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Keeping options open

The Baltimore Sun

For the past three years, the Orioles have selected a position player with their first pick in baseball's amateur draft. They also are staunch proponents of the theory that a team never can have enough pitching.

Which direction they'll go tomorrow remains an uncertainty, but this much is evident: The pick will be someone they want, not necessarily someone they need.

"We try to get the player we think is going to have the most productive career," team president Andy MacPhail said. "We certainly don't draft for need. Baseball's different in that regard. It doesn't work that way."

At least, not with the Orioles, who appear to hold the most interest in a high school shortstop and two college players - a left-handed pitcher and a switch-hitting first baseman. So much depends on who is available when they pick fourth, after the Tampa Bay Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals.

The Rays were linked earlier this spring to Tim Beckham, the five-tool shortstop from Griffin (Ga.) High who naturally draws comparisons to B.J. Upton, another former early first-round pick. Upton played the same position for them before moving to center field. But lately they've been a rumored match for Florida State catcher Buster Posey, who would fill a glaring need in their organization.

The Orioles have no interest in Posey after taking catcher Matt Wieters with the fifth overall pick last year. If Posey goes first, it would increase the Orioles' chances of landing Beckham, San Diego left-hander Brian Matusz or South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak, players who apparently occupy the top slots on their draft board.

"I feel really good about our options," said Joe Jordan, in his fourth season as the Orioles' director of scouting. "We'll absolutely get a player we like a lot. It really depends on what goes on in front of us. It comes down to what other teams do. But I feel real good with where we're at."

Matusz has a fastball that routinely touches 93 mph, but he pitches in reverse, using his off-speed stuff to set it up.

"The three names I'm hearing the most for the Orioles are Beckham, Matusz and Smoak," Baseball America draft expert Jim Callis said. "The assumption is that Posey and Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez will definitely be gone ahead of them, and Beckham may not make it to No. 4, either. If he's gone, I think Baltimore will pop Matusz."

Ben Hyman, a Park graduate who evaluates high school and college talent at his Web site,, projects Matusz as a No. 2 starter in the majors, but he also places Missouri right-hander Aaron Crow and Eastern Kentucky left-hander Christian Friedrich ahead of Matusz in the draft.

"Although Matusz has had the better season, he pitches in a pitchers' park that deflates runs at about the same rate as Dodger Stadium," Hyman said. "Crow pitches against better competition in the Big 12, and his stadium is like Coors Field, pre-humidor. Friedrich plays in a mid-major conference but pitches in a hitter-friendly park."

Though the Orioles aren't influenced by need, they could use a first baseman in the system who is close to being ready for the majors. And this draft is stocked at the position.

Smoak draws comparisons to Mount St. Joseph graduate Mark Teixeira, another switch-hitter with power and above-average defensive skills. The University of Miami's Yonder Alonso, Eric Hosmer of American Heritage (Fla.) High, Arizona State's Ike Davis, California's David Cooper and Wake Forest's Allan Dykstra also could go in the opening round. Brett Wallace was a third baseman at Arizona State, but some scouts project him as a first baseman. Callis said he wouldn't be surprised if Alvarez also ends up at first.

"This is the best year ever for first basemen in the draft," Callis said.

Jordan said the bounty and the Orioles' lack of depth at the position don't "factor in a great deal" in his decision-making.

"I'm obviously aware of it. It may have a little influence toward the end, but I really don't think that's how we'll approach it. It's about long term, who we think is the best option and who we think is going to be the best player," he said.

"I've got at least one pitcher I think really fits us, and we've got a couple position-player options. I'm not really there yet. We're still working it out, much in the same sense as Tampa is. We feel like we have options for a couple of players, and I haven't decided yet. We like more than one."

Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.


What: Major League Baseball's first-year player draft

When: Tomorrow, 2 p.m.-9 p.m.; Friday 11:30 a.m. to completion (50 rounds)

Where: Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

TV: ESPN2 will have live coverage of the first round and supplemental first round.

First pick: The Tampa Bay Rays will have the first overall pick, the second straight season they've had the No. 1 selection.

Orioles: They have the fourth overall selection and will pick again at No. 50 in the second round.

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