As Hank Hersch reports on page 54, the Orioles are expected to make LSU ace Ben McDonald the first pick in the June 5 draft. However, most of the top 30 prospects this year are high school players, including power hitters Tyler Houston of Las Vegas and Earl Cunningham of Lancaster, S.C., which should make the draft even riskier than usual.
"They call it a crapshoot," says Seattle general manager Woody Woodward, "but it's what makes or breaks franchises in the long run." Imagine if Toronto had selected Dwight Gooden instead of Augie Schmidt in 1982, or if the Mets had been able to sign their No. 12 pick, Roger Clemens, in '81.
Remember Jeff King, Shawn Abner, Al Chambers, Steve Chilcott or Danny Goodwin? They were first picks overall. In fact, Goodwin was selected No. 1 twice: in 1971 by the White Sox and four years later by the Angels. On the other hand, Jose Canseco wasn't picked until the 15th round; Kent Hrbek and Orel Hershiser, the 17th; Don Mattingly and Bret Saberhagen, the 19th; and Keith Hernandez, the 42nd. And some prominent players, such as Claudell Washington, Dan Quisenberry, Jeffrey Leonard, Tom Herr, Brian Downing and Ron Kittle, were never drafted.
Only 55% of the 258 first-round picks from 1977 to '86 have made it to the majors. "It's so tough to get an accurate reading on a kid in the spring," says Braves general manager Bobby Cox. "Either the weather's lousy, the game's rained out or they walk the guy you're looking at every time he comes up." In addition, Cox thinks that hitters are far more difficult to scout than pitchers because "aluminum bats distort everything."
Perhaps that's why the three biggest success stories from last year are pitchers. The No. 4 pick, Baltimore's Gregg Olson, and the No. 8 choice, California's Jim Abbott, are already big leaguers. The No. 1, righthander Andy Benes, will almost certainly be with the Padres by the end of the year. Through Sunday, Benes was 5-1 with a 0.87 ERA for the Double A Wichita Wranglers.
One reason so many top prospects this year are high schoolers, says Montreal scouting director Gary Hughes, is that "we've done such a good job signing players the last three years." In 1988 the Expos got righthander Reid Cornelius to change his mind about going to Mississippi State by offering him a reported $240,000 signing bonus. And the Braves persuaded lefthander Steve Avery to give up Stanford by making him a $211,000 offer.
One potential draftee this year is USC's Rodney Peete, who plays third base and quarterback for the Trojans. Last June, Peete was offered a large bonus by the Athletics, who would have allowed him to play baseball in the summer and return to USC in September for the football season. But he turned down the deal because he said that he wanted to prepare for his final year of college football.
Another two-sport player is Michigan outfielder-wide receiver Greg McMurtry. He was considered the best pure athlete in the '86 draft and was picked in the first round by the Red Sox. But he turned down the Sox' offer of a $195,000 signing bonus, in order to play football at Michigan. This time around, however, he may not get as sweet a deal. Says one scouting director, "He's gone so far backwards he's hardly a prospect now. He's lost a couple steps in speed, and his swing is completely messed up."
Some teams have a knack for picking winners (chart, page 60). The Mets selected Gooden and Darryl Strawberry early in the first round, and when their top pick in '84 (Abner) bombed, they used him, as part of a multi-player deal, to obtain outfielder Kevin McReynolds from San Diego. Similarly, thanks to three straight strong drafts, the Expos have what is generally considered the best stockpile of young players. Baltimore has not fared so well. You have only to look at the Orioles' abysmal draft record from 1975 to '85 to understand why the team fell apart last year.
"You fly all around the country and spend all this money and keep asking yourself, 'Is this worth it?' " says Cox. "But if you don't do it, a few years down the road you either finish at the bottom or you're forced to spend millions on free agents who may be as unpredictable as a high school kid."
