06/04/2002 2:07 pm ET
Angels draft lefty pitcher Saunders
Virginia Tech ace selected with 12th pick
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
Angels round-by-round picks
ANAHEIM, Calif. - The Anaheim Angels are regarded as an organization loaded with pitching throughout the ranks.
That strength got even stronger Tuesday, when the club selected Virginia Tech left-hander Joe Saunders with the 12th pick in the first round of the 2002 draft.
Saunders, a junior who turns 21 on June 16, was 9-2 with a 2.86 ERA this past season for the Hokies as their ace. In fact, he was the only Virginia Tech pitcher to have an ERA under 3.
He threw five complete games (two shutouts) in 15 appearances and led the Big East Conference in strikeouts, fanning 102 batters in 97 2/3 innings.
He is 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, and armed with what scouts call a "complete" repertoire of pitches.
"Being drafted by the Anaheim Angels today has been an amazing experience for me," Saunders said. "It's been my dream throughout my whole life to play Major League Baseball and to be selected by the Angels is exciting."
Angels director of scouting Donny Rowland shared Saunders' sentiments.
"We were very excited that a pitcher of Joe's talent and experience was available for the Angels," Rowland said. "He has high-level experience, including a very good summer in the Cape Cod League a year a go, and possesses the skills to be a Major League starter."
Saunders was a 1999 fifth-round draft choice of the Philadelphia Phillies as a high school senior in Springfield, Va., but he did not sign.
Extra-large frame. Durable build, large hands, strong. Build similar to Barry Zito. Smooth delivery. Fields position well. Aggressive with riding fastball. Effectively mixes in two-seamer. Slider is more of a slurve with late bite. Changeup is strikeout pitch. Improving every year. Good feel for mound.
"My mom wanted me to get three years of education under my belt," Saunders said.
Saunders also said he'd be looking to sign quickly.
"I'm not the type of person to hold out all summer for big bucks," Saunders said. "Getting associated with the organization as fast as I can is the best route for me to take."
According to the Virginia Tech media guide, Saunders "got away from a strikeout mentality and learned how to get batters out with quality pitches."
Saunders throws a fastball, what scouts describe as an "outstanding" change-up, plus a slider he continues to work on.
Saunders won nine games in each of his three collegiate seasons and was selected to the 2002 Baseball American Pre-season All-America second team, which was voted on by the scouting directors of Major League clubs. He also was a pre-season All-Big East pick by the league coaches.
Scouts add that Saunders "possesses an effortless left-handed delivery and doesn't get rattled." This undoubtedly contributed to his attractiveness to the Angels, who said two weeks ago that they would look for the best available player despite the fact that they have talented arms throughout the system.
On Monday, Rowland met with reporters and said that the draft as a whole wasn't as deep as
it was the last few years.
"It's very shallow," Rowland said. "It lacks impact players at the front end. So we'll go
with a lot more instinctual moves this year, as far as taking players we have a good feel
That appears the be the case with Saunders, who, according to scouting reports, "can
dominate a game when he has command of his pitches."
"Saunders prospered with a couple of outstanding summers in the prestigious Cape Cod League,
most notably the 2001 summer Rowland referred to.
Saunders was 4-3 on the Cape with a 1.02 ERA (53 innings pitched, six earned runs) with 61
strikeouts and 11 walks.
He also showed resiliency in his freshman and sophomore seasons at Tech.
In his sophomore year of 2001, Saunders suffered losses in two of his first three outings,
then went 8-1 with a 2.95 ERA during his last 14.
In his freshman year, he was pushed into a key role when the Hokies had to deal with
unexpected personnel losses on the pitching staff. He responded by going 9-2 and earning
first-team All-Atlantic 10 Conference honors.
As a result, he was named to the 2000 Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America team and was a
second-team pick on the Baseball America Freshman All-America squad.
Saunders said he's no stranger to Anaheim or the Angels franchise.
"I had a chance to visit Edison Field during my freshman season when Virginia Tech played at
Cal State Fullerton in the 2000 baseball regionals, and I dreamed then of playing for the
Angels," Saunders said. "To get that chance today is the best experience of my life."
Doug Miller covers the Angels for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of
Major League Baseball or its clubs.