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Royals expected to take pitcher with top choice

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Scouts are calling the talent pool the weakest in years for impact position players.

NEW YORK -- Major league teams looking to stock up on college pitching in this year's draft could be in luck. Clubs searching for potential stars at other positions might not be so fortunate.

Many scouts consider this year's draft, which starts today, one of the weakest in years when it comes to trying to find impact position players.

"Fortunately for us, this year the strength of the draft is pitching, and that's what we need," Kansas City Royals scouting director Deric Ladnier said. "But we also need position players. In the last few years, there were better position players."

It appears likely the draft record of 20 pitchers taken in the first round -- set in 1999 and tied in 2001 -- will fall. The Royals, who have the No. 1 pick for the first time, are focused on a trio of college pitchers: North Carolina left-hander Andrew Miller and right-handers Tim Lincecum of Washington and Brad Lincoln of Houston.

Even with the top pick, Kansas City wasn't assured of getting a future Cy Young winner. The Royals felt more confident before last season's draft, when they took Nebraska third baseman Alex Gordon with the No. 2 pick after Arizona took high school shortstop Justin Upton.

"Last year, we were picking No. 2 and we knew Upton and Gordon were there and that whoever got picked first, we would be getting a guy we knew was a good player with a chance to be a star," said Ladnier, who'll help run the Royals' draft after the team fired general manager Allard Baird last week. "This year, I can't say that. We'll get a quality starter, but there are some reservations."

Miller, a 6-foot-7 junior, has a fastball in the mid-90s and a sharp slider in the mid-80s, but his command and ability to maintain his stuff late in games are still questioned.

The major question surrounding Lincecum and Lincoln is whether their size -- they're both 6-foot -- will allow them to become front-line major league starters. Otherwise, they both have fastballs in the mid-90s and pile up strikeouts in bunches.

Others expected to be selected early include five right-handers: Stanford's Greg Reynolds, Nebraska's Joba Chamberlain, Missouri's Max Scherzer, California's Brandon Morrow and Texas' Kyle McCulloch. Texas high school lefty Clayton Kershaw is also likely to go in the first 10 picks.

"It will probably be a year where there will be more pitchers taken in the first round than ever before," said Angels scouting director Eddie Bane, a first-round pick in 1973. "If you're looking for a shortstop, if you're one of those teams who narrow your search to a certain position, you're not getting a shortstop."

Colorado has the No. 2 pick, followed by Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Seattle.

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