Bill Conlin | Punxsutawney Phillie? Stay tuned - if you stand it

Posted: June 07, 2007

TO PREPARE for today's first televised amateur draft in major league baseball history from Disney World, I took the following steps:

* Located an ancient, 2-hour VCR tape of a TV test pattern and watched it twice. Studio co-host Tommy Lasorda should have reached his 2000 Olympics yarns by the end of the first round. By then,

you'll have heard the term "high ceiling" at least 500 times, along with draft-day buzzwords such as "projectability," "signability," "fast track," "five-tooler" and "big upside." One name will be spoken more than any other. It will belong to the rider on a pale horse who fills baseball men with fear and loathing: Scott Boras.

* Browsed the last five editions of Baseball America. A kid from my Washington Township, N.J., neighborhood was the first high-school position player drafted last June. Billy Rowell is a 6-5 third baseman who is still 18 and plays in the same Sally League as the Phils' top two picks last June, No. 1 righthander Kyle Drabek and "Compensation A" pick second baseman Adrian Cardenas.

* Re-read the best book ever written on baseball scouting and the evolution of the June draft from the Wild West days to today's agent-manipulated, seven-figure crapshoot. "Dollar Sign on the Muscle" by Kevin Kerrane is not only the definitive work on MLB's rite of acquisition, it is one of the finest sports books ever. When I first read "Muscle" in 1984, I had no idea Kerrane would edit a collection of my efforts 12 years later. If you want to know what the men who sit with the radar guns, stopwatches and clipboards behind the plate really do, let Kerrane educate you.

Today, if you're just an average ball fan, you'll be as clueless as I am when the 30 clubs announce their selections after 5 minutes of due deliberation between first-round picks. Their ducks are already in a row, of course. Each scouting director has his wish list, his needs list, his signing budget and an organizational drafting philosophy. But it's about as scientific as reading tea leaves.

The Phillies are coming off what appears to have been a strong 2006 draft - at least at the top end. "Appears" is an appropriate modifier. Many baseball men contend you can't judge a draft for at least 3 years.

The Phils took a flyer on Texas schoolboy phenom Kyle Drabek, son of Doug Drabek. The righthander had a terrible debut in the rookie Gulf Coast League - 1-3, 7.71 ERA in limited action. Now, Drabek is at Lakewood in the Sally, a league peppered with high-schoolers who were No. 1 picks last season, including Billy Rowell. Kyle is outperforming most of them, 5-1 with a misleading 4.17 ERA.

Adrian Cardenas is a better story. The infielder from high-profile Pace High in Miami was overshadowed in his senior season by slugging outfielder Chris Marrero (currently tearing up the Sally). But Cardenas, a quintessential overachiever, had an epic season in the talent-rich state. The Phillies snared him with the 37th pick as a "Compensation A" selection. He is putting up better numbers at Lakewood than almost every high-school position player selected ahead of him. But it's past time to move him to third - unless Pat Gillick or his successor plans to go the Brett Myers "surprise-surprise" route.

The Phils will select at No. 19. Their organization needs are urgent. Bullpen help of all sizes and shapes . . . position players with power . . . third base is a black hole . . . a catcher with some pop would help.

The players grouped by Baseball America magazine around the No. 19 slot include falling-fast schoolboy third baseman Matt Dominguez (18), University of Tennessee outfielder Julio Borbon (19), a Johnny Damon clone coming off a subpar season. Then, the potential next Pat Burrell, Matt "The Batt" LaPorta (20), a first-base-only piano mover from the U of Florida with plus-plus raw power.

Relief? Casey Weathers (22), a gas-throwing closer from No. 1-ranked Vanderbilt, is a

senior and should be a fast, grateful and easy sign.

That said, several draft mavens are dropping five-tool catcher Devin Mesoraco into the Phillies' lap. He's from Punxsutawney.

Kevin Kerrane takes a fascinating look at the Phillies' 1981 draft, their final one for the Carpenters. The club's 24th-round pick was Charles Kerfeld, a large, flaky righthander from Knob Noster, Mo. He turned down a $50,000 bonus, went to junior college, was drafted by the Astros and pitched against the Mets in the NLCS. Today, Kerfeld is one of Gillick's platoon of assistants and advisers.

Hold the Groundhog Day jokes, please. *

Send e-mail to bill1chair@aol.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/conlin.

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