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Bill Conlin: Baseball draft can be risky business, dude

MAJOR LEAGUE baseball's June amateur draft and the stock market have something in common: The risks are many and there are no guarantees.

MAJOR LEAGUE baseball's June amateur draft and the stock market have something in common: The risks are many and there are no guarantees.

And if you think investing big bonus bucks in a mortal-lock, can't-miss, sure-thing prospect is a blue-chip way to go, you can frame your worthless Enron stock certificates and hang them next to that prized strip of 1964 Phillies World Series tickets.

Give a high school pitcher $4.2 million, which is what the Phillies gave righthander Gavin Floyd in 2001, you better get used to the word "patience." They finally ran out of it on Dec. 6, 2006, a date that will live in ballfamy. General manager Pat Gillick had a chance to land 17-game winning White Sox veteran Freddy Garcia for their underachieving former prodigy and minor league lefthander Gio Gonzalez. Gillick didn't stand Pat on that one. He hit on the offer like a great white shark working a herd of seals.

Freddy Garcia is nearing the end of his rehab from shoulder surgery and teams are lining up to bid for his services. He should be ready to pitch by July.

Somebody in Chicago flipped the right switch, and Floyd suddenly became a semblance of the pitcher the Phillies thought they had bought when they threw that club-record bonus his way. He has become the White Sox' version of Kyle Kendrick, a minor league callup whose acceptable work includes two deep no-hitter flirtations.

Give a first-round pick $1.5 million or so, a rate that adjusts upward and downward according to Uncle Bud's slot system, a ballclub should be fairly certain it has selected an athlete with an odds-on chance of not only making The Show, but also cracking the starting eight or pitching rotation.

Borrowing from the options strategy that has made a pretty fair Phillies ballplayer named Lenny K. Dykstra a multimillionaire and the pastime's No. 1 entrepeneur, a No. 1 pick comes to the draft already DITM. That's "Deep in the Money," to use Street parlance. Dykstra sells options recommendations in his investment newsletter on companies with stocks selling for considerably more than their option strike prices. All he wants the stock to do is go up $1 between purchase day and settlement date, as long as 6 months down the road. Up a buck? An automatic sell-to-close order kicks in, and his client is up $1,000 on a 1,000-share contract. It is about as close to slapping singles or waiting out walks as investing gets.

It is not as easy for baseball's scouting directors and their talent-sleuthing minions, all of whom have identified the DITM athletes projected to advance swiftly up the minor league ladder and begin to pay back those seven-figure bonuses. That's the easy part.

Since it is impossible to project who will be there for the Phillies tomorrow when they select seven of the first 136 players starting with No. 24 in the first round, lets take a look at their recent DITM picks:

2007: A lot of clubs shied away from Rice's two-way All-America, Joe Savery. The Owls pitching ace and hard-hitting first baseman had some arm "fatigue," and pitchers from that program had a history of being overworked and breaking down. The Phils say they were pleasantly surprised Joe was available and anointed him with "high ceiling" balm.

Savery pitched well, but was not dominant at short-season Williamsport. The Phillies jumped him past Low A Lakewood to the faster competition of the Florida State League. I saw his first two starts in Clearwater, and he was effective but not dominant. Since early April, a majority of his starts have been ragged to awful, and he is 2-6 with a 4.63 ERA. Significantly, a lefthander billed as a power arm has a 28-to-58 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 68 innings.

2006: Kyle Drabek. The Phils took the righthander/shortstop son of former Pirates Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek as the top-rated high school player. The Texas wunderkind might have had the pedigree, but it didn't come with a Good Conduct Medal.

Kyle was an SUV-wrecking trouble magnet. The kid showed up for rookie Gulf Coast League ball with a tender arm and was terrible. Last year, he started off 5-1 at Lakewood, then broke down and required season-ending Tommy John surgery. Minor league director Steve Noworyta says Kyle has been rehabbing hard, but, more important, he says, appears to be finally "getting it" and is approaching his stalled career with professional intensity.

2005: Mike Costanzo. The second-rounder (Phils didn't have a No. 1) was considered a reach by some scouts; others thought the third baseman should have been drafted as a reliever. Whatever, he was part of the trade with Houston that brought Brad Lidge. Any regrets? Didn't think so. Mike was passed on to the Orioles and is struggling at Norfolk in Triple A.

2004: Greg Golson. The potential five-tool Texan signed out of high school in Austin plays center superbly enough to make Shane Victorino a rightfielder again should former No. 1 overall pick Pat Burrell not be re-signed. Greg is having a big year at Reading - .323, seven homers, 16 steals entering yesterday. But he was No. 2 in the Eastern League in strikeouts and must make better contact. He lit up spring training, by the way.

2003: Texas Longhorns second baseman Tim Moss was selected in the third round of a disaster draft, in which the Phils paid dearly for free-agent signings. He was a total bust and was last spotted in an independent league.

The good news: high recent picks Adrian Cardenas, Lou Marson and enormous (6-6, 250) Stanford outfielder Michael Taylor. Taylor was leading the Sally League (he should be at Clearwater) with a .361 average, buttressed by nine homers and 43 RBI. Marson, a slick catcher, was leading the fast Eastern League with a .354 average and an insane .465 OBP.

Finally, dazzling teenaged shortstop Freddy Galvis has slashed his way above the Mendoza Line at Lakewood.


What: Baseball draft

When: Tomorrow, 2-9 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m.-conclusion

Where: Milk House, Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

TV: ESPN2, Tomorrow, 2-6 p.m.

On the Web:, every round, both days

For the Phils: Representing the Phillies at the draft will be Greg Luzinski, Dickie Noles and Lee McDaniel, assistant director of minor league operations/Florida.

Phillies selections:

First round: No. 24 overall

Compensation: No. 34 (for San Francisco signing Aaron Rowand)

Second round: No. 51 (for Rowand)

Second round: No. 71

Third round: No. 102

Third round: No. 110 (Compensation for not signing their third-rounder last year, pitcher Brandon Workman)

Fourth round: No. 136

Other rounds: 24th selection in each succeeding round until the end