COMMENTARY : With 10 Draft Picks, Expos Have Chance to Dominate the '90s

NEWSDAY

The Expos were dejected and depleted last winter when Hubie Brooks, Mark Langston, Bryn Smith and Pascual Perez left the organization as free agents. They lost one of their leading run-producers and three starting pitchers and had nothing to show for it. That changes Monday, when the draft offers Montreal the chance to reload. The Expos hold 10 of the first 53 picks.

Montreal has two picks in the first round (including one from the Angels, who signed Langston), four picks in a supplemental round immediately after the first round (one each for losing Langston, Brooks and Perez and one because they failed to sign their first-round pick from last year), and four more in the second round (their own pick plus one each for losing Brooks, Perez and Smith).

"We have the chance to really do well," said Gary Hughes, Montreal's director of scouting. "Usually you only have two picks among the quality players in the first two rounds. Now we've got 10. There's a much better chance to be successful."

Montreal, which has already signed and developed all of its starting eight except for shortstop Spike Owen, has a chance to become a dominant team for the 1990s. But then, we've heard such talk before.

The Expos drafted Ellis Valentine and Gary Carter in 1972 and took Bill Gullickson, Scott Sanderson and Tim Raines in 1977. Then, in 1979, they won 95 games in what was the franchise's first winning season. They were expected to be the team of the '80s but won only one title in the decade, and that was in the fractured strike season, 1981.

Now the Expos are coming off two straight .500 seasons and are considered such an unattractive franchise that although it is up for sale, no one is bidding for it. If nothing else, 10 of the first 53 picks of the draft give Montreal reason for optimism.

"We think we're going in the right direction," Hughes said. "What good has free agency done Kansas City or California, anyway? We haven't had much success in attracting or keeping free agents. But if we build a successful organization, people will want to stay and people will want to come."

Oddly enough, the team that could be hurt most by Montreal's abundance of picks is the New York Yankees. George Bradley, the Yankees' vice president of player personnel and development, explained that the Expos are likely to take players the Yankees covet.

"Montreal scouts in basically the same way we do," Bradley said. "They're nearly identical to us. More so than any other club. That's why, after the first round at least, all of their picks are probably going to cost us some players. They're just like us in that they go for good athletes, younger players, they're not afraid to take chances and they may go for a kid who is regarded as tough to sign. We're very, very similar."

A's may pick more winners--Here is some bad news for all the teams who are trying to catch up with Oakland: The world champion Athletics, who built the core of their team through the draft, have seven of the first 66 selections Monday. Oakland obtained five extra picks as compensation for losing free agents Dave Parker, Storm Davis and Tony Phillips.

"We didn't want to lose those players, but this is the way the system works," said Dick Bogard, Oakland's director of scouting. "I love it. We know we're going to get some good players. Throughout the system, our biggest need is pitching. We're looking to address that in the draft."

Glory is fleeting--On Friday night, the Phillies reached first place for the first time since June 29, 1984. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News both played the story on Page One.

"We just wanted to get to .500 and then build on that," said Von Hayes, the only player left from that 1984 team. "Now that we're in first, it's the same principle. Little by little, we want to pick up some games and build on our lead."

The Phillies lost the next night and dropped out of first place. They lost their next two games after that, too, to fall 2 1/2 games out.

But give General Manager Lee Thomas credit for unloading three established Phillies--Steve Bedrosian, Juan Samuel and Chris James--within a 15-day span last June in order to get Charlie Hayes, Dennis Cook, Terry Mulholland, Roger McDowell, Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk and Randy Ready. All three of the deals look like steals.

The Phillies' pitching is still too inexperienced and inconsistent for this team to win the National League East. But it appears Philadelphia will be a factor in the race for the first time since 1986.

"I don't think teams can afford to say anymore, 'Oh, we're playing the Phillies' and count on wins," reliever McDowell said. "I don't see September as a time when we'll be playing out the string."

Call them F Troop--McDowell said of the Phillies' turnover: "We're just a bunch of misfits. This team is a co-op. We're like the Miami Marlins. We're just a group of guys who like to play baseball but didn't have the chance to play every day. Look around here. We've got guys from Houston, San Francisco, San Diego, Minnesota, the Mets. . . . It's a situation where we feel we can play a little bit, no matter what anybody else says."

Said Leyva: "Yeah, we've got some castoffs. I call them F Troop."

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