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Orioles draft preview
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2004 First-Year Player Draft
05/28/2004  8:00 AM ET
Orioles draft preview
Eighth pick should help a rebuilding farm system
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Adam Loewen was Baltimore's first overall pick in 2002. (Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE -- The Orioles have the money to pursue premium free agents and improve their team immediately. Yet, the First-Year Player Draft is an important part of the organization's development.

The Orioles have the eighth pick in the June 7 draft and have rebuilt their farm system since the Jim Beattie-Mike Flanagan era with fruitful drafts the past two years. Players such as Nick Markakis, Val Majewski and Adam Loewen are flourishing in the O's system and could be key parts of the team's future.

This is not considered a particularly deep draft, and Beattie said the club could land just as talented a player with the eighth pick as perhaps the third or fourth.

"It sounds like a cliché but we'll take the best player available," Beattie said. "We're looking for a player with the highest ceiling. It's a very expensive pick. You want to be very careful how you spend the money. We're open to anything."

The club's past two picks, Loewen and Markakis, have been players with one year of junior college experience, which has helped their maturity. Beattie said the team is not against drafting a high school player -- which has been a growing debate the past few years -- but are projected to take Old Dominion pitcher Justin Verlander with their pick.


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Verlander, a right-hander, is 6-foot-4, 190 pounds and is 6-5 with a 3.33 ERA for the Monarchs. He is considered a hard thrower who has trouble with command.

Since the organization is run by two former pitchers, the Orioles have emphasized pitching in their past few drafts. And the lower levels are stocked with good arms. What the club lacks is a legitimate power hitter. Beattie, however, said the team will not particularly seek power.

 Past five No. 1 picks
  Year   Player
  2003   Nicholas Markakis, LHP
  2002   Adam Loewen, LHP
  2001   Chris Smith, LHP
  2000   Michael Fontenot, 2B
  1999   Beau Hale, RHP

An intriguing pick could be Miami (Ohio) first baseman Mike Ferris, who has 22 homers.

Perhaps the first-round pick is even more significant because the Orioles do not have a second-rounder because of the signing of Miguel Tejada. A primary reason the Orioles' farm system declined in the late 1990s was that the club lost several picks by signing free agents.

Beattie said the club wants to be careful of not becoming too reliant on free agency, especially since it can hurt farm system development. The Orioles do not view themselves as a team with the luxury of signing free agents to fill all necessary needs. Flanagan believes in the "Oriole way" that was so prevalent during his playing days in the 1970s, when the organization developed players such as Eddie Murray, Flanagan, Cal Ripken and Mike Mussina.

The organization wants to maintain that tradition but also be one of the premiere attractions for premium free agents.

"For longer term success the draft is important," Beattie said. "A good organization is going to develop their own players. It's just another way of bringing in players. It is very important to us."

Gary Washburn is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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