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College Baseball Draft : Brewers Are First in Line This Year

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Major league scouting directors thought highly of the team that represented the United States in last year’s Olympic tournament. Thirteen of the 15 players eligible for the summer free-agent draft were selected in the first round, and the other two were chosen in the third and fourth rounds.

Well, the five remaining players from that team--catcher B.J. Surhoff, pitcher Bobby Witt, first baseman Will Clark, outfielder Chris Gwynn and shortstop Barry Larkin--are eligible for this year’s draft, and from all indications, they’ll be picked in the first round.

“They got a lot of exposure,” said Larry Himes, Angel director of scouting. “They’re all good, and they had good years. Maybe some of them have one or two tools better than the others, but they’re all quality players.”

The chances are excellent that one of the five will be the No. 1 pick today when the Milwaukee Brewers make the first selection in the 21st annual draft.

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Which one? Ray Poitevint has the enviable task of making that decision. Poitevint, the Brewers’ director of player procurement, says it will be a player who is exceptional in one area, be it arm strength or power.

If Poitevint wants arm strength, then Witt, the University of Oklahoma right-hander, is his man. Poitevint calls Witt, whose fastball is consistently clocked at 95 m.p.h., the best pitching prospect in the United States. According to the Major League Scouting Bureau, he’s the best player in the country.

If Poitevint wants power, there’s Clark of Mississippi State, who is regarded as the best all-around hitting prospect in the draft, and outfielder Pete Incaviglia of Oklahoma State, the most prolific home run hitter in college history with 47 this season and 99 in his three-year career.

Poitevint also likes North Carolina’s Surhoff, probably the most versatile player available. Surhoff’s primary position is catcher, but he also played shortstop, third base, center field and right field this season.

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“There’s a very good crop of college juniors available this year, and they aren’t necessarily all in the West. They’re from the South, the Southwest, the East,” Himes said, naming the five Olympians, Incaviglia, Arizona State center fielder Barry Bonds and Arizona pitcher Joe Magrane, among others.

The talent in Southern California is leaner than usual, according to Himes. “There are some good drafts available but not any first rounders. They’ll probably go on the second or third rounds.”

Asked for his opinion of the draft, longtime Dodger scout Gail Henley said: “It’s in the eye of the beholder. It depends on what you’re looking for. I think that this will be a better draft than last year. By that I don’t mean last year’s first round was weak, not by any means. This year, rounds three to 10 are going to be good.”

Henley agreed with Himes about the number of quality college players. As for the high school crop, he thinks it’s weak overall, but he said there are two or three local prep players who could be picked late in the first round.

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The top Southern California high school prospects are catchers Kurt Brown of Glendora, Kelly Mann of Santa Monica and Damon Hansel of El Cajon Granite Hills and pitcher Bob Sharpnack of Fountain Valley. Nationally, the top players include pitchers Tommy Greene of Whiteville, N.C., and Jeff Bumgarner of Hanford High in Richland, Wash.

The draft starts today at 10 a.m. PDT and continues Tuesday and Wednesday. The 26 clubs will make their picks via a conference call hookup with Commissioner Peter Ueberroth’s office.

Today’s selections will consist of the first two rounds of the regular phase, the entire secondary phase and a special phase for a club that requires compensation for losing Type B players through the re-entry draft. A Type B player is one who ranks in the 20-30% group statistically at his position the last two years.

Seattle, which lost outfielder Steve Henderson to Oakland, is in that category. The New York Yankees also receive an additional pick for losing pitcher Tim Belcher to the Oakland A’s in the compensation draft. They’ll make their selections between the first and second rounds of the regular phase.

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The regular phase is conducted in reverse order of the previous year’s standings with the leagues alternating choices. This year it’s the American League’s turn, so Milwaukee drafts first. The Dodgers pick 10th, the Angels 15th. The Angels also have the 19th pick, received as compensation for the Baltimore Orioles’ signing of Fred Lynn. The secondary phase is determined by lot. The Angels have the 21st pick, the Dodgers have the 24th.

Eligible for the regular phase are high school and college seniors, college players who have completed their junior year or are 21 years old and players drafted prior to June, 1984. The secondary phase is comprised primarily of junior college players and players drafted in June, 1984, or January, 1985.


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