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TOP DRAFT PROSPECT TO GO FISHING

While the major league draft is going on today, Todd Van Poppel plans on going fishing.

The Atlanta Braves wanted to make the high school pitcher the No. 1 draft pick and were prepared to make a record signing offer. But Van Poppel told the Braves a few weeks ago he wanted to pitch for the University of Texas and someday in the Olympics.The Braves have been persistent, though. Scout Red Murff was still calling Van Poppel late last week trying to find out if there was any chance he might change his mind.

There wasn't.

Van Poppel's father, Hank, got a call Sunday from the Braves informing him they would not be selecting his son. Still, some team will take a chance on a right-hander who is compared to Nolan Ryan.

"The Braves called and informed me Todd would not be the first pick," Van Poppel's father said. "They said they were going with the Jones kid from Florida."

The Braves were expected to use their No. 1 pick to select high school shortstop Chipper Jones. Jones is out of The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla., and had committed to a baseball scholarship at Miami. He is 6-foot-3, 180 pounds and a switch-hitter.

Murff scouted and signed Ryan for the New York Mets in 1965, and says Van Poppel has the best stuff he's seen since. Ryan, by the way, was an eighth-round selection. The Mets made left-hander Les Rohr their No. 1 pick that year.

The draft takes three days and about 1,500 players are expected to be selected. Last season, a record 1,490 college and high school players were picked. The top selection was Louisiana State University pitcher Ben McDonald by the Baltimore Orioles.

After months of negotiations, McDonald received a $350,000 signing bonus and pitched for the Orioles in September.

Drafting baseball players, whether college or high school, is risky business, and only two or three players per team probably will ever make it to the big leagues.

In 1966, the New York Mets passed up Arizona State's Reggie Jackson for high school catcher Steve Chilcott. Chilcott dislocated his shoulder in the minors and became the answer to a trivia question instead of a star.

But things don't always go wrong. Three years ago, Seattle made Ken Griffey Jr. the first pick, and he's doing quite nicely. Montreal made Randy Johnson a second-round pick in 1985, and on Saturday night the 6-10 right-hander pitched a no-hitter for Seattle against Detroit.

The best position players this year are considered to be outfielders Tony Clark and Chad Everett, third baseman Shane Andrews and shortstops Tim Costo and Jones.