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James at 19
2004-03-19 11:26
by Jon Weisman

David Cameron of Baseball Prospectus on Dodger prospect James Loney:

When the Dodgers announced him as a first baseman with the 19th pick in the 2002 draft, it was considered a tremendous gamble. Selecting a high school first baseman in the first round is rare enough - only five have been selected in the past four years - but taking one who was scouted almost exclusively as a left-handed pitcher appeared to be a major stretch. I had a chance to watch him in Vero Beach this week, and it is hard to believe that he was considered a better pitching prospect than a hitter coming out of high school.

With most players his age, it is relatively easy to find a mechanical flaw in the swing or something that will need to be adjusted as he moves up the ladder, but Loney could sell instructional videos on hitting technique. He has a level, line-drive swing, but gets the bat through the zone very quickly, and his strength allows him to drive the ball consistently. His plate coverage is outstanding, allowing him to make consistently hard contact on pitches away and leading to a large number of opposite-field line drives. He already possesses major league power to right field, and can turn on good fastballs inside due to his impressive bat speed. Despite the mediocre walk totals last year, he is a selective hitter with a good approach at the plate. We still need to see him face consistent breaking balls and make the proper adjustments, but his skills suggest that it should be a fairly easy transition.

His offensive package is about as good as you will find in a minor league player, and it is hard to find anything to criticize. We can nitpick over the need to draw more walks, but he is far from an undisciplined hack. He is the rare young talent who is a developed product and has the skills necessary to be a capable major league player quickly. Watching him take swings next to Robin Ventura, it was hard to make a case that Loney isn't already the Dodgers' best option at first base. Intelligent player development strategies will have Loney starting the year in Jacksonville, but it is far from a reach to suggest that he could be banging down the door in Los Angeles some time this summer.

Lest you think that Baseball Prospectus has abandoned stats for tools, note that other parts of the article analyze Loney's numbers and find them encouraging, especially accounting for a slow 2003 start that can be traced to injury recovery.

Please consider patronizing Baseball Prospectus if you haven't already. Some websites have articles that tell you all you need to know from a quick skim. But with Baseball Prospectus, you read.

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