about his future and the fact that he is now part of the Angels' family."

Saunders, 20, was 9-2 with a 2.86 ERA (97 2/3 IP, 31 ER) and five complete games (including two shutouts) in 15 appearances (14 starts) for the Hokies this past season. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound junior allowed 103 hits and 22 walks while striking out 102 batters. Opponents hit .270 against Saunders, who was among the Big East leaders in wins (tied for second), innings (third), starts (tied for third) and shutouts (tied for first).

"I'm really excited to get started in my professional career," Saunders said. "I believe that getting going in the Angels' organization as quickly as I can is the best thing for my future."

The Oakland A's, who had seven picks in the first round and first supplemental round, have a No. 1 overall pick who all but said he was signing.

"We're not the type of people who want to hold out," said Ohio State first baseman Nick Swisher. "We just want to get out on the field ... There's no chance I'm going back to school."

The Red Sox spoke to a representative from the office of Scott Boras on Wednesday about Jason Neighborgall, the right-handed pitcher from Durham, N.C., they selected in the seventh round. Although he was ranked 11th on Baseball America's top prospects list, the Boras client dropped due to signability issues.

"We had a good conversation," said David Chadd, the Red Sox director of amateur scouting. "We knew what we were getting into, feel great about his ability, both sides will try and work. I don't foresee it to be a quick signing."

Cubs vice president of player personnel, Jim Hendry said they don't expect a problem signing their No. 1 pick, right-handed pitcher Bobby Brownlie, another Boras client.

The Cubs aren't in a rush to sign him, because Brownlie, taken 21st overall, has tendinitis in his shoulder and as Hendry said, "A little time off would not hurt him."

Tigers scouting director Greg Smith is eager to get to work on signing first-round pick Scott Moore (eighth overall).

"I've had a few conversations with his advisors, and they've been very productive, very positive," said Smith. "I don't think it'll be a problem."

Moore, who was approached by Boras, but went with ex-Major Leaguer Steve Springer instead said, "I'm just out to be treated fairly for where they took me. I just want to be treated fairly and I think I will be."

"Neither [Springer nor Moore] was interested in long-term negotiations," Moore's high school coach, Dave Lewis, said.

Pat Osborn, 21, a third baseman from the University of Florida, was selected by the Indians in Compensation Round B after the second round, said he can't wait to get on the field again.

"I'd like to do it without any trouble -- and just get it done," he said. "But I have no clue how long it'll take to get it done. But I'm the type person that I wanna get out there and play, so my goal is to get (a contract) as soon as I can."

The first pick (20th overall) for the Minnesota Twins, Denard Span, a center fielder from Tampa Catholic High School said he's in no rush to sign.

"I have to wait and see," Span said. "It's a sigh of relief that I'm picked. I'm going day by day. We'll have to wait for the negotiations."

Twins scouting director Mike Radcliff doesn't appear to be concerned.

"In the new millennium, none of them sign immediately," he said. "Lots of people like to wait and see what the others around them get. I don't believe we'll sign him right away. But I do believe we'll sign him and get him out to play in either the Gulf Coast League or (Rookie League) Elizabethton this summer."

The Dodgers hope to sign their first-round selection, James Loney, for around the same amount the 19th overall pick got last year -- $1.3 million. But that won't happen until after the Texas high school championships and all-star game, in about 10 days.

The Marlins may start talking with top pick Jeremy Hermida's (11th overall) representative in a few days. Hermida, who has a scholarship offer from Clemson, says he wants to play pro ball and he doesn't expect to be a signing problem. The Marlins don't want to speculate.

Edward Harris, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound center fielder out of Georgia College, signed with the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday, after being selected in the 18th-round. reporters Doug Miller, Jim Street, Joe Frisaro, Carrie Muskat, John Schlegel, Jason Beck, Mark Sheldon, Justice Hill, Ian Browne and Thomas Harding contributed to this report, which was not subject to the approval to Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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