The Orioles can complete a coup in this year's just-completed amateur draft but will have to overcome history and an opening salvo of heated rhetoric with the agent for super-talented, two-sport athlete Darnell McDonald to do so.
After taking catcher Jayson Werth with the No. 22 overall pick Tuesday, the Orioles followed up four spots later by selecting McDonald, a player many teams coveted but considered unsignable. The only team with two first-round choices, the Orioles used their flexibility to take a chance on the center fielder/running back.
The Orioles completed the draft by taking 43 players in 41 rounds. Their first six picks, and 24 overall, were high school players.
Given the ability to overreach, the Orioles have boldly gambled. McDonald was rated the top high school player by several organizations, and the Orioles said he was among their top five. When word leaked out late Monday night of McDonald's probable availability, the Orioles moved quickly. Owner Peter Angelos authorized the selection and will remain part of the negotiating process.
Signed to a football-baseball scholarship at the University of Texas, McDonald's leverage scared away 24 teams before the Orioles, possessing the safety net of two first-round picks and three of the first 36, chose the two-sport sensation from Glendale, Colo.
A phone call from the Orioles to notify McDonald's representative, Jeff Moorad, of their intention brought about a fiery reaction. Moorad told assistant GM Kevin Malone not to draft his client.
"I told Kevin that with all due respect, don't take him if you're not very serious about stepping up and taking appropriate steps to sign him," Moorad said.
Still riled over what he perceived as an attempt to strong-arm the organization, Malone confirmed the testy conversation yesterday, saying, "Jeff Moorad isn't running the draft. The difference is ethical. The draft isn't designed for Jeff Moorad to personally orchestrate where his client will go."
When Malone began to criticize a process many clubs now see as polluted, Moorad cut him off, saying that 20 minutes before the draft was not the proper time to discuss industry issues.
"My only concern with the Orioles and their selection of Darnell is that they be sincere in exploring every avenue to make Darnell a member of their club," Moorad said.
The Orioles are miffed by any suggestion that they drafted McDonald solely to hijack an arrangement between Moorad and another team, presumably the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks, to hand-deliver the prospect. Likewise, they believe their draft a success even without McDonald.
"We have every intention to make a sincere effort to sign Darnell McDonald," said scouting director Gary Nickels. "We hope it comes to a successful resolution."
By yesterday afternoon Moorad had backed off from Tuesday's rhetoric. "I just want to be fair and give them a chance," he said.
The two parties have a history. The California-based Moorad represented outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds when the Orioles took him with the No. 4 overall pick in the 1992 draft. Supposedly unsignable as a college junior, Hammonds, considered the draft's most gifted player, eventually left Stanford for a $975,000 signing bonus.
More recently, Moorad and Angelos clashed during negotiations for free-agent first baseman Will Clark. The nasty dialogue eventually pushed Clark to the Texas Rangers, and the Orioles signed Rafael Palmeiro.
Despite Malone's comments yesterday, early indicators suggest that Angelos is willing to free up money for a run at McDonald, but the Orioles' early projection of a $2 million signing bonus may be a bit conservative.
"Darnell is extremely open to committing to a baseball organization and pursuing baseball as his exclusive sport. However, the option of attending the University of Texas and playing baseball and football remains a very viable alternative," Moorad said.
The Orioles will push to include a "Booty clause" in any contract with McDonald. The safeguard has become essential since former Florida Marlins first-round pick Josh Booty tried to escape his contract. The Marlins refused to budge and held Booty to his six-year commitment. Moorad also represents Booty.
NOTES: Paint Branch High senior right-hander Peter Bauer was selected in the 14th round of the draft by the Seattle Mariners. Bauer (6 feet 8, 235 pounds) went 10-0 this season with an ERA of 0.92. He struck out 98 and walked 10 in 58 innings.
O's late draft picks
Rd .. Name, Pos. .. .. .. School
21. Antoine Ide, CF .. .. Madison HS, Ore.
22. Juan Pacheco, SS . .. Rutgers-Newark
23. Chris Lee, RHP ... .. Ga. Southern
24. Jason Taylor, CF . .. Billy Ryan HS, Texas
25. Roy Wells, RHP ... .. Perry Central HS, Ky.
26. Dan Carrasco, RHP ... Pima CC, Ariz.
27. Brian Harper, CF . .. Hershey HS, Pa.
28. Erick Eigenhuis, RHP. Central Valley HS, Wash.
29. Anthony Reed, RHP ... Eisenhower HS, Okla.
30. Brian Schmitt, 1B ... Monterey HS, Texas
31. Terry Byron, 3B .. .. St. Joseph's HS, Virg. Isl.
32. Gavin Wright, CF . .. Lufkin HS, Texas
33. Andrew Beal, LHP . .. Reidland HS, Ky.
34. Matt Schwager, RHP... Indian Hills CC, Iowa
35. Austin Bilke, LF .. . Beaver Dam HS, Wisc.
36. Juan Bonilla, C . ... Crestview HS, Fla.
37. Rod Perry, CF ... ... Mater Dei HS, Calif.
38. Samual Emerick, RHP . Lincolnland CC, Ill.
39. William Duplissea, C . San Mateo CC, Calif.
40. Mervin Martin Jr., SS . Hillsdale College
41. Gregory Curtis, RHP ...