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Clemson Pitcher Projected as No. 1 Pick by Pirates

June 3, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ At 21, Kris Benson has all the qualities of a future All-Star.

He’s got size, a live fastball and control, making him one of the most highly rated college pitchers ever, and putting him in line to be the overall No. 1 pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the baseball draft Tuesday.

Yet, except for the fans who happened to watch ESPN and see him strike out 15 in only 7 1-3 innings at the College World Series, not many people know about the Clemson pitcher. Certainly not compared to the exposure Allen Iverson and Marcus Camby have gotten in basketball, or Keyshawn Johnson and Eddie George in football.

Which is part of the reason why, aside from the scouts and major league executives and others who have much at stake, the baseball draft does not attract nearly the kind of attention that the NBA and NFL drafts generate.

Most people haven’t heard of Travis Lee, Braden Looper or the other baseball prospects, and there’s no guarantee that any of them will be in the big leagues anytime soon.

``Some of these guys are so far away from playing at the major league level, if they get hurt or don’t have the desire or makeup, it makes it difficult,″ St. Louis Cardinals scouting director Marty Meier said.

There are success stories, of course.

Ken Griffey Jr. was the No. 1 pick in 1987, Chipper Jones was the top choice in 1990 and Alex Rodriguez was No. 1 in 1993. Paul Wilson, the No. 1 pick in 1994, is already pitching for the New York Mets and outfielder Darin Erstad, chosen No. 1 last June by California, is hitting .300 in Triple-A.

But Brien Taylor, taken first by the New York Yankees in 1991, is a long way from the majors after hurting his shoulder in a fight a few years ago. Phil Nevin, taken No. 1 by Houston in 1992, showed little and was traded away.

``Earlier, when the money wasn’t as big, the draft wasn’t as noticeable as it is now,″ Philadelphia general manager Lee Thomas said. ``I think it’s very important, and I think it ought to be publicized as much as the other sports.″

Last year, a total of 1,666 players were picked in 87 rounds. This year, Pittsburgh will choose first, followed by Minnesota and St. Louis in a draft that will last through Thursday.

The two expansion teams, which start play in 1998, will participate for the first time. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays will pick 29th, followed by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

``It might not be a player who has received a lot of notoriety, but there still are good players all around the country,″ Diamondbacks director of scouting Don Mitchell said. ``We fully expect to get a good one at No. 30.″

Travis Fryman of Detroit and Brian Jordan of St. Louis both were picked No. 30 overall in previous drafts. Then there’s Kenny Lofton, not taken until the 17th round by Houston in 1988, and Jose Canseco, selected in the 15th round by Oakland in 1982.

Benson, however, shouldn’t have to wait long. He was 14-0 with a 1.40 ERA in the regular season for Clemson.

Lee, a first baseman, hit .355 with 14 home runs and 33 stolen bases for San Diego State. Looper had 12 saves and a 1.17 ERA for Wichita State in the regular season.

Pirates general manager Cam Bonifay visited the College World Series during the weekend, but didn’t say which way he was leaning. Benson could be expensive, perhaps costing more than the record $1.6 million that the Florida Marlins paid shortstop Josh Booty a couple of years ago.

As always, there’s the debate about whether it’s better to take a college player or someone in high school. Third baseman Eric Chavez, who hit .457 as a prep star in San Diego, and John Patterson, who struck out 142 in 72 innings in Texas, are among the top-rated high school prospects.

Many in baseball, meanwhile, still remember what happened in 1966, the second year of the draft.

The Mets, with the first pick, selected high school catcher Steve Chilcott. Slowed by injuries, he languished in the minors and, until recently, remained the only No. 1 pick never to make it to the majors.

The Oakland Athletics, with the second pick, then decided to take a college player. They took Reggie Jackson.

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