The Phillies kicked off their most important draft in recent memory by selecting high school shortstop Anthony Hewitt with the 24th overall pick and outfielder Zach Collier at No. 34.

Hewitt is a 6-1, 195-pound righthanded hitter that the Phillies see as a third baseman. He attended the Salisbury (Conn.) School, where he hit .536 with eight home runs in 56 at-bats. Though he has a scholarship to Vanderbilt, the Phillies are very confident Hewitt will sign.

"I really want to go ahead and pursue my professional career," said Hewitt, who turned 19 in April. "I want to go out and start professional ball as soon as possible. I'm eager to start. I'm eager."

The Phillies, who have found more diamonds than zarconias in recent drafts, haven't selected a shortstop in the first round since taking Jeff Kraus with the 17th pick in 1976. Kraus never played for the Phils.

Hewitt worked out for the Phillies on Monday and hit a few bombs - with a wooden bat - that opened the eyes of the scouting department. He said he would welcome the move to third.

I don't mind," he said. "I think that would be a good fit. I've played third last year a little bit and felt comfortable at third base. I took some ground balls at the workout and I felt good. I wouldn't mind it at all."

Phillies scouting director Marti Wolever said: "If he plays third base, he's got a chance to be a plus-home run guy and an average-type hitter. Defensively, he's got an average arm  . . . We think he's got tremendous power and in this park, that could really play well for him and for us."

What makes today's draft important is the quantity of picks the Phillies have. The Phils have six picks among the first 110 selections and seven in the first four rounds.

The pick they used on Collier was received as compensation when free agent Aaron Rowand signed with San Francisco.

Collier is described as being very raw. The 17-year-old hit .450 for Chino Hills (Calif.) High School. Wolever said the lefthanded-hitting Collier reminds him of Angels outfielder Garret Anderson, a bona fide star who now is in the twilight of his career.

"He's a lefthanded hitter with a straight-up approach," Wolever said. "I think he'll end up in one of the corners of the outfield, but could play center in a pinch."

With two picks down, Wolever headed back to the war room with a bounce in his step.

"These were two kids we talked a lot about," he said. "We've had a bunch of looks at these kids. We've all seen them. We all know what we're getting. It's going to take some time, but there's tremendous upside here."

In the second round, the Phillies stayed among the high school ranks, selecting another lefthanded-hitting outfielder, Anthony Gose from Bellflower (Calif.) High School at No. 51, and righthanded pitcher Jason Knapp, from North Hunterdon (N.J.) Regional High at No. 71.

In the third round, the Phillies selected Vance Worley, a junior righthander from Long Beach State, with the 102nd pick. Worley (6-2, 220) was drafted by the Phillies out of high school in the 20th round in 2005.

This season, he was 7-4 with a 4.27 ERA for Long Beach. He allowed 126 hits in 103.1 innings with 70 strikeouts and only 12 walks.

The Phils added Jonathan Pettibone, a righthander from Esperanza (Calif.) High, with the 110th pick overall, also in the third round. Pettibone is listed at 6-5 and 200 pounds.

In Round 4, they continued their run on tall pitchers with 6-5 Trevor May from Kelso (Wash.) High.

The Tampa Bay Rays used the first pick of today's draft on shortstop Tim Beckham out of Griffin (Ga.) High. Beckham has been described as a five-tool player who could remain a shortstop at the major-league level.

Pittsburgh took Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez with the second pick. The rest of the Top 5: Kansas City, Eric Hosmer (1B), American Heritage, High, Plantation, Fla.; Baltimore, Brian Matusz (LHP), University of San Diego; San Francisco, Gerald Posey (C), Florida State.

The Rays have had the No. 1 overall pick four times in 12 years. In 1999, they selected Josh Hamilton; in 2003, they drafted Delmon Young; and last year they picked David Price, a lefthander out of Vanderbilt.

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Look for more on the Phillies' fortunes in the baseball draft in Friday's Daily News, and for Phillies opinion and analysis all season long, go to David Murphy's blog at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.