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Excited Kotsay Says He Wasn’t Worried

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cal State Fullerton’s Mark Kotsay said he felt no pangs of anxiety Monday on the eve of the amateur baseball draft.

“I went to bed really early, around 7 o’clock,” Kotsay said Tuesday. “I was tired, and I really didn’t feel that nervous about it.”

As far as Kotsay was concerned Tuesday, there was no reason for worry. He was delighted to be picked ninth in the first round by the Florida Marlins.

And Fullerton catcher Brian Loyd, also a teammate on Team USA last summer, laughed and said: “I’m just happy to have a millionaire for a teammate.”

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Kotsay isn’t there yet, but he’s expected to approach that status with his signing bonus from the Marlins if contract negotiations go smoothly. Loyd wasn’t as fortunate as Kotsay, taken in the fifth round by San Diego, but he also was pleased to be chosen that high.

Both players received the news in Millington, Tenn., where they are in tryouts for the U.S. Olympic team.

“I’m really excited to be drafted that high, and by the Marlins,” Kotsay said by telephone. “I’m very impressed with everything about them. They have great facilities in the minor leagues, as well as with the major league club. And being the ninth pick overall is just awesome.”

Kotsay, college baseball’s player of the year in 1995 when the Titans won the College World Series, said contract discussions would begin soon. “We haven’t discussed money, but I’m not looking to set any records from that standpoint,” Kotsay said.

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Eight of the top 10 selections last year received bonuses of $1.1 million or more, topped by the $1.57 million Darin Erstad received as the No. 1 pick of the Angels. The smallest bonus paid to a player drafted in the top 15 was $820,000 to pitcher Mark Redman, who was the 13th pick by Minnesota. The Marlins paid high school outfielder Jaime Jones, whom they picked sixth in the first round last year, a bonus of $1.3 million.

And Kotsay, a junior, says he intends to sign, “barring anything highly unusual.”

“We expect to be able to come up with a figure we’ll both be comfortable with,” said Orrin Freeman, the Marlins’ scouting director. “We’re not going to go in with an $800,000 offer to a ninth pick. We’re excited to have him, and very happy he got to us.”

Freeman said Kotsay’s plans to play in the Olympics are not a problem. “We want him to be able to do that,” Freeman said. “He indicated to us that he wanted to begin his professional career after that.”

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Freeman said no decision has been reached about where Kotsay’s pro career might begin. “Like everything right now, that’s negotiable,” Freeman said.

Titan Coach Augie Garrido said he believes the Marlins will be a good organization for Kotsay.

“They respect Mark a lot, and really care about him,” Garrido said. “And that’s always the best possible situation for a player to be going into.”

Garrido said he believes Kotsay eventually will become a top player in the major leagues. Garrido has frequently referred to Kotsay as a “Fred Lynn-type who makes the most of his physical abilities,” referring to the former USC and Boston Red Sox standout.

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“Mark has always managed to be the best player in whatever environment he’s been in, and I think he’ll be successful on the major league level,” Garrido said. “But it will take the normal amount of time for him to get there. But he’s mentally suited for it.”

Kotsay’s selection is the highest for a Fullerton player since Phil Nevin was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft by Houston in 1992. Nevin was a winner of the Golden Spikes Award that year as the nation’s top amateur player, the same award Kotsay won last year as a sophomore.

Fullerton’s other winner of the award, Tim Wallach, was the 10th selection by Montreal in 1979 and played in his first major league game in 1980. Wallach is in his 17th major league season, this one with the Angels. Nevin was traded by the Astros to Detroit last year, and is at the Tigers’ double-A farm team in Jacksonville, Fla., learning a new position as a catcher.

“The big difference between Mark and Wallach and Nevin was that Mark stayed in college baseball the year after being player of the year,” Garrido said. “He was a celebrity still playing the college game, while the other two went on to pro careers right after their big seasons.”

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Kotsay hit .402 with 20 home runs and 91 runs batted this past season, a season in which he was a marked man by opposing teams. He was walked 50 times, 11 more than in 1995 when he batted .422 with 21 home runs and 90 RBIs. He is one of three finalists this year for the Smith Award, given to college baseball’s top player. He won the award last year.


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