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D-Backs targeting four with No. 1 pick

D-Backs targeting four with No. 1 pick

PHOENIX -- Diamondbacks scouting director Mike Rizzo often speaks of picking the best player available when it comes to the First-Year Player Draft.

This year, every player will be available to the Diamondbacks as they hold the first overall pick.

"We usually pick 27 through 29," Rizzo said.

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The highest the D-Backs had drafted was fourth overall in 1999 after they finished their inaugural season with a 65-97 record.

Last year, the Diamondbacks had the 15th pick -- the highest during Rizzo's tenure -- and used it on Florida State University shortstop Stephen Drew. The left-handed hitter was regarded by many as the best position player available in the draft, but concerns over his signability, with Scott Boras as his agent, caused him to fall to Arizona. It took almost a year, but the D-Backs were finally able to sign Drew to a five-year, $5.5 million contract that could be worth as much as $7.5 million.

The Diamondbacks have narrowed their list of potential picks to four: Pitchers Mike Pelfrey, Luke Hochevar and Craig Hansen and Virginia high school shortstop Justin Upton.

All three of the pitchers are represented by Boras, but the Diamondbacks insist that won't influence them.

"Scott's got a lot of good players in this year's draft," Rizzo said. "We're not going to eliminate any block of players. There's such a shortage of players, you can't just eliminate vast numbers of players. Scott's got 11 or 12 players in this year's draft that we like and to eliminate them, I think, does the organization an injustice."

Pelfrey, 21, is a 6-foot-7 right-hander at Wichita State University who has a power curve ball with slider-like action and also sports a changeup.

Hochevar is also right-handed and the 6-foot-5 standout from the University of Tennessee has a body that is similar to the Yankees' Kevin Brown. The 21-year-old has a heavy sinking fastball to go along with a curveball that breaks 11-5 and a tight, sharp-breaking slider. His arm speed helps disguise his changeup and Hochevar is regarded as a smart pitcher.

Whereas Pelfrey and Hochevar are starters, Hansen is a hard-throwing closer at St. John's University. The right-hander goes right after hitters with an explosive 93-94 mph fastball and a slider that checks in at 85 mph. A low elbow in his delivery gives the 21-year-old a bit of deception.

Upton is the lone position player of the group and is also the only high schooler among the candidates. A five-tool player, the 17-year-old has a lean athletic build on a large frame and looks similar to Red Sox shortstop Edgar Renteria. With good plate coverage and good extension, he is able to hit the ball to all fields.

The signing of Drew does not preclude the Diamondbacks from drafting another shortstop in Upton.

"The '05 draft is going to be independent of the '04 draft and the signing of Stephen Drew," Rizzo said. "We're going to take the best player available and work to try and sign him."

Solid drafts over the past few years have left the Diamondbacks feeling good about the state of their farm system. With that in mind, there are no glaring holes that would force the club to draft a particular position.

"We are in good shape," Arizona general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. said. "If there's one area I think we would look at it would be pitching, simply because you can never have enough pitching."

The Diamondbacks don't see the draft being strong in any one particular area, either.

"I would say it's kind of a routine draft," Rizzo said. "There's some depth in the upper rounds of college position players, but all and all, I think it's an average draft year. I think there's some depth in college pitching, but all and all, it's probably an average year."

That said, they are happy to have the first pick.

"I think there are a couple of players at the top of the draft that really, really separate themselves," Rizzo said. "I'd rather have the first pick than the fifth or sixth pick, and there are some years that you wouldn't say that because they all blend together. But this year, there are several players that have separated themselves beyond others."

Which player finally separates himself from the pack in the eyes of the Diamondbacks remains to be seen.

A look at the Diamondbacks last three No. 1 picks:

Drew, SS: Has only played a few weeks of Independent League baseball since being drafted last year after lengthy holdout. Will begin his D-Backs career with Class A Lancaster. The Diamondbacks see him as a fast mover.

Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin, OFs: The pair were drafted 19 and 29 in the first round in 2003 and have already risen to Triple-A. Jackson has been moved to first base, where he has played competently while crushing the ball at the plate. Quentin missed the 2003 season to have Tommy John surgery, but had an outstanding 2004 season and, along with Jackson, is near the top of most offensive categories in Triple-A.

Sergio Santos, SS: The high schooler was chosen 27th in the 2002 draft and has risen steadily through the system. There's been talk that he would be moved to third, but so far the club hasn't seen the need to. After a strong spring in Major League camp, Santos began the 2005 season in Triple-A and, after a slow start, has begun to come around.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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