For the fifth time in six years, the Baltimore Orioles used their top pick in baseball's annual draft to select a college pitcher. And now they must hope Rice University right-hander Wade Townsend, whom they chose eighth overall, has a smoother path to the majors than the previous four.
Townsend, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound junior, was 12-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 1201/3 innings for the Owls, helping form one of the most accomplished college rotations in recent history.
The No. 1 pick was Matt Bush, of Mission Bay (Calif.) High School, who is the first high school shortstop drafted first since Seattle took Alex Rodriguez in 1993.
Although Rice (46-14, 24-6 Western Athletic Conference) was eliminated from the NCAA tournament in the subregional round on Sunday, three of its starting pitchers -- Townsend, Philip Humber and Jeffrey Niemann -- were among the first eight picks Monday.
"I guess I'm the worst one," Townsend joked. "That's fine with me."
"We were just happy to get one of them," Orioles scouting director Tony DeMacio said. Asked to describe Townsend, he said, "Great arm, bulldog mentality. Strong, physical kid who's going to give [full effort] to you every day. And those kids always get better coming out of Rice."
Townsend, 21, has been throwing his fastball in the 87-mph to 91-mph range (although scouts have reported him hitting as high as 95 mph) and has an excellent curveball and a developing changeup. Some scouts have projected him as a closer, although the Orioles have yet to make a determination on his future path.
"We don't think he's too far away" from making it to the majors, said Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Jim Beattie. "With all the experience he's had, and with his size and everything, this isn't a guy who's going to be too far away from our big league club."
The Orioles have had astoundingly bad luck with their top picks in recent years.
Of the four previous times they selected college pitchers with their top pick, three -- Mike Paradis (1999, Clemson), Beau Hale (2000, Texas) and Chris Smith (2001, Cumberland [Tenn.]) -- have spent considerable time on the disabled list, while 2002 draftee Adam Loewen, whom the team signed to a $4 million contract, is on the disabled list with Class A Delmarva. Only Paradis has made it as high as Class AAA.
Long Beach (Calif.) State right-hander Jered Weaver and Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew, considered by scouts to be the top pitcher and position player in the draft, respectively, were still available when the Orioles chose at No. 8. But concerns about their signability may have led the Orioles, like many other teams, to pass. Both are represented by agent Scott Boras. Weaver fell to Anaheim with the 12th pick; Drew fell to Arizona at No. 15.
"I'm not going to get into the reason why we pick one guy over another," Beattie said. "We feel very good about [Townsend]."
The Orioles did not have a second-round pick Monday, but took Florida Atlantic University catcher Jeffrey Fiorentino in the third round, and right-hander Brad Bergesen of Foothill High School in Pleasanton, Calif., in the fourth round.
Orioles Notes: Right-handed pitcher Darwin Cubillan cleared waivers Monday and was outrighted to Class AAA Ottawa. . . . Saturday's rainout against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays was rescheduled for July 5 as part of a day-night doubleheader, with the games beginning at 1:05 p.m. and 7:05 p.m.