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Three Rice pitchers picked early
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2004 First-Year Player Draft
06/07/2004  6:11 PM ET
Three Rice pitchers picked early
Trio of hurlers headed east after draft
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Philip Humber is one of three Rice pitchers taken among the first eight picks. (Courtesy of Rice University)
HOUSTON -- Losing to Texas A & M on Sunday -- at home, in the final game of the NCAA baseball tournament's regional round -- stung Rice.

The Owls had won the College World Series in 2003, the team's fourth appearance in Omaha in the last seven years.

Monday's First-Year Player Draft helped alleviate some of the pain for the Owls, or at least for three of their pitchers.

The New York Mets made Philip Humber the No. 3 pick in the draft, Tampa Bay took Jeff Niemann right behind him at No. 4 and Baltimore grabbed Wade Townsend with the No. 8 selection.

All tall. All right-handed. All fastballers.

"After [Sunday], we were pretty disappointed," Humber said. "This definitely helps. It's kind of surreal. Ever since I came to Rice, this has been in the back of my mind."

Philip Humber
School:
Rice U
Position: RHP   B/T: R/R
H: 6-4   W: 220
Born: 1982-12-21   Class: SR
Scouting report:
LARGE FRAME. BROAD, SLOPED SHOULDERS. STRONG, DURABLE, OVERALL BUILD. MORE DEVELOPED LOWER HALF. BODY TYPE SIMILAR TO KEVIN MILLWOOD. NO WINDUP, HIGH 3/4 DELIVERY. PLUS ARM STRENGTH. COMFORT ZONE 91-93 W/ RUN & SINK WHEN DOWN. CB, ML OUT PITCH W/ BIG, TIGHT, SHARP 11-5 BITE. CHANGEUP W/ SINK & DECEPTION. OTHER PITCH, SPLIT, W/ SHORT DOWN BREAK. BIG, STRONG, DURABLE WORKHORSE W/ PITCHABILITY & MOUND PRESENCE. STUFF FOR QUALITY RHS AT ML LEVEL.
Scouting video:
56K | 350K

Humber, a 6-4, 220-pound junior, finished the season 13-4 with a 2.27 ERA. He struck out 154 and walked 37 in 115 innings.

But he suffered both of Rice's losses over the weekend, falling to Texas Southern as a starter Friday and to A & M on Sunday in relief.

"I knew I'd get drafted pretty well," he said. "I expected to go in the first six picks. I couldn't ask for anything better."

The 6-foot-9 Niemann put together a sensational sophomore year, with a 17-0 record and 1.70 ERA. But he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow in the offseason and missed part of this spring with a groin injury.

His numbers were more modest this season. He posted a 6-3 record and 3.02 ERA, and he notched three saves.

But he proved himself in the regional. He pitched 1 1/3 innings to earn a save Saturday in a 6-3 win over Lamar, then threw a complete-game four-hitter on Sunday to beat the Aggies, 3-1, and force a final game.

"We definitely needed me to go nine to save the bullpen for the second game," he said.

"I think I answered all the questions about my health this weekend," he continued. "There's been a lot of rumors going around. My elbow's been fine all year. My groin is back to 100 percent."

Niemann was pleased to see Rice's two other outstanding pitchers also go high.

Jeff Niemann
School:
Rice U
Position: RHP   B/T: R/R
H: 6-9   W: 260
Born: 1983-02-28   Class: SR
Scouting report:
HIPS & THIGHS. EXTRA-LARGE HANDS. NO WINDUP, HIGH 3/4 TO OVERHEAD DELIVERY. EXTREME DOWNHILL PLANE. FB COMFORT ZONE 90-93. SPIKED CB W/ DOWN BITE. SHARP, 2-PLANE SLIDER. CIRCLE CHANGEUP W/ FADE, DECEPTION. SHOWS COMMAND, FEEL FOR 4 ML PITCHES. INTIMIDATING PHYSICAL SIZE. STUFF TO DOMINATE GAME AT TIMES. POTENTIAL FRONTLINE RH STARTER. QUICK TO ML LEVEL.
Scouting video:
56K | 350K

"That was awesome," he said. "For all of us to be called in the top eight is something special. We take pride in the things we've accomplished as a group.

"The breaks didn't go our way [in the NCAA tournament] this weekend. We almost pulled it off. To get one [College World Series title] is special."

Niemann didn't know Tampa Bay would draft him.

"I didn't have any idea," he said. "It was exciting to hear my name called. I saw a few of the [draft projections]. You can't worry too much about that. It changes every minute."

Townsend played mostly first and third base as a high school student in Dripping Springs, Texas, near Austin.

"I was easily a better hitter than pitcher in high school," he said. "I've been thinking about [the draft] for four years. You're definitely nervous."

Townsend compiled a 12-0 record and 1.80 ERA this year, and struck out 148 in 120 1/3 innings. He also picked up two saves. Some predict he will be used as a closer in the Majors because of his intensity. Others compare him to the Astros' Roger Clemens.

"I'll take it," he said of the comparison to the Rocket. "You could say that about Roger Clemens [should be a closer]. Look what he's done [as a starter]. It's really interesting to see how he pitches. Every pitch has a purpose to it."

Townsend pointed out that he finished his college career 22-1 as a starter.

Wade Townsend
School:
Rice U
Position: RHP   B/T: R/R
H: 6-4   W: 225
Born: 1983-02-22   Class: SR
Scouting report:
LARGE FRAME. FOOTBALL TYPE BUILD. BROAD, SLOPED SHOULDERS. STRONG, THICK, MUSCULAR THROUGH CHEST, HIPS, REAR & THIGHS. LOW WAISTED. SHORT ARMS. PHYSICALLY MATURE. NO WINDUP, OVERHEAD DELIVERY W/ EFFORT. PLUS RAW ARM STRENGTH. THROWS DOWNHILL. MOST FB'S 89-93. CAN DIAL IT UP WHEN NEEDED. SPIKED CB, ML OUT PITCH, NASTY, QUICK, SHARP, DOWN BITE, DISAPPEARS THROUGH HITTING ZONE. INTIMIDATING PHYSICAL PRESENCE ON MOUND. THRIVES IN PRESSURE SITUATION.
Scouting video:
56K | 350K

The trio could have been pitching for Rice for another three weeks if the Owls had reached the championship game of the College World Series.

Now they have time to rest before reporting to their new teams.

"It makes the transition a little easier," Humber said. "It's like turning the page."

"I'm going to take some time off," Townsend said. "Maybe just disappear for a few days, pull a vanishing act." The closest that he had ever come to Camden Yards was the Baltimore airport.

Humber has never been to Shea Stadium, and he has never seen the Mets play in Houston.

He has made two journeys to New York. One, in 2001, was for his senior trip in high school; the other was with USA Baseball, which played some games on Long Island in 2002.

"I'm from a small town in Texas," he said of Carthage (population 6,500), located about 20 miles from the Louisiana border. "New York was just huge -- all those buildings. We hung around Times Square. Not many pine trees."

Gene Duffey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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