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Rox draft promises early returns

Rox draft promises early returns

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DENVER -- The best part of Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft for the Rockies is they'll get to see the fruits of their labors very soon.

Top pick Greg Reynolds, a right-handed pitcher from Stanford, and second-rounder David Christensen, an outfielder from Parkland, Fla., are all but signed -- Christensen is already planning his summer in Casper, Wyo., and Reynolds is expected to sign shortly after Stanford completes its run in NCAA Tournament play.

Also, the Rockies increased their chances of getting players into the fold quickly by taking four-year and two-year college players for all but six of their first 28 picks.

In addition to Christensen, who reached the parameters of his signing bonus before the draft began on Tuesday, the highest other high school player is shortstop Helder Velazquez from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, who is not known to have a collegiate commitment.

Rockies scouting director Bill Schmidt said on Wednesday, after the Rockies completed the 50-round draft, that the club has only begun negotiations. But getting high draft picks in the fold is a factor in whom the club picks.

"We were looking for people that, one, wanted to play for the Rockies, two, wanted to get out and play right away," Schmidt said.

Often, highly regarded picks negotiate through the summer in the year that they're drafted and don't begin their pro careers until the following year. Many such players are talented enough to overcome the delayed start and quickly establish themselves. But the Rockies have not had such luck.

Right-handed pitcher Jason Young, a second-round pick in 2000, signed for $2.75 million but too late to immediately enter the farm system. He made it to the Majors, but couldn't stick because of repeated rib and arm injuries. After being released by Cleveland this spring he is out of baseball hoping to find an answer to chronic shoulder issues.

Third baseman Jeff Baker, selected in the fourth round in 2002, signed a $2 million Major League deal too late to start play that season, and he is only just now stayng healthy with consistency. Right-hander Mike Esposito, an 11th-rounder in 2002, signed for fourth-round money at the end of that playing season, but he has made only a brief appearance in the Majors.

But pitchers Jason Jennings and Jeff Francis, top picks in 1999 and 2002, respectively, signed shortly after the draft, got their feet wet that summer, and made the big club in their second full professional seasons. Not only that, but they've never gone back to the Minors.

The draft had a local flavor, as Colorado nabbed three Coloradan pitchers -- 20th-round right-hander Sean Jarrett from Limon, Colo., and Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla.; 24th-round right-hander Shane Dyer of Eaton (Colo.) High School and 44th-round left-hander Scott Bachman of Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins, Colo.

Asked specifically about Dyer, Schmidt explained a situation that could apply to many of the high school players, especially those drafted on the second day. Dyer has a scholarship at the University of New Mexico, but Schmidt is hoping to place Dyer at a two-year school so the Rockies can keep tabs with him under Draft, Follow and Evaluate (DFE) rules.

If such a player attends a two-year school, the club selecting him can monitor his progress through the following season and sign him just before next year's draft. But if the player attends a four-year school the Rockies lose his rights, and most players that attend Division I schools such as New Mexico are ineligible to be selected until after their junior seasons.

The Rockies also selected a player from neighboring southeast Kansas in the 19th round - shortstop Zach Murry of Chaunte High School.

Colorado also tapped bloodlines in the 37th round by picking second baseman Zachary Helton of Knoxville Central High. He is a cousin of first baseman Todd Helton. Zachary Helton has signed with the University of Memphis.

The Rockies also continued a tradition of selecting football quarterbacks -- Helton, who was Indianapolis Colts star Peyton Manning's backup at Tennessee, being one of them.

This year's QB, of sorts, is Southern Mississippi's Damion Carter, drafted by the Rockies as a left fielder in the 46th round. Carter, who has moved to wide receiver, has not played baseball since his senior year at Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans.

Current left fielder Matt Holliday was ranked among the nation's top quarterbacks as he completed high school in a class with the Cincinnati Bengals' Carson Palmer. In the Minor League system the Rockies have Seth Smith, who backed up the New York Giants' Eli Manning at Ole Miss.

Other quarterbacks the Rockies drafted but did not sign are the Atlanta Falcons' Michael Vick and the University of Louisville's Brian Brohm.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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