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College pitchers are in demand
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2004 First-Year Player Draft
06/08/2004 10:22 PM ET
College pitchers are in demand
tickets for any Major League Baseball game
Jeff Niemann went 5-2 with a 2.51 ERA this past season at Rice University. (courtesy Rice U.)
NEW YORK -- In a fascinating two-day drill during which Major League clubs heeded their needs, pitchers ruled and high school talent was at a premium.

The 2004 First-Year Player Draft wound down early Tuesday evening, 50 rounds and countless big-board shuffles in war rooms around the country after it began.

Showing admirable staying-power, 28 of the 30 Major League teams rode out all 50 rounds of the draft. Oakland dropped out in the 41st round, and St. Louis dropped out after 47.

The 1,498th and final selection, by the Atlanta Braves, was right-hander Eric Gonzalez, from Cochise County Community College in Douglas, Ariz.

In another sport, Gonzalez might have fame as Mr. Irrelevant. This being the baseball draft, Eric is potentially no more irrelevant than any 10th-round pick.

With a scarcity of irresistible blow-away athletes as options, big-league clubs instead drafted in direct correlation to both short- and long-term needs.

At the end of the days, that trend was apparent in both the big picture, and in smaller insets.

As reflected in a thorough analysis of the draft by MLB.com, pitchers were predictably the most popular targets, particularly those with collegiate experience.

More than one out of every three draftees came off a collegiate mound. Similarly, 64 percent of the picks came from the college ranks.

A comprehensive breakdown, with categorized percentages of the total selections:

  • Right-handed pitchers: College, 27; HS, 12.
  • Left-handed pitchers: College, 10; HS, 5.
  • Infielders: College, 15; HS, 7.
  • Outfielders: College, 11; HS, 5.
  • Catchers: College 5; HS, 3.

    The Cardinals included 42 college players among their 47 picks. The Blue Jays, who did not select a high schooler until their 18th pick, also wound up drafting only five of them.

    Bending most dramatically the other way were the Braves and the Brewers, each of whom drafted 29 high school players.

    Although the Twins and Phillies eventually fell in with the trend, both went against the grain in the early rounds.

    Minnesota of course made a high school shortstop -- Matt Bush -- the overall No. 1 pick. But the Twins stayed on that track by using eight of their first 10 picks on prepsters. Similarly, the Phillies included only one college right-hander in their first 10 selections; the draft was 362-deep before they chose another.

    All the pre-draft curiosity about a clash between the Dodgers' traditional preference for high school players and the college-bend of new GM Paul DePodesta was for naught. Los Angeles had virtually the most balanced draft of any team, with 30 college and 22 prep selections.

    The Oakland A's, where DePodesta cut his teeth at the elbow of Billy Beane, stayed true to their reputation. The A's picked 39 collegians before their early withdrawal.

    Without any compelling athletes to blow them away, clubs loaded up on their needs, hoping to be able to fill current or anticipated holes.

    The Indians, for instance, plucked 31 pitchers as possible solutions to their challenged staff.

    With the absence of a left-hander from their rotation a constant issue, the Yankees drafted seven southpaws from the college ranks, matching the high for any team.

    With Carlos Delgado's uncertain future as he plays in the last year of his contract, the Blue Jays have to make contingency plans for his possible departure. Toronto thus included nine first basemen among its haul of 15 college infielders.

    There were other trends, too. Obviously, anytime 1,498 names gather in one place, curiosities abound (besides the roster of famous kin, which is covered elsewhere on the site):

    Old candidates don't fade away ... They just become baseball players.

    First baseman Joseph Lieberman (Meridian CC) was drafted in the 28th round by Atlanta, left-hander Brent Gaphardt (Dundalk CC) was drafted in the 42nd round by Montreal, outfielder Stephen Ashcraft (Brentwood, Tenn.) was drafted in the 43rd round by the Bucs.

    They want their names back: William Mays (an outfielder, at least), the (Richard) Bambino, and Nathan Bumstead (where's Blondie?) were among the selected.

    We also had a Santana (outfielder Ethian from Laredo JC), a Marconi (third baseman Robert, Northern Illinois University), a Casanova (right-hander Nicholas from Corona, Calif.) and a James Brown (a right-hander from Brunswick, Ga. who reputedly was the hardest-working man on his staff).

    Fate is what you make of it: Thomas Royals, a right-hander from Hattiesburg, Miss., was taken in the 22nd round by the wrong AL Central team, the Detroit Tigers.

    On the other hand, Matthew Righter, another Tigers pick, in the 21st round, is a right-handed pitcher.

    And Wesley Swackhamer does -- the outfielder taken in the fifth round by St. Louis is second at Tulane University with eight homers, along with a .353 average.

    A sweetheart deal: If former Mets pitcher Ron Darling and ex-Brewers outfielder Rob Deer need to form a barnstorm team, they have a couple of new potential recruits:

    Shortstop Raymond Honey, Cincinnati's 21st-round choice from Lafayette College, and third baseman Ronald Prettyman, the Brewers' 28th-round pick out of Cal State University, are available.

    The Headline Writers Union has filed a protest: Finally, the authors of those snappy, catchy hooks in your favorite newspapers all groaned, threw staplers and popped antacid tablets upon hearing the following draft selections.

    Joshua Wahpepah.
    Christopher Raulinaitis.
    Mathew Kretzschmar.
    Krzysztof Dabrowiecki.
    Michael Wlodarczyk.

    Good luck, everybody.

    Tom Singer 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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