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Brewers in unfamiliar draft territory

Brewers in unfamiliar draft territory

MILWAUKEE -- With the First-Year Player Draft now days away, Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik is anything but bummed about dropping out of the top 10.

"Hopefully, we drop considerably more next year," Zduriencik said. "That would mean good things have happened."

Major League teams draft in reverse order of their record, and by virtue of an 81-81 finish last season, Milwaukee owns the 16th overall selection in the first round. The Brewers have not drafted that low since taking right-hander Jeff D'Amico with the 23rd selection in 1993, and the Brewers have not picked out of the top 10 since taking Mike Jones at No. 12 in 2001.

The relatively low position means a tougher job for Zduriencik and the Brewers' amateur scouting staff. Beginning with Prince Fielder at No. 7 overall in 2002, the Brewers have had only a handful of teams drafting ahead of them. In 2003, only the Devil Rays had an earlier pick, and the Brewers were able to land Rickie Weeks at No. 2.

This year, Brewers scouts needed a wider focus.

"I don't think you worry about that," said Zdurencik, who assumed his current post prior to the 2000 draft. "I think you approach it the same way. There might be three or four guys that you don't go see because the consensus is that they're going way ahead of you. But you have to be careful with that, too. Sometimes guys slide."

That's what happened in 1999 with Ben Sheets, who slipped to 10th overall. But no-doubters like Weeks and Fielder are more difficult to find at No. 16.

"To find those kind of players with the 16th pick in the draft is not going to happen," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said last winter.

Zdurencik (pronounced "zur-EN-sik") is among the legion of scouting directors who follow a "best available player" philosophy. That means ranking hundreds of players on a draft board and taking the top available name, regardless of position.

"You hopefully continue to build a system that is able to supply players," Zduriencik said. "Every scouting director at every club in baseball would love to take a guy who could be here a year from now, but that's not realistic. It might happen, but based on the history of the game, it takes a few years for players to get to the big leagues."

Some observers expect the Brewers to take a pitcher this year. They last drafted a pitcher with their first pick in 2004, making Mark Rogers the fifth overall selection. A raw arm out of a Maine high school, Rogers' progress has been extremely slow as he revamps his pitching mechanics.

Has the Rogers project soured the Brewers on drafting a high school arm so high?

"No, I don't think it has," Zduriencik said. "I don't think anybody thought he was going to be an overnight success. There was nobody in the draft who thought that way about him, because everyone knew he had things that needed to be addressed.

"You go back to look at the big picture, seeing the long term. If Mark Rogers becomes the guy we think he can become, then it's a good pick. He's still throwing the daylights out of the ball, and it's a process that takes time. There aren't many guys that throw triple-digit numbers up there, which he does on occasion. Pitching is the one thing -- whether it's at this level or the Minor League level -- comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it comes early, sometimes it comes late, and all you can do is get all your guys together, take the best talent available."

Here is a look at how Milwaukee's last three first-round picks are faring:

2003: Rickie Weeks, 2B, second overall pick: Drafted out of Southern University as the NCAA's all-time leading hitter, Weeks signed a Major League contract and was in a Brewers uniform for good by June 2005. He has served as the team's leadoff hitter for most of this season, but he projects as a middle-of-the-order run-producer with tremendous offensive tools. Defense continues to be an issue, though the Brewers appear committed to Weeks as a second baseman.

2004: Mark Rogers, RHP, fifth overall pick: A power pitcher out of Mt. Ararat High School in Orr's Island, Maine, Rogers has been a work in progress. The Brewers knew there were issues with his delivery when they drafted him, and Minor League pitching coordinator Jim Rooney has worked to revamp Rogers' delivery with mixed results. He remains a "scout's delight" who reaches the upper 90s with his fastball and is considered a top prospect in the organization, but he had two wins in his first 35 starts and continues to struggle with command.

2005: Ryan Braun, 3B, fifth overall pick: Selected out of the University of Miami, Braun is a converted shortstop who hit .352 in his first professional season, with 45 RBIs in his first 47 games. He continues to put up solid offensive numbers as Rogers' teammate at Class A Brevard County this season, but like Weeks, he needs to smooth out his defense. Depending on what the Brewers do with utility man Bill Hall, Braun could contend for a spot with the Brewers by about 2008.

Adam McCalvy 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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