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TWINS have choice of top talent with No. 1 pick

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NEW YORK (AP) _ Minnesota Twins scouting director Mike Radcliff approached this year's baseball draft knowing his organization is in an enviable position.

The Twins have the No. 1 overall pick and their choice of a number of major league prospects in the draft, which begins Tuesday.

``We don't look at it as pressure at all,'' Radcliff said. ``We just feel fortunate to be picking at the very top of this year's draft. There are some quality guys to pick from at the top.''

It's just a matter of agreeing on the player who best suits the organization _ and the one most likely to sign.

``Obviously, the final piece in any draft is factoring the signability, particularly when you have one of the top picks,'' Radcliff said. ``It's the last thing that happens, but sometimes it's the most publicized and most controversial. It's certainly become an integral part of the process the last few years as the money has exponentially gone up.''

Southern California junior right-hander Mark Prior, high school catcher Joe Mauer and Georgia Tech junior third baseman Mark Teixeira are considered the class of this year's draft crop.

The Twins, picking No. 1 overall for just the second time in franchise history, hadn't yet decided on who to take as of Monday night.

``I think most everybody has the names. They're not secrets,'' Radcliff said. ``We're down to three guys who we feel are viable candidates to be the first selection out of this crop of talent.''

The Chicago Cubs, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and Texas follow Minnesota to round out the first five picks.

Minnesota had three of the first 42 picks last year and signed the second overall selection, Cal State-Fullerton right-hander Adam Johnson. But the Twins were unable to agree to terms with Notre Dame righty Aaron Heilman (No. 31) or San Francisco third baseman Taggert Bozied (No. 42). Now, Minnesota has the franchise's first No. 1 overall pick since 1983, when it took right-hander Tim Belcher _ and couldn't sign him.

``It's gotten absolutely ridiculous in the amount of dollars that are being invested in unproven commodities,'' Tampa Bay scouting director Dan Jennings said. ``If there's any pressure, it's knowing the financial commitment the team is going to make. So you want to make sure the pick is the best one.''

Prior is considered by some to be one of the greatest college pitchers ever. He is 14-1 with a 1.50 ERA and had 189 strikeouts and just 17 walks in 131 2-3 innings for the College World Series-bound Trojans.

Mauer, from Cretin-Derham Hall in Minnesota, played baseball, basketball and football in high school. Despite a scholarship to play quarterback at Florida State, he intends to concentrate on baseball. He could join Danny Goodwin (Chicago White Sox, 1971) and David Clyde (Texas, 1973) as the only players to be chosen by their hometown teams with the No. 1 pick. He would also become the first catcher drafted with the top pick since Milwaukee took B.J. Surhoff in 1985.

Teixeira was sidelined for 10 weeks with a broken right ankle, but is considered one of the greatest college switch-hitters ever. He's hit for power and average everywhere he's swung a bat, including for Team USA last summer.

Other players likely to be selected with the top few picks include Heilman, Middle Tennessee State right-hander Dewon Brazelton, righty Gavin Floyd of Mt. St. Joseph High School in Maryland, Kent State first baseman John VanBenschoten, and first baseman Casey Kotchman of Seminole High School in Florida.

``I think it'll be an average year,'' Baltimore scouting director Tony DeMacio said. ``There's a few real premium guys up at the top and there's an excessive amount of right-handed pitching, both college and high school. But there's not much left-handed pitching again, and premium position players are becoming more difficult to find.''

The draft, which has 50 rounds, runs through Thursday. Previous No. 1 picks include Harold Baines (1977), Darryl Strawberry (1980), Ken Griffey Jr. (1987), Chipper Jones (1990) and Alex Rodriguez (1993).

Last year, Florida took high school first baseman Adrian Gonzalez with the first pick. Right-handed pitcher Matt Harrington, picked by Colorado, was the only first-round pick who did not sign last year and is back in the draft this year.

``I pace the room like a cat on the prowl on draft day,'' Jennings said. ``For guys who work in the scouting profession, the draft is our World Series. It's the greatest day for me personally in the whole baseball season.''
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