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Rizzo: Looking out for the best available

Rizzo: Looking out for the best available

The Diamondbacks find themselves in unfamiliar territory this year as they own the No. 1 overall selection in the upcoming First-Year Player Draft, which begins June 7.

Arizona picked as high as fourth in 1999, but other than that, its highest pick was 15, which came last season.

Not only do they have the No. 1 overall pick, but the D-Backs will have five of the draft's first 85 picks -- six if they don't sign last year's No. 1, Stephen Drew, by May 31. That means the team has an opportunity to bolster a farm system that has recently drawn high praise.

Scouting director Mike Rizzo will once again be running Arizona's draft room. Rizzo has drawn raves for his drafts, the first of which was in 2000, and the following is the second in a three-part first-person series he's agreed to share with us as told to Diamondbacks reporter Steve Gilbert.

We've pretty much got the candidates for our first pick narrowed down to four players. Rather than just tell you who they are, I also want to mention the scout who is responsible for them. These are guys who don't usually get the credit they deserve, but spend so much time on the road every year. There's so much that goes into this process that I really feel it's important that you hear about the scouts as well.

The first player we're looking at is Justin Upton, a high school shortstop in Virginia. Our scout Howard McCullough has known him for a long time and done a lot of background work on him, and Greg Lonigro is the area scout who's responsible for him. We've done a lot of work on him and he's one of our top guys who we're looking at.

Mike Pelfrey is a right-handed pitcher at Wichita State and Joe Robinson is the area scout there. Joe is new with us, but he has 20 years of experience so he knows players pretty well.

There's also Luke Hochevar, another right-hander, from Tennessee. We had one of our area scouts in the middle of the year who was responsible for that area, so we assigned Stan Teem, a part-time scout for us, and he's handling watching him. Also Steve McAllister, our central region supervisor, has done a lot of work on him.

And finally, Craig Hansen, a right-handed pitcher at St. John's University, and the scout there is Matt Merullo.

Those are the four guys whom we've identified as the people we're interested in, and, believe it or not, while we looked at all the good players in the country, I've had these handful of players in mind for quite a while now.

We've turned over all the stones that you need to turn over on these guys. We've evaluated them every way you can. We do as good a job as anybody looking at their character and, of course, we give them tests and psychological tests and we've taken players to give them an eye test with our own optometrist. We meet with the players. We meet with the families of the players. It makes the process go easier when you get it to a reasonable number of players whom you're looking at.

Monday and Tuesday this week I'm meeting face-to-face with all our area scouts. It's very important that I do this rather than just read their reports and hear what they have to say over the phone. There's so much stuff that goes on throughout the year. People spend so much time away from their homes; we spend a lot of money scouting these players. To me, to talk over the phone to a guy about his players, you don't get the full effect of his interest and his passion for the player. So I bring each one of them in to talk about their players.

I like to see the scout's face, the guy's eyes when I talk to him, and see how passionate they are about the player. Sometimes voice fluctuations don't give you that. You need to see the guy face-to-face. When you mention names and ask him questions, who does he sit up in the chair tall and really want to talk about, and who are the guys I'm forcing him to talk about? Who does he get a gleam in his eyes about? Who does he gloss over in another player?

The report has all the information on him. You can read the report, but I like to read the scout.

After the meetings, we're going to spread out and see the college conference tournaments. All over the country we've got scouts assigned to people. We'll all reconvene back here Sunday and our meetings will start Monday, and we'll be in the draft room (a conference room on the executive level at Bank One Ballpark) from Monday until the draft.

As for our first pick last year, Stephen Drew, we've got a great offer out to him and we hope that they come back to us with good news -- that they've thought about it and will accept our offer. But the '05 draft is going to be independent of the '04 draft and the signing of Stephen Drew. We're going to take the best player available and work to try and sign him.

Mike Rizzo is director of scouting for the Arizona Diamondbacks. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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