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Who will the Rays take?

With the fourth pick in Monday's draft, the Rays are expected to take a college pitcher or high school infielder. The most likely possibilities:

By MARC TOPKIN
Published June 6, 2004

JEFF NIEMANN, RHP, RICE

DATA: 6-9, 260 ... 5-3, 3.28 ERA, 85 Ks, 55 H, 26 BB in 711/3 IP ... from Lamar (Houston) High.

ANALYSIS: Was potential No. 1 overall pick after dominating last year (17-0, 1.70) with 90-plus mph slider. But offseason elbow surgery, a groin strain and whispers of arm problems limited his '04 effectiveness and appeal. ... Fastball clocked at 97 mph. ... Has flashed '03 form occasionally; scouts seeing this weekend if he still has it.

WADE TOWNSEND, RHP, RICE

DATA: 6-4, 225. ... 12-0, 1.80 ERA, 148 Ks, 74 H, 45 BB in 1201/3 IP ... undrafted out of Dripping Springs (Texas) High.

ANALYSIS: Mostly 87-91 mph but can hit 95. ... Has wicked curveball and best command among Rice trio. ... Very competitive and emotional. ... Could end up a closer in the big leagues.

JUSTIN VERLANDER, RHP, OLD DOMINION

DATA: 6-4, 190. ... from Goochland, Va. ... 6-5, 3.33 ERA, 135 Ks, 76 H, 39 BB in 92 IP.

ANALYSIS: Electric stuff might outweigh mediocre results. ... Has best fastball among draftees, according to Baseball America. ... Some question of how he'll do against top competition.

BATS

CHRIS NELSON, REDAN (GA.) HIGH

DATA: 5-11, 165 ... .582, 8 HRs, 36 RBIs in 67 at-bats, plus 25 SBs. ... Georgia signee.

ANALYSIS: Athletic build, tremendous skills comparable with B.J. Upton, excellent makeup. ... Recovered from Sept. 25 Tommy John elbow surgery. ... Short batting stroke makes for steady contact, potential for average power.

MATT BUSH, MISSION BAY (CALIF.) HIGH

DATA: 5-10, 170 ... .458, 8 HRs, 34 RBIs. ... San Diego State signee.

ANALYSIS: One of the top players in San Diego area history. ... Strong arm (94 mph fastball) and better glove and range, excellent makeup and instincts. ... Some question about future hitting ability.

OTHERS

RHP HOMER BAILEY - La Grange, Texas high schooler has blazing numbers (11-0, 0.21 ERA, 157 K in 66 IP) and comparison with Josh Beckett. But high school right-handers are a gamble, and Rays can't afford the risk.

CF/2B STEPHEN DREW - Florida State star has all kinds of ability but questions about makeup and salary demands based, fairly or not, on brother J.D.'s act. Could go No. 1.

RHP PHILIP HUMBER - Considered most consistent, resilient and safest pick among the Rice trio. Likely to be taken No. 3 by the Mets.

LHP JEREMY SOWERS - Vanderbilt ace is steady, solid, consistent, has good command and is considered close to being big-league ready. But he doesn't wow you.

RHP JARED WEAVER - Brother of Jeff Weaver was consensus No. 1 pick based on stats (14-0, 1.27, 171 K in 113 IP) but could drop to mid first round based on perceived demand for $10-million bonus.

[Last modified June 5, 2004, 23:52:18]

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