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AL East: Rays pack in picks
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2004 First-Year Player Draft
06/09/2004  1:15 AM ET
AL East: Rays pack in picks
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Jeff Niemann went 5-2 with a 2.51 ERA this past season at Rice University. (courtesy Rice U.)
Pitching was the premium commodity in this year's First-Year Player Draft, and clubs in the AL East definitely joined the arms race.

Starting with the Devil Rays' pick at No. 4 of big right-hander Jeff Niemann out of Rice, the AL East pretty much across the board focused on adding arms to their organizations throughout the two-day draft.

"The draft dictated pitching," said Gordon Blakeley, the Yankees' senior vice president of player personnel.

"We thought this draft was really deep in pitching and that's a need as well," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein.

Here's a glance at the AL East's selections on Day 1 of the First-Year Player Draft:

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
• Orioles draft picks
Four picks after the Jays took Niemann, the Orioles picked up right-hander Wade Townsend, Niemann's Rice teammate, at No. 8 to give the Owls three of the top eight picks in the draft.

The Orioles were among the teams that passed up the chance to draft high-profile college players Jered Weaver and Stephen Drew, but they were very happy to have selected Townsend, even if he was the third of Rice's trio of aces to be drafted.

"Yeah, I guess I am the worst one," he joked Monday.

Townsend, drafted after Niemann and No. 5 overall pick by the Mets Phil Humber, comes in with gaudy credentials from his senior year: a 12-0 record with a 1.80 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 120 1/3 innings.

The Orioles went heavy on pitching early, picking right-handers with three of their first five selections and taking eight pitchers among their first 17 selections while focusing on power among position players. They took only three high schoolers on the first day, including third-round pick Brad Bergeson of Foothill High in Pleasanton, Calif.


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In all, 26 of the Orioles' 49 selections were pitchers, including 14 right-handers and 12 left-handers. In addition to the pitchers selected, the Orioles chose eight catchers, eight outfielders and four shortstops, as well as a first baseman, second baseman and third baseman.

They dipped into the college ranks 32 times, and into high schools for 17 picks.

BOSTON RED SOX
• Red Sox draft picks
Not drafting until the 65th pick, the Red Sox were happy to find a scrappy David Eckstein-type in Dustin Pedroia when their turn finally came around.

The Sox then took turned their attention to the mound, taking pitchers with eight of their next 12 picks, starting with a pair of lefties -- third-rounder Andrew Dobies of Virginia and Thomas Hottovy of Wichita State, both of whom could be on a fast track.

Pedroia, meanwhile, started all 185 games in his Sun Devils career and was only the fourth Sun Devils player ever to win All-Pac-10 first team honors three straight years. Pedroia was rated as the 16th-best position player in the draft and 53rd overall by Baseball America.

The Sox took just two prep players in their first 17 picks, and took 11 overall, including Nick Francona, a left-handed pitcher who's the son of Sox manager Terry Francona.

NEW YORK YANKEES
• Yankees draft picks
With pitching an organizational priority, this pitching-heavy draft was set up well for the Yankees. They took 30 pitchers among their 52 selections.

The Yankees were actually as flush with early picks as anyone, holding four of the top 41 picks -- pretty much the same setup as their small-market pals the A's, who had four in the top 40.

They took three pitchers in those four picks, starting at No. 23 overall with Phillip Hughes, a right-hander out of Foothill High in Santa Ana, Calif. Hughes is a 6-foot-5, 225-pounder with power pitches and a good command of the strike zone.

The Yanks took prep catcher John Poterson -- a switch-hitting catcher out of Chandler, Ariz., with power potential -- and college pitchers Jeff Marquez and Brett Smith with their other early picks.

The Yankees took 22 right-handed pitchers and eight lefties. The 22 position players taken by the Yankees included eight outfielders, four catchers, four shortstops, three first basemen, two third baseman and one second baseman.

Of New York's 52 picks, 14 came out of high school, while 37 were college players and one is neither -- right-hander and four-time draftee Matt Harrington, pitching for the independent Fort Worth Cats, picked in the 36th round by the Yankees.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
• Devil Rays draft picks
The Devil Rays had the No. 1 overall pick last year and might have gotten another pick who is the caliber of a top overall pick this year in Niemann, a 6-foot-9 right-hander who could be on the fast track to the Majors as long as he remains healthy.

Although they did pass on projected No. 1 Jered Weaver, who dropped to 12th with signability issues, they definitely got a top-flight talent in Niemann, who could be ready for the Majors in a hurry and who put concerns about his surgically repaired elbow to rest in a complete-game four-hitter Sunday.

Tampa Bay did not lose its focus on pitching after that, selecting 24 overall among their 50 selections. Three of the Rays' top five picks were pitchers -- the other two being high schoolers Wade Davis and Jacob McGee.

They took prep shortstop Reid Brignac out of St. Amant, La., with their second-round pick (45th overall) and selected eight high schoolers among their first 18. They wound up taking 19 prep players and 31 college or JC players.

Along with the 24 pitchers, they chose three catchers, six first basemen, two second basemen, four shortstops, three third basemen and eight outfielders.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
• Blue Jays draft picks
Toronto continued the trend of college pitchers for the AL East in the first round, taking big lefty David Purcey out of Oklahoma at No. 16 overall. And they took their tendency for college players to an extreme.

Starting with Purcey and continuing through sandwich pick Zach Jackson out of Texas A&M, Toronto went heavy on the college kids in the draft, taking 19 of their first 20 picks from the more experienced level of the amateur ranks. They wound up with 48 of their 52 picks being collegians.

Aside from the fact that GM J.P. Ricciardi helped develop Oakland's reputation for doing that same thing, Ricciardi says it's logical.

"The No. 1 thing for us is to get guys that can get here quickly and be Major League players," said Ricciardi before the draft.

In getting both Purcey and Jackson, the Blue Jays got two pitchers they considered first-rounders, for Jackson was their contingency plan if Purcey was drafted before their No. 16 slot. Both are big lefties -- Purcey's 6-5, 240 and Jackson's 6-5, 220 -- and if or when they sign they probably will work up the ladder together.

The Jays took 28 pitchers and 24 position players in the two-day draft.

John Schlegel 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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