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Rangers own critical Draft position

With many picks, Draft is big for Rangers

ARLINGTON -- The First-Year Player Draft is important to every team every year. But there may not be a franchise that has more at stake this year than the Rangers.

Certainly from the Rangers standpoint it's been a long time since they have been anywhere near this position, maybe not since 1996.

Because of the exodus of free agents last offseason, the Rangers will be in the unique position of having five of the first 54 picks in the upcoming draft. The extra picks also come at a time when the Rangers are trying to rebuild a farm system that is far from being highly-regarded as one of the best in the game.

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Simply put, the Rangers have to get this right and they know it.

"I look at the draft as being one of my favorite times of the year," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "It's about hope, it's about the future, it's about injecting talent into the system. Having five shots right out of the gate is something the organization hasn't had in a long time. It's a chance to restock the system."

The last time the Rangers were in a similar position was in 1996, when they had four of the first 53 picks and used them all on pitchers. The Rangers ended up taking R.A. Dickey, Sam Marsonek, Corey Lee and Derrick Cook. Dickey, who has 16 Major League victories, is the only one of the four who pitched more than one game in the Major Leagues.

The Rangers again go into the draft looking for pitching. Four of their last five first-round picks (including two in 2004) have been pitchers. But this is a franchise that could also use a significant influx of position talent as well, especially in the outfield. Catching is probably the one area where the Rangers don't have a significant and immediate need.

"I've encouraged our scouts not to worry about our system needs or our big league club needs and just focus on the best player available," Daniels said. "We're probably leaning toward pitching over position players but not at the expense of picking the best player on the board. We're looking at the long-term, not the short-term or rushing somebody to the big leagues."

The 2007 First-Year Player Draft takes place June 7-8 at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Fla. The first round will be aired on ESPN2 beginning at 2 p.m. ET, and MLB.com will have every pick of the 50-round Draft, start to finish.

The Rangers have the 17th, 24th, 35th, 44th and 54th picks in the draft, as compensation for losing Carlos Lee, Gary Matthews Jr. and Mark DeRosa as free agents. The Rangers also lost their own pick, No. 16 overall, to the Toronto Blue Jays for signing Frank Catalanotto.

Word is it's a strong high school draft, but only a fair college draft. The highly regarded college bats could go quickly but there should be plenty of high school talent remaining for the 35th, 44th and 54th picks. Left-handed pitching is particularly strong.

"This year the depth of the draft is considered through the industry as being better," Daniels said. "So it worked out timing-wise. We feel good about our chances of making an impact."

Daniels said having five high picks allows the Rangers to take a chance on a player who might be a difficult sign.

"We're not afraid to take a chance but we're not going to take any crazy chances," Daniels said.

The Rangers have long been under pressure to draft pitchers because they have had a hard time putting together championship pitching at the Major League level. They will continue to look hard at pitching.

"I don't know if it's pressure, it's just looking at what we want to do year in and year out," Daniels said. "But we won't pass on a big impact bat."

First-Round Picks:

2006: Kasey Kiker, LHP, No. 12: He's just starting out at Class A Clinton in the Midwest League after being held back in extended Spring Training. Struck out nine in five innings in his first start at Clinton.

2005: John Mayberry Jr., OF, No. 19: He is at Class A Bakersfield and is showing definite power potential. He's still working on plate discipline and cutting down on a high number of strikeouts.

2004: Thomas Diamond, RHP, No. 10: He had two solid years in the Minors in 2005-06 and was close to being in the Major Leagues. But then he suffered a torn ligament in his elbow in Spring Training and underwent Tommy John surgery. He is out for the year.

2004: Eric Hurley, RHP, No. 30: He's off to a great start at Double-A Frisco and has become the crown jewel in the Rangers' farm system. He could get promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma sometime this summer and become a September callup candidate by the end of the season.

In the Majors: Travis Metcalf, an 11th-round pick out of the University of Kansas in 2004, made a brief debut when Hank Blalock went on the disabled list last month, then was sent back to Double-A Frisco after just four plate appearances, going 0-for-2 with two walks.

Rising Fast: Tim Hulett Jr., the son of the former Major League infielder, was a 14th round pick in 2004 out of Auburn but is already at Triple-A Oklahoma and hitting .300. Like his dad, he is a tough, gritty and smart player who knows how to play the game.

Cinderella story: Daniel Herrera stands only 5-foot-7 and was a 45th round pick in the 2006 draft out of the University of New Mexico. He is already pitching at Double-A Frisco after going 6-2 with a 1.68 ERA in 21 games, including six starts, at Class A Bakersfield at the end of last season and the beginning of this year.

T.R. Sullivan 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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