ARLINGTON -- Rangers assistant general manager Grady Fuson has a familiar game plan entering the 2004 First-Year Player Draft on June 7. "It's a little different, but I certainly did not reinvent the wheel," Fuson said. "We are going to put a lot of credit into the makeup and how much we know about each player. We are looking at their 'baseball inner ability' -- otherwise known as instinct, instead of just the overly raw and crude talent. It's a blend of everything we are looking for."
Fuson knows what he is talking about.
As the scouting director for the A's, he developed much of the nucleus of Oakland's current club, including pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito and infielders Eric Chavez and current Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada. The strength of the A's farm system was rewarded with consecutive Organization of the Year Awards in 1998 and 1999.
He is attempting to do the same in Texas. The Rangers have the 10th overall pick this year.
"I think it's the kind of plan you put in place with a certain type of player you are attracted to," Fuson said. "Everybody has a different style and different subjective opinion of what to look for, but when you put a plan together and see the fruits of its labor, it builds confidence because you feel the approach is going right."
Past five No. 1 picks Year Player 2003 John Danks, LHP 2002 Drew Meyer, SS 2001 Mark Teixeira, 3B 2000 Scott Heard, C 1999 None
The Rangers will likely address the catching position in the First-Year Player Draft, "the biggest hole in the system" according to Fuson. The organization could use a few corner infielders and though there is not a strong need for shortstops in the system, the club would consider drafting a premium shortstop. The organization will continue to add pitching depth, particularly starting pitching.
"The draft is scattered," Fuson said. "It's very subjective and I'm not sure the team who drafts No. 1 knows who they are picking and that says it all. The first couple of rounds seem pitching heavy. You have to remind yourself that position players go quicker than normal."
The Rangers will not have to watch helplessly as players leave the board this draft because the club will have a pick in every round for the second consecutive year.
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That was not always the case.
The club did not have picks in the second, third, fourth or fifth rounds on the first day of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft and in 2001, the Rangers did not have a second or third-round selection after selecting Mark Teixeira in the first round with the fifth overall pick.
"When you lose as many picks as the Texas Rangers lost in 2001 and 2002, it puts a hurting on your organization," Fuson said. "It forces you to get players just to fill in, it makes a hole in the depth of the system, and affects possible trade scenarios."
In the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, the Rangers attempted to replenish the system. The club selected a total of 44 players, headlined by ninth overall selection John Danks, considered the top high school left-hander in the class. The total included 23 pitchers, 12 infielders, six outfielders and three catchers.
Only 10 of the 44 selected were high school players. The other 34 were from four-year universities and junior colleges.
"Obviously, Danks is all we thought he would be so far," Fuson said. "He's a good makeup kid and he's competing well. His numbers show what he is doing, and he's around 88 to 93 mph with a changeup coming on like gangbusters. His curveball is in the strike zone."
After Danks, Texas selected outfielder Vincent Sinisi from Rice in Houston and three college right-handers -- John Hudgins (Stanford), Wes Littleton (Cal-Fullerton) and Mathew Lorenzo (Kent State) -- in rounds three through five.
"Right now, I'm very happy," Fuson said. "I don't get too giddy about things because the reality is things happen and this is a tough game and a tough business. But I don't know how many can say their top five to seven picks are performing as well as ours are at the moment."
The Rangers used their first-round pick in 2002, the 10th overall selection, to draft shortstop Drew Meyer from the University of South Carolina. Meyer has played primarily at the Double-A level and is steadily improving.
"The business is filled with failure, and success is counted on by the number of players who develop into big leaguers and those who become stars, but a lot of things you don't know come into play with players," Fuson said. "Hank Blalock was not a first rounder, but he is playing like one is supposed to play. If I was so smart, I would have picked Tim Hudson in the first round, not the sixth."