In retrospect, it seems obvious that Jimy Williams, who was finally fired from his job as Toronto's manager last week, never really had a chance. Most managers take over because someone else failed, but Williams followed in the footsteps of Cox, who skippered the Blue Jays to their first—and only—division title in 1985 and then was lured to the Braves' front office. The lineup Williams inherited was the most talented in the American League, but it consisted of players who had grown up with Cox as their authority figure and who had just spent a year reading about how great they were. A clash was inevitable, and when second baseman Damaso Garcia and, later, outfielder George Bell challenged Williams, the Jays became a team divided.
With Williams gone, the atmosphere in the clubhouse has changed completely. As of June 5, the atmosphere outside will change too. On that day the Blue Jays will move from tiny Exhibition Stadium—the best hitters' park in baseball—to the spacious new SkyDome, which club officials expect will favor pitchers as much as the Astrodome does. As a result, the Toronto front office is trying to reshape the team, hoping to add more speed and defense. That means centerfielder Lloyd Moseby's days are numbered.
Though the Jays were eight games under .500 on Sunday, they were closer to first place (3½ games out) than the Red Sox were when Joe Morgan took over as manager last year. At week's end G.M. Pat Gillick had yet to name a successor to Williams. Said Oakland manager Tony La Russa, "That's a great job opportunity. There's nothing to lose and a lot to gain."
Detroit manager Sparky Anderson was sent home to California on May 19 because of physical exhaustion. Sources close to the team feel that he was undone by the strain of watching the Tigers collapse (at week's end they were in last place in the AL East, with a 16-24 record). It was no coincidence that the Tigers waited until Anderson had gone home to re-' lease third baseman Chris Brown, one of Sparky's pet projects this year. Anderson was high on acquiring Brown at least in part because Sparky's brother was one of Chris's high school teachers. In order to get Brown from the Padres, the Tigers had to give up righthanded workhorse Walt Terrell, who pitched 206‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings last season for Detroit.
That was just the beginning of the trade disasters. Next, Anderson pushed to deal righthander Eric King to the White Sox for outfielder Kenny Williams, who can do everything athletic, it seems, except play baseball. To replace King, the Tigers traded dependable third baseman Tom Brookens to the Yankees for washed-up pitcher Charles Hudson. That made room for two other Anderson favorites, in-fielder Torey Lovullo and outfielder Billy Bean. Now both Lovullo and Bean are back in Triple A, and the Tigers are shuttling Mike Brumley, Al Pedrique and Rick Schu at third. "Poor Alan Trammell [Detroit's shortstop] is like a kid who's lost in a mall," says one former Tiger. "He's all alone."
IN A FLASH
When Royals manager John Wathan made rookie righthander Tom (Flash) Gordon a middle reliever at the start of the season, he said, "I think a dominant middle man is more important than a fifth starter." That move has turned a supposed weakness—the Royals bullpen—into a major strength. Says Wathan, "Gordon's stuff is as good as anyone's in the league." His fastball has been clocked at 90 mph, but it's his curveball that makes him as effective against lefthanded hitters as he is against righties. Gordon alternates a hard 82-mph breaking ball and a sweeping off-speed curve that often has hitters lunging. With Gordon and righthanded setup man Jeff Montgomery combining for a 9-2 record with a 2.39 ERA, Wathan has been able to hold off using his closer, Steve Farr, until the ninth inning or later. As of Sunday, Farr had succeeded in his first 10 save opportunities.
THE ROYAL SHIFT
The Royals defensive charts for the past two years show that every time Indians first baseman Pete O'Brien hit a ground ball against Kansas City it went to the right side of the infield, even though his fly balls went to all fields. So when the Royals played the Indians on May 9 and 10, Wathan shifted shortstop Kurt Stillwell a couple of feet to the right of second base. Sure enough, all seven of the ground balls O'Brien hit during the series went to the right side, including a bullet up the middle that would have gone for a single if Still-well hadn't been there to intercept it.
