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Baseball / Ross Newhan : Mariners Are Expected to Make Ken Griffey Jr. No. 1 Draft Pick

May 31, 1987|Ross Newhan

The Atlanta Braves' Ken Griffey is in the 19th season of a professional career that began in June 1969, when he signed with the Cincinnati Reds as a 29th-round draft choice. His compensation then: a minor league contract worth $500 a month.

Griffey's son, Ken Jr., is expected to do much better when the 26 major league clubs conduct their annual draft of amateur players Tuesday.

A 6-foot 3-inch, 195-pound outfielder from a famous football school, Moeller High of Cincinnati, Griffey heads the probable draft list compiled by the publication, Baseball America.

The Seattle Mariners have the first choice and are expected to use it on Griffey, unless dissuaded by his asking price. The Mariners have the lowest payroll in the major leagues. Will George Argyros, who announced Friday that he will remain as the club's owner, meet the financial demands of a No. 1 choice?

"My people know they can sign anybody they want because I'm supportive and they have the financial resources to do it," Argyros said.

General Manager Dick Balderson said, however, that the Mariners have already scratched several top candidates because they are seeking packages of about $300,000.

The Mariners are probably hoping to get it done for half that.

Balderson would not say whether the Mariners have decided on Griffey but he did say that Griffey is among the top three or four players in the country. He also said that Griffey might look favorably on signing with the Mariners because of his father's close association with two men in the Seattle organization--coach Bobby Tolan and minor league manager Bill Plummer, both former Cincinnati teammates.

It's also unlikely that Griffey can use the threat of college as a wedge to run up the price. Academic problems prevented him from playing baseball as a freshman and sophomore at Moeller and he was ineligible for football as a senior. His coach, Mike Cameron, said Griffey would qualify only for a junior college.

Cameron described the 17-year-old Griffey as a power hitter who can also hit for average. In a 24-game season during which he saw few good pitches, according to Cameron, Griffey hit .478 with 7 home runs, 6 doubles and 24 runs batted in.

"On raw ability, he's the best I've coached," said Cameron, who has been at Moeller for 20 years and includes the Dodgers' Len Matuszek among his proteges. "He swings just like his father."

Scouts have clocked the left-handed hitting Griffey in 3.65 seconds going to first and his most impressive abilities may be quickness and speed.

Said the senior Griffey: "He runs the way I used to run when I was chasing his mother."

The 1987 draft is expected to reverse two trends:

--It will be dominated at the top by high school rather than college players. Top players, besides Griffey, are pitcher Willie Banks of St. Anthony High in Jersey City, N.J.; outfielder Mark Merchant of Oviedo High in Oviedo, Fla., and pitcher Dan Opperman of Valley High in Las Vegas. Pitcher Mike Harkey of Cal State Fullerton could be the first college player selected.

--It should be a comparatively down year for Southern California players, at least in the early rounds. Among those likely to go in the first two rounds, Baseball America lists only Harkey, third baseman Chris Donnels of Loyola Marymount, Jack McDowell, a pitcher from Stanford and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High, catcher Bill Haselman and pitcher Alex Sanchez of UCLA, shortstop Tom Reddington of Anaheim's Esperanza High, catcher Mike Urman of Canoga Park High; pitcher Bob Sheridan of Upland High and pitcher Robert Appier of Antelope Valley High.

The Dodgers, drafting eighth, will choose the best available player, according to scouting director Ben Wade. "We've determined that it's easier to trade for a need than to draft for it," Wade said.

The Angels, who had six picks in the first two rounds last year, will pay a price for having won the American League's Western Division title. They will draft 25th, next to last. But besides their own second-round choice, they will get Oakland's as compensation for the A's signing of free agent Reggie Jackson, as well as a supplemental pick from the A's to be selected between the first two rounds.

Scouting director Bob Fontaine said it appears to be a decent year for pitching, which he called the Angels' top priority. He said the Angels also hope to land a catcher.

So the pitiful Chicago White Sox, looking to rebuild, are willing to trade pitchers Rich Dotson and Floyd Bannister. Does that denote an excess of pitching?

No. It indicates a desire to unload some big salaries. Name a club with too much pitching. In that sense, baseball has never really recovered from the expansion of the '60s and '70s.

Therefore, don't expect the Angels to resolve their pitching difficulties by making a major trade for a quality starter. No team is going to trade a reliable pitcher for less than overwhelming compensation. Even the New York Mets, decimated by injuries, are now in the market for pitching.

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