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First day a mixed bag for Rockies
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2004 First-Year Player Draft
06/07/2004  9:12 PM ET
First day a mixed bag for Rockies
Colorado chooses 18 players in draft's opening rounds
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Hurler Steven Register was chosen by the Rockies as the 80th overall pick. (Courtesy Auburn)

DENVER -- It came off as the manifestation of a draft philosophy. Looking to become more athletic, the Colorado Rockies snapped up prep middle infielder Chris Nelson from Redan High School in Stone Mountain, Ga., with their first choice and tabbed position players for four of their next five picks.

Truth be told, luck played a huge role in the Rockies being able to execute the plan.

The Rockies had brought in Nelson, 18, for a workout Friday, but had given up hope by Monday. Every indication was the Baltimore Orioles, picking just ahead of Colorado, would draft Nelson. In fact, it came from the Birds' mouths.

"This morning, we thought he wasn't going to get to us. They told us an hour before the draft they were taking Nelson," Rockies scouting director Bill Schmidt said. "When they called out the ID number, I went, 'Whoa.' Their Georgia scout called out the pick, and it was a different ID number."

Baltimore drafted Rice pitcher Wade Townsend, who was projected by Baseball America to wind up with Colorado.

Having built up pitching in previous drafts, the Rockies have added a few power hitters and were looking to increase overall athletic ability.

"Nelson's got the potential to hit," Schmidt said. "He's an above-average to solid above-average runner, and the athleticism was something we needed. In my opinion, he was the best high school hitter in the draft."

The Rockies expect to quickly sign Nelson, who has signed a scholarship with Georgia but made no secret of his desire to turn pro, and send him to Rookie-level Casper.

Nelson liked the way the draft went.

"I love the Rockies, there's nothing wrong with the Rockies and nothing wrong with the Orioles," he said. "I just want to play ball anyway."


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After Nelson, Colorado's top picks were:

  • Ole Miss outfielder Seth Smith, who is expected to blossom after splitting his time between baseball and football in college.

  • Auburn right-handed pitcher Steven Register, who followed up an outstanding 2003 season as a bullpen closer with the Tigers and Team USA by expanding his role with Auburn in 2004 (7-0, 4.02 ERA, eight saves in 22 games, including three starts).

  • North Carolina catcher Chris Iannetta, one of three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award for the nation's top catcher.

  • Notre Dame third baseman Matt Macri, who was voted by Baseball America as having the best infield arm in the Big East for three straight years and can play second, third or shortstop.

  • Virginia first baseman Joe Koshansky, the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, who batted .302 with 16 home runs and went 8-3 with a 2.98 ERA in 15 starts as a left-handed pitcher.

    "We tried to go after the best player, and it kind of unfolded for us that we ended up with the best athletes," Schmidt said. "I had a gut feel with Seth Smith and Macri -- they're both athletes and we'll see how that plays out. Register is an athletic pitcher. It kind of just worked out that way."

    Colorado picked in 18 rounds Monday, and did get around to pitchers. Starting with Oregon State left-hander Jake Postlewait in the seventh round, Colorado grabbed pitchers with seven out of 11 picks.

    The draft continues through the 50th and final round Tuesday.

    Thomas Harding 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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