First Union Corp., continuing its quest to become one of the biggest and best providers of mutual funds, hired its second veteran portfolio manager in as many weeks.

Prescott B. Crocker, 54, joined Evergreen Keystone Investment Services, First Union's mutual fund unit, on Monday as senior vice president in charge of the high-yield-bond team. Mr. Crocker, who will manage two high- yield bond portfolios, managed two similar funds for Northstar Investment Management. Those funds received five stars from Morningstar, a fund rating agency.

His arrival at First Union comes a week after Warren Isabelle joined the Evergreen Funds from Pioneer Management.

Mr. Crocker was most recently president and chief investment officer at Boston Security Counselors, a subsidiary of Advest Co. Before that he was a managing director at Northstar. Before joining Northstar, Mr. Crocker was at the Colonial Group for 18 years, where he worked with William M. Ennis, president of Evergreen Keystone Investment Services.

Charlotte, N.C.-based First Union has been on a hiring spree since 1990, when it began burnishing its image in the mutual fund business by hiring top-notch veterans from fund companies. Traditionally, banks have been unwilling to pay the high salaries that attract the asset management world's top echelon.

"There is no question they have every intention of being a contender," said Geoffrey H. Bobroff, a mutual fund consultant in East Greenwich, R.I., referring to First Union. "By making the Evergreen and Keystone acquisitions the bank has proved it will put its money where its mouth is."

Mr. Crocker replaces Richard Cryan, senior vice president at Keystone Investment Management Co. Mr. Cryan will now manage high-yield fixed income assets for institutional clients, a spokesman said.

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