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First day of draft holds surprises

First day of draft holds surprises

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The Atlanta Braves taking a college player with their first pick? The Oakland A's going high school heavy? Next thing you're going to tell me is that a Scott Boras client will be the first draftee to sign.

Oh, wait.

While certain things went according to plan -- Justin Upton going No. 1, 20 of the top 30 players coming from the college ranks -- there definitely were some interesting wrinkles from Day 1 of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.

One of most interesting developments came right at the top of the draft. The first five picks were all position players, with Cal-State Fullerton's Ricky Romero the first pitcher taken at No. 6 by the Blue Jays. It doesn't sound all that important until you realize it's the first time that's happened since the June draft was instituted in 1965.

In fact, it's been a decade since the top three picks were non-pitchers. Darin Erstad, Ben Davis and Jose Cruz Jr. went 1-2-3 ahead of Kerry Wood in 1995.

"In a nutshell, they were pretty good players," said Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik, who took University of Miami third baseman Ryan Braun at No. 5. "That may be what it is. Of the first five guys, three were third basemen (Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman and Braun), which is very unusual, too.

"This was an unusual year when there was a nice group of college position players. It seems that clubs valued that, so that's what went [in the top 5]."

Only four of the top 15 picks on Tuesday came from the mound, a very low number considering the axiom "you can never have enough pitching" is gospel in the draft.

"It makes perfect sense to me," said White Sox senior director of player personnel Duane Shaffer about the high amount of bats taken, even though he took a pitcher in Lance Broadway at No. 15. "If you get the chance to get a regular you think can be a difference maker, you have to take him. We couldn't pass Brian Anderson or Josh Fields up. This year, it was a good year for regulars at the top."

Another variable is that many of the top arms in this draft are represented by Boras. While Mike Pelfrey, Craig Hansen and Luke Hochevar were all considered to be top of the first round talents. Pelfrey went at No. 9 to the Mets, but Hansen didn't get taken until No. 26 by the Red Sox, and Hochevar, in one of the bigger draft slides, fell to the Dodgers at No. 40.

"We had prepared for it," Dodgers scouting director Logan White said. "Anytime you get ready for a draft, you always expect the unexpected. We were prepared, but somewhat surprised. We were really happy we were able to take him there."

While the Dodgers may have been able to take advantage of other team's wariness to take a Boras client, it was one who signed quickly that may have caused the biggest stir on Tuesday. Many teams stayed away from Utah high school lefty Mark Pawalek, knowing that just one Boras-represented high schooler has signed in the last five years. Not only did the Cubs take Pawalek at No. 20, they announced before the fifth round was over that the southpaw was the first draftee to agree to terms.

Combine that with the fact Stephen Drew and Jered Weaver signed before the deadline, and there is hope that a new era has begun, in which negotiations with Boras and his clients aren't as protracted as they have been in the past. The Dodgers' White certainly hopes that's the case as he prepares to try to sign Hochevar.

"I think so," White said, when asked about the possible good omen from the Pawalek signing. "But for us, the fact we drafted Luke before and have a relationship there, showing that we've liked him since high school, that plays into it more than anything."

Hochevar wasn't the only highly touted name that dropped. High school infielder Justin Bristow, projected by many to be a first-round selection, didn't hear his name called at all on Day 1. The Mills Godwin High product was believed to be unsignable if he didn't go in the first round. Once he didn't go in the top 30, it became a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy as no team wanted to risk taking an early pick on a guy who wouldn't consider signing.

The flip side are the surprises in the first round. At No. 22 the Marlins took Aaron Thompson, a high school lefty who initially seemed likely to head to Texas A&M. When the Aggies fired their coaching staff, Thompson became much more signable. But no one rose up the charts more than Broadway, who strung together a series of starts to put him strongly on the first-round radar. Broadway going No. 15 speaks volumes, not only about how dominant he's been of late, but also about how no other pitchers had really separated themselves in this draft class.

"The last few weeks, we had him on the radar. We thought he was under the radar at that point," Shaffer said. "But he kept getting better and better and better. He overmatched the competition he was facing to the point where we said, 'How can we pass this guy up?'

"We knew other teams were in there, so we didn't want to let a lot of people know about it. We couldn't let that cat out of the bag."

A couple of teams unveiled slightly surprising philosphies, at least in the early going. The Atlanta Braves took a college pitcher, another fast riser in North Carolina State closer Joey Devine, in the first round. They hadn't taken a college player with their first pick since Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

And then there are the Oakland A's. "Moneyball" details the A's adherence to a college-heavy drafting philosophy. They started out that way, taking Cliff Pennington and Travis Buck with their first two picks. All seemed right with the world.

Then, the world turned upside down. Oakland took three high school arms with their next three picks and ended with six prepsters over the first 18 rounds. The selection of Craig Italiano, Jared Lansford and Vincent Mazzaro certainly caused a buzz in draft rooms around baseball.

" A couple of guys brought it up," one scouting director said. "Maybe the 'Moneyball' thing isn't as foolproof as they believed."

Part of the reason for the change has to do with the large amount of college talent already in the system. Many of their best prospects are pitchers at the upper levels, and there was a need to fill in the lower levels of their system. That, and the fact that even through college-colored glasses, the talent of these high school player was just too great to ignore.

"I would say it's more of an indication of the talent these guys have," A's scouting director Eric Kubota said. "I can't tell you how excited we are to get these guys into the system.

"It's a combination of both [their talent and the organizational need], I would say."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. Mycheal Urban contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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