WORTH WAITING FOR
The Mariners, who held the first pick in the free-agent amateur draft last Thursday, considered making Wichita State reliever Darren Dreifort the No. 1 choice because he probably could have helped them in a pennant drive this year. But in the end Seattle chose Miami high school shortstop Alex Rodriguez (SI, March 22) because his raw talent was too great to pass up.
How good is Rodriguez? "He's the best [amateur prospect] I've ever seen," says the scouting director for one American League team. "He might be the best player ever in the draft [which began in 1965]. He's as talented as Ken Griffey Jr., but he plays with more intensity. The Mariners loved Dreifort, but you couldn't pass on this guy."
Blue Jay general manager Pat Gillick says the three players in draft history with the greatest potential for impact have been Darryl Strawberry, chosen No. 1 by the Mets in 1980, Griffey Jr., picked first by the Mariners in the '87 draft, and Rodriguez.
The 17-year-old Rodriguez is 6'3" and 195 pounds—a big, quick, rangy shortstop. In his senior year at Westminster Christian he batted .505 with nine home runs; he also stole 35 bases in 35 attempts. One of the things scouts like most about him is his zest for the game.
Rodriguez is expected to sign with Seattle, but the negotiations aren't going to be easy. He is represented by Scott Boras, the hard-line agent who in recent years has jacked up the price on top draft picks (page 61). This time Boras could be asking for a package worth $2 million, and there is talk that the initial contact between him and the Mariners didn't go smoothly.
"We're going to offer a very fair package; I'm not concerned," Seattle general manager Woody Woodward said last Saturday. "I think we can get it done. Alex really wants to play, and that's a key. It's the right time for him to play pro ball, put a lot of money in the bank and start his way to the big leagues."
Dreifort, who was selected second, by the Dodgers, could pitch in Los Angeles this season. His size is imposing (6'2", 205), his fastball has been clocked in the mid-90's, and he was 10-1 with a 2.23 ERA and four saves in 27 games entering the College World Series. Dreifort blew a save against Arizona State in the first round of the Series last Saturday, but then he hit a home run in the 11th inning to beat the Sun Devils 4-3 and get the win.
As the Wichita State DH, Dreifort entered the Series batting .330 with 20 home runs and 58 RBIs in 51 games. But the Dodgers want him for his arm, and among drafted players he's probably the closest to being ready to play in the majors.
O FOR FOUR
More so than in any other professional sport, baseball's draft is a crapshoot, because so few prospects ever make the jump to the majors, either because they don't attain the necessary skill level or because they are sabotaged by injury. Just look at what has happened to the Athletics, who had four of the first 36 picks in the 1990 draft and used them to select four pitchers—all of whom were projected to be with Oakland by '93 or '94. Bonus baby Todd Van Poppel (the 14th pick overall) is laboring at Triple A Tacoma, and the other three have had serious arm injuries.
Don Peters (the 26th pick) has not pitched in two years because of an ailing elbow. David Zancanaro (34th) had shoulder surgery in April and hasn't worked this season. Kirk Dressendorfer (36th), who underwent shoulder surgery for the second time last season, had thrown a total of 91 innings as a pro until he returned to active status at Class A Modesto last week.
Originally projected to be the top 1990 pick among high schoolers, Van Poppel became less attractive to teams with high draft choices when he insisted that he would honor his scholarship commitment to the University of Texas. But the A's took a chance and drafted him anyway and then got him to sign a three-year, $1.2 million contract. Van Poppel, who missed much of last season with a shoulder injury, is healthy now and regularly throwing 90 mph. But through Sunday he was 2-5 with a 7.69 ERA and had 36 walks in 48 innings. He doesn't appear close to being ready for the big leagues.
"He's learning how to pitch," says Tacoma manager Bob Boone. "I know people thought, Wouldn't it be great for Todd to walk off a high school campus right to the major leagues? But that wasn't going to happen. Learning to pitch is a tedious process. But he's throwing hard, and he's learning, through negative reinforcement, that you can't just lay a fastball in there."
A MARVELOUS PICK
Best Name in the Draft: Wonderful Terrific Mons III, a centerfielder from Tennessee State, who was selected in the 50th round by the Braves. That's his real name, honest. His great-grandfather had 11 daughters, but when he finally had a son, the event was so wonderful, so terrific...well, that's what he named the boy. Mons's father, a former Canadian Football League player, was Wonderful Terrific Mons Jr.
Tennessee State coach Allen Robinson says of Wonderful III, "Fans give him hell. If he makes a bad play, they yell Won-der-ful, Won-der-ful."
"But when I have a good game," says Mons, who hit .282 this year, "they see why I got that name."
The Expos chose righthander Martin Mainville of L'Academie du Baseball Canada in Montreal with the 55th pick. That's the highest a Canadian has been chosen in the three years that Canadians have been included in the draft. Scouts from other teams say Mainville should not have gone that high, but the Expos caught hell from their fans for not signing free agents Denis Boucher (Jays) and Mark Griffin (Dodgers), both of whom are from Quebec....
The Mets took a chance in making righthander Kirk Presley—a distant cousin of Elvis's—the No. 8 pick in the draft, because he has accepted a football and baseball scholarship to Mississippi State. Presley was 15-0 with a 0.58 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 97 innings for Tupelo (Miss.) High....
Trot Nixon, an outfielder drafted seventh overall by the Red Sox, is hitting .507 with 10 homers and 49 RBIs this year at New Hanover High in Wilmington, N.C. Nixon's father, William, a kidney surgeon, will be his son's agent. He was Catfish Hunter's catcher in high school.
Second pick Dreifort figures to be the first to reach the majors.
A headliner in the '90 draft, Van Poppel is still learning how to pitch in the Oakland farm system.