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Mission accomplished for Rockies
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06/04/2002 10:15 pm ET 
Mission accomplished for Rockies
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com

Jeff Francis became one of the highest Canadians ever drafted. (courtesy Richard Lam)
DENVER -- University of British Columbia left-handed pitcher Jeff Francis began pleasing the Colorado Rockies just hours after the team drafted him ninth overall on Tuesday.

Before sunset, Francis had agreed to terms, which the club did not disclose.

Like most teams, the Rockies used most of their high picks on players they thought they could sign. But scouting director Bill Schmidt said after the first day, through 22 rounds, he was happy with the key issue -- the talent level at the positions the Rockies targeted.

"We're happy with it," said Schmidt, in his third draft with the Rockies. "We centered on the pitching and the corner bats, and from that standpoint it turned out good."

2002 First-Year Player Draft
JUNE 4-5 | NEW YORK CITY
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The top three picks were big pitchers, all between 6-feet-3 and 6-feet-5 and at least 200 pounds. Right-hander Micah Owings of Gainesville (Ga.) High and righty William Crockett of Harvard followed Francis.

The first position player, hard-hitting Clemson junior third baseman Jeff Baker, could present a signability challenge. Several projections had the Rockies nabbing Baker with the pick they used on Francis, but he lasted until the 111th pick, in the fourth round. According to draft-day logic, Baker, advised by hard-driving agent Scott Boras, dropped because of reports he would ask for a $4 million bonus if drafted where he was projected.

Getting the first pick to agree so quickly made a happy man of Josh Byrnes, the Rockies' assistant general manager and point man on negotiations with the 6-foot-5, 200-pound Francis.

"We spent a whole week on the talent ranking, and he ranked very, very high," Byrnes said. "We just want to present someone who makes sense to us and it makes sense to him. Sometimes, when it's clear-minded and we work off the same information, these deals are pretty swift, actually."

Byrnes said the Rockies are likely to send Francis to Tri-City of the short-season Northwest League and look at advancing him to low-A Asheville depending on how he progresses. Schmidt noted that Francis' low innings total (74 2/3) during the college season means he should be fresh for the summer.

Schmidt said Francis, with a fastball at 92-93 mph, fits with a strong group of prospects already in the organization -- right-hander Aaron Cook (second round, 1997), Tsao Chin-Hui (free-agent signee after 1999), Jason Young (second, 2000) and Cory Vance (fourth, 2000).

Owings, 19, a sturdy 6-foot-5, 205-pounder, has signed with Georgia Tech but he impressed Schmidt last summer, when he led the powerful East Cobb Yankees to the Connie Mack World Series title. Owings was the tournament's MVP.

"He's an older high school kid, he's physical, he's athletic, he's got power stuff with a real good feel to pitch," Schmidt said.

Crockett was Boston's 10th-round pick last year but returned to Harvard to allay concerns about an elbow problem.

"He went to the Cape Cod League late [last year], pitched very well there and took all his turns," Schmidt said. "He never missed time this year."

Baker, who turns 21 on June 21, is batting .333 with 24 home runs and 79 RBIs for a Clemson squad that faces Arkansas in NCAA Super Regional play Friday. Schmidt admitted he was "somewhat" surprised Baker lasted as long as he did, but he was aware of the signability issues.

Fifth-round pick Neil Wilson of Vero Beach (Fla.) High recently moved to catcher, and Schmidt believes he has a future there. Bryant College right-hander Doug Johnson was a fifth-round compensation pick. Sixth-rounder Sean Baker, a 6-3, 220-pounder from LSU, reminds Schmidt of Rockies power-hitting farmhand Brad Hawpe, an 11th-round pick in 2000. Cal's Ryan Spilbroughs, the seventh-rounder, fits the Rockies' theme of a corner outfielder with physical tools. Oklahoma State's Jeff Salazar, an eighth-rounder, is a center fielder and leadoff man.

An intriguing pick for Colorado was its 11th-rounder -- Florida first baseman Ryan Shealy, a 6-foot-5, 239-pounder who recovered from chronic injuries to hit 21 homers for the Gators. Shealy was a fifth-round Rockies pick in 1998 out of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Cardinal Gibbons High.

Thomas Harding covers the Rockies for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.





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