MOVE OVER, WADE
Rangers manager Bobby Valentine thinks the publicity surrounding outfielder Rafael Palmeiro's inability to hit home runs is hurting him at the plate. "I'd rather see him forget the home runs and just hit, period," says Valentine. "If I thought Wade Boggs weren't going to hit .360, I'd encourage him to take a run at the batting title."
...On May 16, only three teams in baseball had won more games than the Mariners (21-18)—all of them, of course, in the AL West. But as of that date, the Mariners' attendance was down almost 40,000 from last season, and they weren't able to draw even 10,000 for any of their three midweek games with the Brewers. Over the weekend the Mariners pulled in 38,476 per game for the Yankees, traditionally Seattle's best draw, but the Mariners had to use three of their best promotions—cap, helmet, and bat giveaways—to do it. Could the Seattle fans be getting weary of owner George Argyros's tightfisted ways?
...Giants manager Roger Craig says one of the reasons for this season's hitting decline is that "so many pitchers have come up with outstanding changeups, split-finger fastballs and cut fast-balls. Hitting is tougher right now than it's been in two decades."
...One team that's hitting better than it has in years is the White Sox. New hitting coach Walter Hriniak probably has something to do with it. The White Sox have jumped from last year's .244 team average to .272 at week's end. Unfortunately, Chicago's starting pitchers (except for Eric King) have a combined 5.93 ERA....
When San Diego righthander Eric Show arrived only 35 minutes before his scheduled start against the Cardinals on May 11, his teammates were upset because they felt his burgeoning music career—he has recorded a jazz album and plans to cut a Christmas record—had become too big a distraction. After Show was hammered for five runs in two innings, one teammate said, "It was like some guy had just won a contest and come out of the stands to pitch."
BETWEEN THE LINES
K.C.'s Bo Jackson picked up his 370th K on May 10, passing Joe DiMaggio on the career strikeout list. Jackson, however, had 5,800 fewer at bats than the Yankee Clipper.
THE GREEN LIGHT
When Pirate catcher Junior Ortiz complained that he seldom got to steal, manager Jim Leyland told him to watch for a special sign. "You've got the sign to steal," said Leyland, "when you look in the dugout, and I jump up in the air and don't come down."
SPOILS OF WAR
With five of his pitchers on the disabled list and four everyday players hobbled by injuries, Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog said, "If World War III broke out, I guarantee we'd win the pennant by 20 games. All of our guys would be 4-f."
DOING THE WILD THING
On May 18, with the Mariners ahead 4-2 in the fourth inning and two men on, Brewers manager Tom Trebelhorn brought in reliever Mark Knudson. He promptly filled the bases for slugger Jeffrey Leonard. Then the unthinkable happened. Knudson fanned Leonard, but not before he had uncorked two wild pitches, which allowed all three runners to score. "That's one way to get out of a bases-loaded jam," said Trebelhorn.
THE AL LEAST
Anyone dialing the Indians' offices last week heard this greeting: "Thank you for calling the first-place Cleveland Indians." At the time, the Tribe was indeed in first—with a record of 18-19.
•After Expo righthander Pascual Perez hit a double on May 17, it was the first time in his nine-year career that his batting average (.200) was higher than his weight (175 pounds). His won-lost record after that game, however, was a lightweight 0-6.
•Through Sunday, Yankee lefthanded batters had hit only two homers.
•At week's end the Rangers' Nolan Ryan had more strikeouts (73) than the Orioles' entire four-man rotation (67). In fact, the pitcher on the Baltimore staff with the most K's was a reliever—Gregg Olson, who had 24.
•On May 17, the 10th anniversary of his eight-run, 2⅖-inning appearance for Chicago in the Cubs' famous 23-22 loss to the Phillies at Wrigley Field, Guillermo Hernandez's line in the Tigers' 10-7 loss to the White Sox was, ⅖ 5 5 5 2 0.