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PHENOM CHANGES MIND, SIGNS CONTRACT WITH A’S

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Todd Van Poppel, who had said he'd rather pitch in college than sign a professional contract, completed a change of heart on Monday by signing a three-year, $1.2 million major-league contract with the Oakland Athletics.

Van Poppel, 18, agreed to a package that included a $600,000 signing bonus.Despite being regarded as the top prospect of the June draft, 13 other teams passed on the high school senior from Arlington, Texas, because he had openly expressed a desire to play baseball for the University of Texas. The A's drafted him anyway with the No. 14 pick, and then convinced him to bypass college and sign.

"I thought we made our position pretty clear before the draft," Van Poppel said Monday during a news conference prior to Oakland's game with Cleveland. "I didn't want to put any teams on the spot. When the A's drafted me, we were wondering why. We thought, `This is so stupid. We made our position clear, didn't we?'

"But after knowing a few things about the major leagues since then, I've realized everybody should leave their options open."

"When they first came and talked to me, they didn't say anything about not going to Texas," Van Poppel said. "That impressed me. This is a classy organization."

Van Poppel is guaranteed a three-year major-league contract, the longest ever for a draft pick. He will report to the A's Class A Medford, Ore., team on Wednesday.

"We took it as a risk, but we knew what the risk was," Sandy Alderson, Oakland's vice-president of baseball operations, said. "This reflects that we've reached a point in the development of the team where we need to regenerate."

"There's no question I'm surprised to be here today," said Hank Van Poppel, who accompanied his son to a workout at the Oakland Coliseum before the game. "Todd knew he could probably sign for more money three years from now, if he stayed healthy. He knew he could have a good career in baseball and still go to school. But he also knew the chances of getting drafted by the Oakland A's three years from now were slim and none."

Van Poppel was 11-4 with a 1.04 earned-run average for Arlington's Martin High School this season, striking out 169 batters in 101 innings. He allowed 39 hits and 38 walks.

"A lot of people wanted me to go to Texas," he said. "But the A's impressed me with the class they showed."

Van Poppel's agent, Scott Borris, also handled Ben McDonald's contract with the Baltimore Orioles.

"My feeling is the Oakland A's have a commitment to individuals as opposed to numbers," Borris said.