In the period leading up to yesterday's baseball amateur draft, Mississippi State pitcher Jay Powell was contacted by a good number of teams, but not by the Orioles.
So, when an Orioles representative phoned him at home yesterday to welcome him to the organization as the 19th pick of the draft's first round, Powell was, to put it mildly, a bit surprised.
"It kind of shocked me," said Powell, a 6-foot-4, 221-pound right-hander from Collinsville, Miss. "I hadn't talked to anyone with the Orioles, but I'm really excited and I'm looking forward to coming on with them."
Powell, 21, who was 2-5 last season with a 3.65 ERA, seven saves and 63 strikeouts in 57 innings stretched over 24 appearances, is the third Southeastern Conference pitcher selected by the Orioles in the first round in the past five years.
And with a fastball that has been clocked as high as 98 mph and an ability to both start and come out of the bullpen, Powell could be seen as a cross between Orioles SEC predecessors Gregg Olson (Auburn) and Ben McDonald (Louisiana State).
Powell, who regularly hits around 95 mph on the radar gun, started and closed for the Bulldogs, but expressed no preference yesterday after his selection.
"It's mainly whatever the club would want," said Powell. "I'd have no problem doing both. It really doesn't matter to me."
That Powell was even available to the Orioles, who picked in the lower third of the draft, was a surprise.
Powell was ranked seventh among the nation's top 100 draft prospects by Baseball America, and was expected to be selected in the top 10, perhaps as high as seventh by the Boston Red Sox.
NB But the Red Sox chose an outfielder, Trot Nixon of Wilmington,
N.C., the second-highest-ranked position player, and Powell slid down into the waiting arms of the Orioles.
General manager Roland Hemond said: "He's a power pitcher and we like that kind of pitcher. We have more outfield depth in our lower minors, so we are fortunate to have him."
Hemond would not speculate on whether Powell would be assigned to a rookie league team or a Single-A squad, once he signs.
Powell, who walked 30 this season, is said to have struggled with his pitch location, but that could be corrected once he is given regular work, team officials say.
Powell comes from a program that has produced exceptional major-league talent, including San Francisco Giants first baseman Will Clark, Texas Rangers first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and Chicago White Sox reliever Bobby Thigpen.
Major-league team officials do not announce their draft selections in rounds other than the first until next week, but the Orioles are believed to have picked shortstop David Lamb, a 6-foot-2 switch-hitter who hit .400 for his Newbury Park (Calif.) High School team, in the second round and Jason Hackett, a left-handed pitcher from Caravel Academy High in Bear, Del., in the fourth round.
In other draft highlights, the Seattle Mariners, selecting first in the draft, chose shortstop Alex Rodriguez of Miami, Fla., and the Los Angeles Dodgers took pitcher Darren Dreifort of Wichita State, one of 18 pitchers taken in the first round.
The New York Mets took Kirk Presley, a right-handed pitcher from Tupelo, Miss., who is the third cousin of Elvis Presley, as the eighth choice in the first round.
1, Seattle, Alex Rodriguez, ss, Westminster Christian HS, Miami. 2, Los Angeles, Darren Dreifort, rhp, Wichita State. 3, California, Brian Anderson, lhp, Wright State. 4, Philadelphia, Wayne Gomes, rhp, Old Dominion. 5, Kansas City, Jeff Granger, lhp, Texas A&M.; 6, San Francisco, Steve Soderstrom, rhp, Fresno State. 7, Boston, Trot Nixon, of, New Hanover HS, Wilmington, N.C.
8, New York Mets, Kirk Presley, rhp, Tupelo (Miss.) HS. 9, Detroit, Matt Brunson, ss, Cherry Creek HS, Englewood, Colo. 10, Chicago Cubs, Brooks Kieschnick, of-rhp, Texas. 11, Cleveland, Daron Kirkreit, rhp, UC Riverside. 12, Houston, Bill Wagner, lhp, Ferrum. 13, New York Yankees, Matt Drews, rhp, Sarasota (Fla.) HS. 14, San Diego, Derrek Lee, 1b, El Camino HS, Sacramento, Calif.
15, Toronto (from Texas), Chris Carpenter, rhp, Trinity HS, Manchester, N.H. 16, St. Louis, Alan Benes, rhp, Creighton. 17, Chicago White Sox, Scott Christman, lhp, Oregon State. 18, Montreal, Chris Schwab, of, Cretin-Derham HS, Eagan, Minn. 19, Orioles, Jay Powell, rhp, Mississippi State. 20, Minnesota (from Cincinnati), Torii Hunter, of, Pine Bluff (Ark.) HS. 21, Minnesota, Jason Varitek, c, Georgia Tech.
22, Pittsburgh, Charles Peterson, of, Laurens (S.C.) HS. 23, Milwaukee, Jeff D'Amico, rhp, Northeast HS, St. Petersburg, Fla. 24, Chicago Cubs (from Atlanta), Jon Ratliff, rhp, LeMoyne. 25, Oakland, John Wasdin, rhp, Florida State. 26, Milwaukee (from Toronto), Kelly Wunsch, lhp, Texas A&M.; 27, Florida, Marc Valdes, rhp, Florida. 28, Colorado, Jamey Wright, rhp, Westmoore HS, Oklahoma City.
ORIOLES DRAFT PICKS
Jay Powell, right-handed pitcher, Mississippi State. 6-4, 221 pounds.
David Lamb, shortstop, Newbury Park (Calif.) High. 6-2 165 pounds. Switch-hitter.
Jason Hackett, left-handed pitcher, Caravel Academy, Bear, Del.