NEW YORK -- The Houston Astros, passing on the nation's best player because his price was too high, selected power-hitting third baseman Phil Nevin of Fullerton State as the No. 1 choice Monday in baseball's amateur free-agent draft.
Nevin, 21, hit .391 with 20 home runs and 71 RBI this season and last week was named College Player of the Year by Baseball America.
'Phil is very talented both offensively and defensively, and we believe he will be on a fast track to playing in Houston,' Astros General Manager Bill Wood said. 'His batting credentials are excellent, both as a pure hitter and one with power, and in the field he is very capable ofbecoming an outstanding major league third baseman.'
The Astros had been interested in Stanford outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds, the No. 1 player in the nation according to scouts. But Hammonds wants a signing bonus similar to the $1.5 million the New York Yankees paid to last year's No. 1 choice, pitcher Brien Taylor.
Because of his pricetag, Hammonds lasted until the fourth pick, when he was selected by the Baltimore Orioles.
Nevin insists money won't come between him and the Astros.
'The Astros made me feel comfortable they were making me the first pick because I was the best pick for them, not because I was the best bargain for them,' Nevin said in a telephone conference call from Omaha, Neb., where he is playing in the College World Series. 'They made me feel special, and they never said they were taking me because they could get me for a cheaper price.
'I feel good about going to Houston, and I don't see that as a problem. I think I'll be treated fairly, like other players in the draft. It's not really on my mind right now. Jeffrey Hammonds is a great player, but the Astros made me feel special they chose me because I was the best for them. Maybe Jeffrey wasn't best for them.
'I think we'll settle on something fair. It won't be a record- setting deal, just something so I can play baseball.'
Nevin, a kicker and punter for the Fullerton State football team, gave up football as a junior to concentrate on baseball.
He was drafted in the third round of the 1989 baseball draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers as a shortstop out of El Dorado High School. He was dismissed from the Pan American Games team last summer because of a run- in with coaches, and some scouts reportedly question his attitude.
Cleveland, picking second, took reliever Paul Shuey of the University of North Carolina. A hard thrower who reminds some scouts of Cincinnati's Rob Dibble, Shuey went 5-2 with a 3.13 ERA and six saves. A junior, he may have the best fastball of any pitcher in the draft and also has an outstanding slider.
The Montreal Expos went third and chose left-hander B.J. Wallace of Mississippi St. A junior, he entered College World Series play with a 3- 2 record and 3.55 ERA in 15 games. He broke his leg in March in a car accident but made a quick recovery. Some scouts say he has the best arm and pitching mechanics in the draft.
If the Orioles can sign Hammonds, they will have the plum of the draft. The junior outfielder is frequently likened to Oakland's Rickey Henderson. Hammonds batted .380 for the Cardinal with 6 home runs, 33 RBI, 49 runs and 33 stolen bases in 41 attempts. He is the prototypical leadoff hitter and had a .468 on-base percentage.
Cincinnati selected fifth and grabbed outfielder Chad Mottola from Central Florida, and the New York Yankees took the first high-school player -- shortstop Derek Jeter of Central High School in Michigan.
The San Francisco Giants picked outfielder Calvin Murray of the University of Texas and the California Angels went for right-hander Pete Janicki of UCLA. The New York Mets also went the high school route, taking outfielder Preston Wilson of Bamberg Ehrhardt High School in South Carolina.
The Kansas City Royals tabbed shortstop Michael Tucker of Longwood College, the Chicago Cubs took right-hander Derek Wallace of Pepperdine and the Milwaukee Brewers selected outfielder Kenny Felder of Florida State.
The Philadelphia Phillies chose outfielder Chad McConnell of Creighton, the Seattle Mariners selected left-hander Ron Villone of Massachusetts and the St. Louis Cardinals went for right-hander Sean Lowe of Arizona State.
Rickey Green, a right-hander from Louisiana State, was the choice of the pitching-poor Detroit Tigers and the Royals, using a selection from San Diego, went for pitcher Jim Pittsley of DuBois Area High School in Pennsylvania.
The Mets, with a choice from Boston, drafted left-hander Christopher Roberts of Florida State and the Toronto Blue Jays, with a pick from Los Angeles, chose outfielder Shannon Stewart of South Ridge High School in Florida.
Oakland, Atlanta and Texas also went for pitchers: A's (right-hander Benji Grigsby of San Diego State), Braves (right-hander Jamie Arnold of Osceola High School in Florida), Rangers (right-hander Rick Helling of Stanford).
The Pittsburgh Pirates made Jason Kendall of Torrance High School in California the first catcher selected. The Chicago White Sox followed by taking first baseman Eddie Pearson of Bishop State Junior College in Alabama and the Blue Jays used their regular No. 1 pick on outfielder Todd Steverson of Arizona State.
The Minnesota Twins chose left-hander Daniel Serafini of Serra High School in California and the Denver Rockies, who will begin play in the National League next season, chose right-hander John Burke of the University of Florida. The Florida Marlins, the other NL expansion team, closed the first round by selecting catcher Charles Johnson of the University of Miami.
The entire first round required less than 20 minutes. Selections in the remaining two days of drafting will not be disclosed until next week.