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Pinellas' 1st-round streak in danger

By Times staff writers
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 2, 2002

Pinellas County's streak of producing first-round picks could end at two years Tuesday.

While the county should have a handful of players selected this year, the only players with a chance of going in the first round are Dunedin's Brian Dopirak and Steve Doetsch.

In the latest Baseball America high school prospect rankings, Dopirak is 36th and Doetsch is 61st.

Doetsch, according to Baseball America, has the best all-around package of tools in the Southeast and is Florida's seventh-best prospect. A rightfielder for most of this season but projected to play center or left, Doetsch has a strong arm and quick feet, according to scouts, and at 6 feet 2, 180 pounds has the kind of frame that will develop.

Dopirak, 6-4, 230 pounds, hit 11 home runs this season to set a school record and is the country's best power-hitting prospect, says Baseball America, impressive considering the publication lists him ahead of Prince (Son of Cecil) Fielder. But in mock drafts, neither player is a first-round pick. Dopirak is considered to be on the bubble, and could interest a team that likes big sluggers like Oakland, which has the 16th, 24th, 26th and 30th picks.

In 2000, Gibbs grad Boofer Bonser was a first-rounder, going to San Francsico at No. 21.

Last year, Casey Kotchman was the 13th pick overall by Anaheim.

HOW'S THAT FOR PRESSURE?: Baseball America wrote a six-sentence description of Hillsborough outfielder Elijah Dukes and still managed to compare him with Carl Everett, Dwight Gooden, Gary Sheffield and Bo Jackson.

Well, sort of. Actually it said Everett, Gooden and Sheffield weren't in Dukes' class as an athlete.

Wow!

Dukes finished his senior year hitting .453 with three home runs and 15 RBIs. The comparisons with Jackson come thanks to Dukes' ability as a football player (He signed to play at North Carolina State). Described as a physical specimen at 6-3, 215 with 4.0 speed from the right side of the plate to first base, Dukes can play outfield or pitch.

The down side is Dukes attended four high schools (Chamberlain, King, Jefferson and Hillsborough), and suspensions from at least two schools caused him to miss playing time in various sports.

FIREBALLER WITHOUT FIRE: Bloomingdale pitcher Christian Madson should have blown through his senior season, devouring batters like hors d'oeuvres and piling up stats like the Bulls never have seen.

Instead, he finished the season 4-4 with 49 innings pitched and wasn't even considered the team's ace. The 6-8 Madson entered the season touted as a sure-fire first-round pick and backed up that projection with 55 strikeouts, 15 walks, 38 hits and a 1.86 ERA.

With a fluid delivery and velocity reaching 95 mph, coupled with his big body, all major-league team had their eyes on him. What they saw was a lack of fire.

Madson has dropped to a projected second- to fifth-round selection because of his unwillingness to go after hitters. He has been criticized for throwing too many split-fingered fastballs instead of wowing high schoolers with his power. He has the ability to challenge hitters -- and win -- as he has demonstrated at various showcases but in normal competition he backed off.

Those are all problems a good pitching coach can cure, but the theory now is Madson will head to the University of Florida if he doesn't get drafted high enough for first-round money.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: Aside from four or five top players, most of the area draftees probably will be taken in later rounds. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

Ex-Yankee great Don Mattingly was selected in the 19th round in 1979. Former Cubs All-Star Ryne Sandberg was taken in the 20th round (1984) and Braves Cy Young Award winner John Smoltz was picked up in the 22nd round in 1985.

Don't forget All-Star and former NL rookie of the year Mike Piazza, who was taken in the 62nd round in 1988 by the Dodgers as a favor.

-- MIKE READLING, JOHN C. COTEY

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