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Top draft picks remain unknown

TOM JONES
Published June 6, 2004

It's not clear whom San Diego and Detroit will take with the first two picks in Monday's draft.

The Padres had been expected to take Long Beach State's Jered Weaver, the younger brother of Dodgers right-hander Jeff Weaver, but also were considering Rice pitcher Jeff Niemann and Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew, J.D. Drew's younger brother.

"We're not trying to keep secrets," Padres general manager Kevin Towers said.

"But you never know what could happen between now and Monday. All three are playing this weekend."

Towers says it is harder to find quality hitters than pitchers in the draft, citing the selection of Jake Peavy in the 15th round and Brian Lawrence in the 17th as evidence.

That hints the pick could be Drew, who is projected as a centerfielder or second baseman.

"I think he could play any position but catcher," Towers said.

Drew is hitting .353 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs and played well last weekend as FSU won the ACC tournament. Weaver's stock fell when he was hammered by Miami in a late-season start, allowing seven runs in 61/3 innings. Niemann pitched poorly against Louisiana Tech, his fastball dipping into the mid 80s in the sixth inning.

Detroit has scouted all of them plenty but also has followed right-hander Homer Bailey, the latest fireballer from Texas. He put up gaudy numbers (12-1, 0.39 ERA with 168 strikeouts and 10 walks in 72 innings) for LaGrange High.

HITTING FAMILY: Albert Pujols doesn't have to go far to get help with his hitting. He credits his wife, Deidre, for helping him with his fundamentals.

She's a former softball player who watches tapes with him and isn't shy to make suggestions. Pujols credits her, as well as Cardinals batting coach Mitchell Page, for a recent 14-for-21 stretch that shot his average up to .321.

"She'll say, "Your hands are too low' or "You're spread too wide,"' Pujols said. "And she's right. She knows me real well. She doesn't say things just to say them."

Page admits the suggestion was right on.

"I'll give credit where it's due," he said. "She knew what she was talking about."

UNDER THE RADAR: In a league full of highly advertised shortstops, Carlos Guillen hasn't received enough credit. He has been a great addition for Detroit, hitting .316 with six homers and 33 RBIs in his first 52 games.

Guillen entered Saturday with a .932 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), the highest among shortstops. The rest of the top five: Texas' Michael Young (.890), Baltimore's Miguel Tejada (.858), Pittsburgh's Jack Wilson (.851) and Colorado's Royce Clayton (.844).

Seattle traded Guillen because he's eligible for free agency after this season. The Tigers have a small window to get him signed before he files for free agency. The way he's playing, he might bring a nice return in a midseason trade.

BURNING OIL: Given the way the Twins rebounded from a bad first half in 2003, we probably shouldn't read too much into them losing 10 of 14 entering the weekend. They have been having trouble scoring runs, scoring three or fewer in eight of those games.

Tampa Bay took five of seven from Minnesota, including three of four last week at the Metrodome. Rays pitchers held them to a .218 average in the season series.

"Right now, we're just swinging at too many pitches, and everyone is making a lot of good pitches on us," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I think you have to play consistent. We scored 16 runs the other night then came back with four hits (Wednesday) and six hits (Thursday).

"Injuries play a part in that. We have some guys beat up. If we can get everyone back in one piece, we will be better."

While catcher Joe Mauer was activated from the disabled list, the two-time defending Central champs lost some pitching depth. Rick Helling and Peter Munro left Triple-A Rochester angry they hadn't been promoted.

Helling, who had been expected to be the fifth starter before his ankle was broken by a liner in spring training, pitched seven shutout innings in his first start at Rochester after four with Double-A New Britain.

BATTING EIGHTH ... THE PITCHER?: Montreal manager Frank Robinson went against convention May 30 by batting pitcher Tomo Ohka eighth against Cincinnati and won 6-2.

The next game, he went against convention again - the adage that you don't fix something that isn't broken. He didn't bat the pitcher eighth, and the Expos lost 8-2.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa believes he knows why.

"Maybe somebody told him the last manager to bat the pitcher eighth was me and he said, "I'm not going to do that anymore,"' La Russa said. "I wouldn't doubt it."

You'll never find Robinson and La Russa together sipping lemonade under a patio umbrella.

La Russa did it for all of the second half of the 1998 season, batting the pitcher eighth and a position player ninth the first game after the All-Star Game. It was a move to jump-start his offense.

At the time, the Cardinals were six games under .500. They played 10 over the second half.

So why doesn't he continue to do it? Too much attention.

"It creates a distraction because the players have to answer questions and they probably say, "The manager doesn't think we can win the traditional way."'

La Russa, though, isn't against it.

"My favorite thing would be if about three or four managers do it. Then I'd do it," he said.

THE FULL MONTY: A perspective from the Milwaukee dugout when Los Angeles' Milton Bradley went on a tirade at home plate, earning him a suspension:

Bradley took his helmet and his batting gloves and placed them on home plate. Then he reached for the top button of his uniform, and the Brewers thought he was about to go full monty.

"We thought he was," manager Ned Yost said. "We were yelling at him from the dugout, "Take it all off."'

WHISPERS: Josh Beckett showed his immaturity by calling trainer Sean Cunningham a "jackass" and "idiot" in front of reporters when he was placed on the DL with a blister on his middle finger. He's not the most beloved figure in his clubhouse. ... There might not be a team in the NL West above .500 when the season is over. Interleague play is going to be tough for this weak division with most teams playing the Yankees and Red Sox, the Giants getting home-and-away series with the A's and the Dodgers getting home-and-aways with the Angels. ... Canadian left-hander Jeff Francis might pitch his way to Colorado by the second half. He's 8-0 with Double-A Tulsa and went into the weekend leading the minors with 91 strikeouts. ... The Giants are unhappy about Ray Durham's offseason conditioning. He has been on the DL four times in the past two years, always with leg injuries, after being healthy while with the White Sox and Oakland.

NUMBERS: Colorado is 0-6 in extra-inning games this year and has lost 18 of 20. ... The quickest closers to 30 saves were Eric Gagne in 2002 and John Smoltz in 2003, both in 82 games. Danny Graves entered the weekend with 26 in 53 games. ... Cleveland's relievers have allowed 32 homers. No other bullpen has allowed more than 21.

THE LAST WORD: "Nobody is this bad. I mean nobody in pro ball. You could take some high school kid, some kid in rookie ball, give them 10 or 11 starts, and they would not do what I've done. Nobody can possibly be this bad. And I'm this bad." - Royals left-hander Brian Anderson, who signed a two-year, $6.5-million contract last winter but has been moved to the bullpen after going 1-7 with a 7.82 ERA and .379 opponents batting average in 11 starts.

- Information from the Chicago Tribune and the Dayton Daily News was used in the report.

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