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Karp signing wraps up rich first round

By John Manuel

The suspense has ended. Every player in the first round of the 2001 draft has been accounted for.

The Expos signed the last first-round pick still out there, UCLA righthander Josh Karp, on Sept. 28. The sixth overall pick, Karp agreed to a standard minor league contract with a $2.65 million bonus.

Karp reportedly had sought a major league contract, but the Expos fit him into a bonus slot closer to the rest of the draft. Last year, the organization gave Stanford righthander Justin Wayne $2.95 million as the fifth overall selection.

The first five picks in 2001–Twins catcher Joe Mauer, Cubs righthander Mark Prior, Devil Rays righthander Dewon Brazelton, Phillies righthander Gavin Floyd and Rangers third baseman Mark Teixeira–all received signing bonuses in excess of $4 million. Brazelton, Prior and Teixeira, teammates of Karp on Team USA in 2000, all received major league contracts.

Karp’s agent, Michael Moye, limited his comments to one sentence: "Josh Karp is pleased to begin his professional baseball career."

The 21-year-old Karp went 23-7, 4.66 in three seasons for UCLA and also had two standout summers for Team USA. In 2001, he battled a groin injury and went 5-2, 3.26 with 92 strikeouts in 80 innings.

A Healthy Increase

The average first-round signing bonus this year was a record $2,162,723, a 15.5 percent increase over the 2000 average of $1,972,586. That compares to $1,809,767 in 1999 and $1,637,667 in 1998.

The figures represent only bonuses and don’t consider the overall value of the major league contracts signed by Prior, Brazelton and Teixeira. Prior’s bonus, as the second overall selection, was only $4 million but he was guaranteed $10.5 million–a record that topped the $10.2 million bonus paid to loophole free agent Matt White in 1996.

Joe Borchard’s $5.3 million bonus, paid in 2000, remains the standard for a player signing with the team that drafted him. But five of the six largest bonuses in history were paid out in 2001. No. 1 overall pick Joe Mauer’s $5.15 million bonus fell just short of Borchard’s amount. Fourteen players received bonuses of at least $2 million in 2001, compared with 15 in 2000.

For the first time since 1997 (J.D. Drew and Tyrell Godwin), two first-round picks went unsigned. Lefthander Jeremy Sowers, the 20th overall selection, spurned the Reds for Vanderbilt, while righty Alan Horne, chosen 27th, turned down the Indians for Mississippi.

–ALLAN SIMPSON

Finally, Good News For Sager

The last place Brian Sager figured he would be this fall was Palo Alto, Calif.

But after a year that saw him change schools and battle ineffectiveness and a mysterious arm injury, Sager may have found some hope during what he called the most difficult year of his life.

Sager, a righthander whom the White Sox drafted in the 13th round in June, had surgery Oct. 1 to repair a decompression of the radial nerve in his pitching arm. He was expected to start physical therapy later in the month and would start throwing soon thereafter.

"It’s ironic it would happen so close to Stanford," Sager said, "but I really do think what I’ve been through builds character."

Heavily recruited out of Branford (Conn.) High, Sager turned down significant predraft offers and the Diamondbacks, who drafted him in the 13th round in 1998, to play for the Cardinal. His career on The Farm included two College World Series starts, a 12-1 record in 33 appearances and what figured to be a first-round selection in the 2001 draft.

But Sager and first-year pitching coach Tom Kunes didn’t mesh during his sophomore season, and he decided to transfer to Georgia Tech. That’s when the trouble started.

"I don’t know if it was changing my mechanics a little bit or what," Sager said. "I always had a little pain in my forearm that I chalked up to normal stiffness, and at Stanford I was very regimented and had no problem with that level of activity.

"But soon after I started pitching at Tech, the pain got much worse. I would take six Advils just to go to sleep."

Sager tried to pitch but soon realized things weren’t getting better. He was 3-0, 6.66 when he shut himself down prior to the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Fort Mill, S.C. He left the team to work in Arizona at Brett Fischer Sports Therapy in sessions set up by his agents, Alan Nero and Terry Bross.

Sager worked on his rehab and was throwing on his own, including a workout for the Diamondbacks at Bank One Ballpark two days before the draft. Then the White Sox surprised him, drafting him in the 13th round.

The recurring soreness sidelined Sager again, derailing planned workouts for the White Sox. Finally, while his agents were talking to Dr. James Andrews about Sager’s condition, Dr. Andrews said the case reminded him of surgery performed to repair Brewers righthander Jeff D’Amico’s radial nerve.

The diagnosis was confirmed in a visit to Dr. Gordon Brody in Palo Alto, five minutes from Stanford’s campus. Sager was preparing to re-enroll at Stanford to continue work toward his degree and was pondering a spring stint in independent ball to prepare for the 2002 draft. Instead, he had surgery and expects to work out for the White Sox soon.

"It’s been very encouraging," Sager said. "Doctors usually don’t want to give you too much to get excited about. But Dr. Brody has been very, very positive.

"He said when he cut the tissue away from the nerve, it snapped back into place almost like a rubber band."

Sager is more interested in such matters than ever. Once a major in sociology and communications, he’s planning to go into physical therapy now.

He’s had enough experience as a patient. He’s ready to get on with his own healing.

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