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Angels Pick USC's Etherton in First Round of the Draft

Baseball: Former Dana Hills standout keeps an eye on proceedings from College World Series.

June 03, 1998|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Word came as both vindication and distraction in Omaha, as a relief in Houston, as a foregone conclusion in Long Beach.

In St. Paul, Minn., it was hard to say.

Being chosen in the first round of the amateur baseball draft takes on all sorts of meaning these days. A lucrative signing bonus awaits, but often not until an excruciating summer of hardball negotiations during which no pitch is thrown, no swing taken.

But it is an unmistakable badge a player wears as he climbs through the professional ranks.

Right-handed pitcher Seth Etherton, the Angels' first-round pick Tuesday, might break the mold. Although preoccupied with trying to help USC stay alive at the College World Series in Omaha, he made it clear he wants to begin his pro career quickly.

Getting drafted in the first round "was a very pleasing shock," said Etherton, a former Dana Hills High standout who spurned a bonus offer of $75,000 last year after being taken in the ninth round by the St. Louis Cardinals.

"I was just hoping it would be a better situation than last year. I want to get out there and start playing."

The Philadelphia Phillies, thwarted in their attempt to sign last year's No. 1 pick, J.D. Drew, took a safer route with the top overall selection, choosing Miami junior infielder Pat Burrell.

Miami was eliminated Tuesday from the College World Series by Long Beach State, making it a bittersweet day for Burrell.

"I wish they didn't have [the draft] during the World Series," he said. "You all want to talk about the draft, but we want to talk about the game. Our season is over."

The Dodgers took a calculated gamble with their first-round pick, the 23rd overall, drafting Rice outfielder Bubba Crosby.

Crosby sat out the early part of the season because of hamstring injuries that some blame on his acknowledged use of creatine, an amino acid supplement that increases muscle mass. There is no questioning his offensive capabilities: The left-handed batter had 23 home runs and 84 runs batted in, and he runs well.

"I was really nervous listening to the draft on the Internet, and it was a relief just to hear my name called," he said. "After I hugged everybody and settled down, it sunk in that the Dodgers are one of the most historical teams in baseball.

"There was a lot of talk about creatine, but I haven't touched it since [the injury]."

With the fifth pick, the St. Louis Cardinals couldn't resist taking Drew, who reentered the draft after the Phillies failed to meet his $11-million demand.

"We realize there's a risk involved with drafting J.D. Drew," St. Louis General Manager Walt Jocketty said. "But we're willing to accept that risk because of his high upside. I feel confident we offer a lot of great things here in St. Louis."

Many blame Drew's agent, Scott Boras, for his failure to sign with the Phillies. The Cardinals apparently aren't too concerned because their second-round pick was Stanford right-hander Chad Hutchinson, the Cardinal quarterback, who also is represented by Boras.

Jocketty and Boras came to an agreement last year when one of Boras' clients, second-round pick Rick Ankiel, signed for a $2.5-million bonus.

As expected, the first player from the Southland drafted was Sean Burroughs of Long Beach Wilson High, son of former major leaguer Jeff Burroughs. Sean went to the San Diego Padres with the ninth overall pick.

The former pudgy Little League World Series star has grown into a lean slugger.

Burroughs will weigh a Padre offer against a scholarship to USC.

"I remember when I was 11 or 12, I'd always watch the draft and say, 'Hey, I'd like to be there,' " Burroughs said. "If the Padres give me the contract I'm looking for, that's it."

Before the season, outfielder Eric Valent of UCLA and right-handed pitcher Nick Neugebauer of Riverside Arlington High were projected as the top college and high school prospects in the Southland. Neither went quite as high as expected.

Valent, a former Canyon High standout, was taken by the Phillies with a pick between the first and second rounds they received because they didn't sign Drew. Neugebauer, one of Cal State Fullerton's top recruits, was taken in the second round with the 56th pick by the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Oakland Athletics drafted La Quinta catcher Gerald Laird in the second round. He was the second catcher selected and the 45th player picked.

"I'm happy where I am [in the draft]," Laird said. "I have no regrets. It's my goal to show those teams that passed me by what they missed, because I plan to be in the big leagues before those other guys."

Junior Aaron Rowand was the earliest selection among Cal State Fullerton players. The Chicago White Sox took him in the supplemental round, the 35th pick overall.

The San Francisco Giants took pitcher Erasmo Ramirez in the 11th round and the Angels selected junior pitcher/outfielder Greg Jacobs in the 13th. The Boston Red Sox drafted pitcher Benny Flores in the 17th round and Colorado took first baseman Kevin Duck in the 25th round.

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