Two Washington-area players, Brian Howard, a former Rockville High School star, and Joe Kucharski, a graduate of Surrattsville High School in Clinton, were first-round picks in the major league baseball draft of amateur free agents yesterday.
The Chicago Cubs made high school shortstop Shawon Dunston of New York the No. 1 selection in the regular phase of the draft.
The Cleveland Indians selected Howard on the first round of the secondary phase (players who were drafted previously but remained unsigned). He was the No. 2 secondary selection overall.
Howard was a starting guard on the Georgia Tech basketball team last year but did not play baseball. He had been drafted in the sixth round of the regular phase last year by the Seattle Mariners.
The Baltimore Orioles used their first choice in the regular phase (No. 24 overall) to select Kucharski, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound right-handed pitcher who helped South Carolina to the College World Series with an 11-3 mark.
Howard, a former All-Met pitcher, expressed surprise that the Indians chose him because they never contacted him. "I thought because I didn't play baseball that it would hurt my chances in the draft," he said. "Pittsburgh and the Mets talked to me about two weeks ago and didn't say it would hurt my chances, but I still thought it would."
Howard is a 5-foot-11, 170-pound right-hander. He is expected to transfer to Maryland to play only baseball if he doesn't sign with the Indians.
"Georgia Tech is a good school, but I just didn't like it," said Howard, who averaged seven points as Tech's freshman point guard. "I wanted to be closer to home and I wanted to stay in the ACC, although ACC baseball is different than ACC basketball.
"I went to Tech to play baseball but the coaches worked out an agreement so I could play both baseball and basketball. I wanted the experience of ACC basketball and I got it. Once I got into basketball, I kind of forgot about baseball. I was tired at the end of basketball. In the middle of baseball season though, I wanted to play becuase I missed it.
"I'm going to play baseball at Maryland. I had the experience of basketball in the ACC but I realize that baseball is my sport."
Kucharski, who was named to the NCAA Coaches all-America team and has a 21-7 collegiate record, wants to play professionally.
"I really want to give pro baseball a shot. It's something I've always wanted to do," Kucharski said. "I think this is the best time for me to give it a try because it's hard to come back year after year with 11- or 12-win seasons. I hope we can work something out.
"I didn't pitch real well against Stanford (a 15-4 loss Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament) and I thought that might move me down a little. Fifteen or 20 teams had talked to me in the last two or three weeks and I had the feeling I would be picked sometime today.
"I've always been an Orioles fan and it's real great to be picked by a team so close," he said. "Baltimore is a good organization that's very fair. If you do the job, you move up. I couldn't think of a better team to be drafted by."
The Orioles used their first choice in the secondary draft to take Brad Arnsberg, of Medford, Ore., another right-handed pitcher now completing his freshman year at Merced (Calif.) Junior College.
Dunston, from Thomas Jefferson High School, in Brooklyn, N.Y., immediately signed a one-year contract that included an estimated $100,000 bonus. He will be assigned to the Cubs' Sarasota farm club of the Gulf Coast League after graduating. Dunston hit .790 and stole 37 bases in 37 attempts this season.