SAN DIEGO -- The Padres have the first draft position, which is, obviously, a slot like no other. That means you get your guy, without worry of another team grabbing him first. But therein lies the problem: Is your guy, the guy?
For every Alex Rodriguez, there are countless Bill Almons. For every Mike Piazza (a 62nd round pick) there is a seemingly infinite group of players like Dave Roberts.
A-Rod and Piazza are each working their way to the Hall of Fame. Almon and Roberts? Only the diehard of the diehard Padres' fans will remember them, a pair of infielders who stuck around the bigs for decent careers but never rose to star status. They share one other distinction. Each was a No. 1 pick by the Padres: Roberts in 1972 and Almon in 1974.
Then there was 1970, when the Padres selected catcher Mike Ivie first in the draft. Ivie was touted as the second coming of Johnny Bench, but caught a grand total of nine games for the Padres and had his best years with the Giants.
"The higher you select in each round, the greater the risk," director of scouting Bill "Chief" Gayton said. "We're just trying to minimize the risk."
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So the club again finds itself in the first draft position, the first time since 1988, when they selected right-hander Andy Benes. They're hoping to improve on what they had with Benes, a workhorse for the Padres in the early 90s who compiled a 155-139 Major League mark.
In contention in the NL West and mostly settled with their big-league club, the Padres do not feel pressured to find someone who can help immediately. They want this player to be special and have zeroed in on three names: right-handed pitchers Jered Weaver and Jeff Niemann, and shortstop Stephen Drew.
"All three of these guys are guys who can get to the big leagues in kind of a hurry," general manager Kevin Towers said of the three college players. "We'd be happy with any one of the three."
Weaver of Long Beach State has been the odds-on favorite ever since Towers saw him punch out 15 UCLA Bruins during the Aztec Invitational at PETCO Park. His numbers on the season are something out of a video game, posting a 14-1 record with a 1.68 ERA. Weaver has recorded a total of 193 strikeouts on the year while holding the opposition to a .161 batting average.
But what attracts the Padres is Weaver's ability to throw strikes. The 6-foot-7, 205 pounder has issued just 18 walks this season, a big plus for a ballclub that puts a premium on control.
"He has an idea of how to pitch," Gayton said of Weaver. "He locates and changes speeds. His deception right now is what separates him from the others. He doesn't have the best arm; he doesn't have the best secondary stuff, but he's highly successful."
Towers has described Niemann as a right-handed Randy Johnson. At 6-9, 260 pounds, the Rice University hurler has the size but also has the stuff, and some scouts project Niemann with a higher ceiling than Weaver.
Niemann has a plus fastball but his greatest assets might be his breaking pitches, slider and curveball. His numbers have also impressed, going 17-0 with 156 strikeouts last season when the Owls won the College World Series. Arthroscopic elbow surgery slowed him to a 5-3 mark with a 3.34 ERA in 2004.
"When 100 percent, Niemann is overpowering," Gayton said. "He has a big fastball, (and) he has four legitimate pitches."
Drew is the wildcard of the three and has made great strides up the Padres draft board, now holding equal footing with the other two. One aspect that helps him stand out is a simple difference: he is a position player while Weaver and Niemann are both pitchers.
The Padres have an edge in pitching depth within the organization, which may cause a lean toward Drew. Without a second-round pick, if Drew projects far and away above the pack of position players, he may prove worthy of the first pick by San Diego, who can then venture into the potentially richer crop of high school pitchers.
Past five No. 1 picks Year Player 2003 Tim Stauffer, RHP 2002 Khalil Greene, SS 2001 Jake Gautreau, IF 2000 Mark Phillips, LHP 1999 Vince Faison, OF
"It might come down to if they are all close to being equal is there a better chance to get quality pitchers deeper in the draft then quality position players," Towers said.
The younger brother of J.D and Tim Drew, Stephen Drew hit .353 for the Seminoles this season with 14 doubles, 14 homers and 52 RBIs.
The Padres are fairly set in the middle of the infield with rookie Khalil Greene at short and Mark Loretta, with Double-A player Josh Barfield waiting in the wings, at second base.
But reports say he has the ability to play the outfield and manager Bruce Bochy commented that he thinks Drew can play center. A Drew in the outfield is not a stretch, as J.D. plays right field in Atlanta.
"Drew has power; he has speed," Gayton said. "You can move him to the outfield. He really profiles to all three outfield positions. You can move him to second, he profiles there and you can move him to third. He's a good, athletic kid who essentially has five tools."
Down the board, the Padres will look to address needs at third, shortstop and left-handed pitching to fill out the organization, while looking for players whom they can sign.
Unlike the NBA or the NFL, the first pick in the baseball draft is not an immediate impact player. Every organization expects some developmental time, usually measured in years and not weeks or months. It's a factor that adds greater risk but ultimately greater satisfaction.