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Two-Trick Loney [Yep Š IÕve
2003-01-29 10:44
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

Two-Trick Loney

[Yep Š IÕve decided to try out headlines. And IÕve decided to start with a really poor one.]

Time to mix in some optimismÉ

These are the DodgersÕ top draft picks from 1980-2001:
1980 Ross Jones
1981 Dave Anderson
1982 Franklin Stubbs
1983 Erik Sonberg
1984 Dennis Livingston
1985 Chris Gwynn
1986 Mike White
1987 Dan Opperman
1988 Bill Bene
1989 Kiki Jones
1990 Ron Walden
1991 Todd Hollandsworth
1992 Ryan Luzinski
1993 Darren Dreifort
1994 Paul Konerko
1995 David Yocum
1996 Damian Rolls
1997 Glenn Davis
1998 Bubba Crosby
1999 Jason Repko
2000 Ben Diggins
2001 Brian Pilkington

DoesnÕt look like any of those names will be immortalized along the outfield walls at Chavez Ravine. (The memory of how the Dodgers lost a coin flip with the Mariners for the first pick overall in 1993, and had to settle for Dreifort instead of Alex Rodriguez? Just punch a hole in my chest, grab hold of my heart and squeeze.)

But wait Š didnÕt I say something about optimism?

In 2002, the Dodgers carried on by drafting James Loney, a first baseman/pitcher who, according to ESPNÕs John Sickels, was projected to take the mound in the pros. Given the current conventional wisdom that betting on a high school pitcher to succeed is like shooting amoebas in a barrel Š wisdom that the Dodgers have done more than their share to justify Š this looked like another awful, awful pick.

These were SickelsÕ comments on Loney in June, right after the draft:

On the mound, he features a 90-93 mph fastball, with more velocity likely as he matures physically. His curveball and changeup were good enough for high school, but will need sharpening at higher levels. He walked 28 in 54 innings, so his command needs work as well. At the plate, Loney offers plus power from the left side, but will have to prove that he can hit for average and get on base against good competition. Loney has tremendous raw potential both on the mound and at the plate, but will need careful and patient handling either way.

Optimism?

Well, the Dodgers immediately decided that Loney was a first baseman. They sent the 6-foot-3, 205-pound 18-year-old to rookie ball in Great Falls, and he hit .370 in 47 games (170 at bats), with 22 doubles, three triples, five home runs, 30 RBI, an on-base percentage of .457, a slugging percentage of .624, and an OPS of 1.081. He struck out 18 times against 25 walks. He dominated.

IÕm not kidding when I say that within 47 games, some Dodger first-round picks have already become busts. So I think itÕs okay to celebrate LoneyÕs debut even without regard to whatÕs to come.

Before 2002 was over, the Dodgers promoted Loney to Class A ball in Vero Beach Š remarkable for an 18-year-old - where he had an OPS of .744 before a pitch broke his wrist and ended his season.

Uh, yeah. Broke his wrist.

Sports Weekly says that Loney is expected to be fully recovered for Spring Training, but that injury is just the thing I needed to temper my pleasant surprise at what otherwise seems to have been a wonderful pick. More than one source has said that Loney is the best hitting prospect from the 2002 draft.

If he has recovered, one could see him doing Vero Beach again in 2003, Class AA Jacksonville in 2004 with a taste of the big leagues at the end of the year, and becoming a candidate for the first-base job, at age 21, in 2005. Other than Paul Konerko, this is the most promising hitter the Dodgers have drafted with their top pick in more than 20 years.

Of course, Konerko got traded. Of course, thereÕs the injury. Of course, thereÕs also the fact that such a fast track has brought us mixed results with Adrian Beltre.

But since almost every Dodger draft of the past 10-20 years has earned ridicule, let us give praise while we can. All hail James Loney.

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