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Update - Rick Porcello, Ken Gregory & Billy Rowell

DETROIT, MI - Rick Porcello can’t remember the last time he didn’t play organized baseball during the summer.

“It had to be before I played Little League,” said the former Seton Hall Prep (West Orange, N.J.) star and National Gatorade High School Player of the Year. “But I worked out with a personal trainer, did injury prevention, threw a couple of times a week and stayed in shape. I’m ready to go.”

And where did the 6-foot-5, 195-pound right-handed flamethrower go? He headed to Oneonta, N.Y. to begin and his professional career with the Detroit Tigers organization after signing a four-year, $7.28 million guaranteed Major League contract on Aug. 15, the final day players were eligible to sign. Porcello was the Tigers’ No. 1 pick and the 27th overall selection in the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft in June.

While at Oneonta, Porcello worked out under the tutelage of former Mets hurler Jon Matlack. Porcello is currently playing in the Instructional League in Lakeland, Fla.

Porcello rescinded his commitment to play for the University of North Carolina and Coach Mike Fox after getting an offer he could not walk away from.

“It was more for the unique opportunity to play for Detroit Tigers,” he said of his decision to turn pro. “It is a great organization and this is a special opportunity that might not have come around again. Coach Fox was great about it and he really supported my decision.

“It is nice to have it over with,” added Porcello of the decision-making process and negotiations with the Tigers. “I can now move on and work on getting to the big leagues, which is my goal. It is nice not having to wonder about my future.”

That future could be as a member of the Tigers starting rotation sometime next year. The Tigers have built a reputation over the last few years of signing their top picks to lucrative deals and fast-tracking them to the Major Leagues. The Tigers last three first-round selections, All-Star pitcher Justin Verlander (2004), outfielder Cameron Maybrin (2005) and lefty Andrew Miller out of the University of North Carolina (2006) are all on the 40-man roster and played for the Tigers this season.

“We never want to rush anybody to the big leagues,” said David Chadd, the Tigers Vice President of Amateur Scouting. “But I think it is well known that Rick is a special talent. Obviously, his work ethic is going to be key to his progression, but how quickly he progresses, in my opinion, is going to be determined by Rick himself.

“Does he have special talent? Absolutely, but there are things he’ll need to learn,” added Chadd.

Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers President and General Manager, is no stranger to signing high school phenoms to Major League deals. He inked current Boston Red Sox ace Josh Beckett to a $7 million deal in 1999 when he ran the Florida Marlins. Beckett helped Florida win the World Series in 2003.

“You have to be careful to differentiate when you say special talent, what you mean there,” said Dombrowski during a teleconference the day Porcello signed. “This is the right decision for the Detroit Tigers organization.”

Porcello, who went 10-0 for the No. 1 high school team in New Jersey, is just the sixth high school player to sign a Major League contract right out of high school. He joins Beckett, outfielder Delmon Young of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (2003), shortstop David Espinoza of the Reds organization (2000), Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees, who signed with the Mariners in 1993, and Todd Van Poppel, who inked a deal with the Oakland Athletics in 1990.

Many experts felt that Porcello, who was considered one of the top high school prospects in the nation coming into the draft, dropped to 27th due to signability issues. Porcello had hired superagent Scott Boras to advise him, which scared some teams. Now Boras is Porcello’s agent after making the choice to turn professional.

ANNANDALE, NJ - After playing a few games for the Glen Falls Eagles in the New York Collegiate Baseball League this summer, former Immaculata High School star (Somerville, NJ) Ken Gregory had a chance to play closer to home and he didn’t pass it up.

Gregory, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound lefty outfielder, joined the Jersey Pilots of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League and hit .309 (21-for-68) with 13 RBI, 8 runs scored, 2 doubles and 1 home run in 21 games for the central Jersey-based squad. He was also flawless in the field and did not make an error in 22 chances for the Pilots, who finished 22-18 and placed second in the Wolff Division.

Gregory, who was drafted in the 26th round of the First Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers in 2006, is currently playing for national junior college power St. Petersburg College (Fla.) in an effort to showcase his skills for the 2008 draft. Gregory was an All-Suncoast selection for St. Petersburg last season.

SALISBURY, MD - After overcoming his first major injury of his career, Billy Rowell finished with a solid campaign for the Delmarva Shorebirds, the Baltimore Orioles’ long-season Class A affiliate of the South Atlantic League.

Rowell, the Orioles’ No. 1 pick and the ninth selection overall in the 2006 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft out of Bishop Eustace High School (Pennsauken, N.J.), hit .273 with 9 homers, 57 RBI, 21 doubles and 150 total bases in 91 games for the Shorebirds. Rowell missed the first part of the season due to a strained oblique muscle.

The Shorebirds finished 34-35 in the second half of the split-season South Atlantic League schedule.

Rowell, a power-hitting 6-foot-5, 205-pound third baseman, capped the season with a home run in Delmarva’s final game of the season, a 4-2 win over the Lake County Captains. Rowell also improved defensively as the season wore on. Defense is one area the Orioles hoped the Sewell, N.J. resident would improve on this season.

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