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At first glance, Chisox, Rangers excel

By David Rawnsley

Signing Bonus Breakdown

Not signing your major league free agents can end up getting expensive.

Just ask the Orioles, Padres, Royals and White Sox, who combined to spend more than $23 million on first-round and supplemental first-round picks in this year’s draft. All four clubs are hoping that their draft bonanzas, while expensive, will go a long way toward restocking their farm systems.

It would be unfair to compare the impact of the draft picks from these four clubs, who combined for 21 first-round and compensation picks, with the remaining 26 teams.

So in judging which clubs had the most productive drafts in 1999, we’ve broken our lists into two groups: the big spenders and the pack. Any early evaluation of the merits of one draft class against another is flawed until all players have a chance to play a full season in the minor leagues. Still, a combination of pre-draft tools and post-draft performance highlights some organizations.

BIG SPENDERS

1. White Sox–Based on the opinions of their peers–opposing scouting directors who talked about it all summer–the White Sox had an outstanding draft. Their top five picks were power pitchers with mid-90s fastballs, and most made key contributions as Burlington won the Midwest League championship. If they can sign the only position player they took in the first 11 rounds, second-rounder Bobby Hill, it would be a bonus.

2. Padres–Three picks–righthander Gerik Baxter, lefthander Mike Bynum and outfielder Vince Faison–had strong debuts, combining the skills that went with their high-ceiling talent. As the other clubs with multiple picks also saw, two of the Padres’ college pitchers, righthanders Omar Ortiz and Casey Burns, had dead arms after long college seasons.

3. Royals–The Royals kept their prized college pitchers on a short leash this summer with innings and pitch counts, but righthanders Mike MacDougal, Brian Sanches and Kyle Snyder were all impressive. The Royals had the most success of this group with their mid-round picks.

4. Orioles–Baltimore gets an "incomplete" grade for now. The three high school lefthanders they selected in the first 50 picks either signed late or struggled, while the top college prospects were quickly bumped to full-season ball.

THE PACK

1. Rangers–Three of the Rangers’ top picks, righthanders Aaron Harang (sixth), Colby Lewis (first supplemental) and Nick Regilio (second), kept the battle for the best pitcher in the Rookie-level Appalachian League within the organization. Third baseman Hank Blalock (third) won the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League batting title and outfielder Kevin Mench (fourth) was among the top hitters in the Appy League, earning them late-season promotions.

2. Braves–They were the last team to draft (81st overall) but made up for lost opportunities by following their basic philosophy: Pick the highest-ceiling player available, regardless of signability. Righthanders Matt Butler (second round) and Matt McClendon (fifth) and shortstop Pat Manning (third) were all potential first-round picks at one point. Righthander Brett Evert (seventh) may be the sleeper of the bunch.

3. Marlins–Time will tell us how first-rounder Josh Beckett handles the pressures of a big league contract, but no one questions his ability. The rest of the draft, especially righthander Terry Byron (second), shortstop Josh Wilson (third) and lefthanders Todd Moser (14th) and Nate Robertson (fifth), was impressive.

4. Mariners–The Mariners changed gears after a disastrous 1998 draft. Catcher Ryan Christianson (first) could be a star in the making, while college picks Willie Bloomquist (third), Jeff Heaverlo (supplemental first) and Vaughn Schill (fourth) should be quality big leaguers who get to Seattle quickly.

5. Athletics–The A’s top pick, lefthander Barry Zito, pitched in the Triple-A World Series in September. He was a perfect pick for the needs of the organization. The rest of the draft was solid, especially with outfielders Kirk Asche (ninth), Mike Lockwood (23rd), Ryan Ludwick (second) and Michael Wenner (11th).

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