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Good Buy, Nelson : Chapman's Hot-Hitting Outfielder Could Be Real Steal

April 19, 1987|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | Times Staff Writer

Step right up, professional baseball scouts, and check out this year's bargain baby--Chapman College outfielder Darren Nelson.

He comes complete with a .380 average, 62 hits, 18 doubles, 16 home runs and 57 RBIs. All that in 41 games.

He has tied the Chapman single-season record for home runs and is on the verge of setting season records in doubles (22) and RBIs (58). And there are still 13 games to play.

Wondering what it will take to sign this phenom?

Well, let's put it this way: Most draft picks will spend their signing bonuses on shiny new Corvettes and BMWs, but Nelson could use his for a down payment on a used Pinto. Or a nice 10-speed.

A bonus baby, he's not. A steal, he is.

"Even if it's in the 80th round for a round-trip bus ticket, I'll sign," Nelson said.

He doesn't have much of a choice. As a college senior, he has virtually no bargaining power. He's not a high school senior with scholarship offers.

Pro teams don't have to lure Nelson away from college with a huge bonus. He has nowhere else to go.

Though Nelson is having one of the best statistical seasons in Chapman history--better than such former Panthers as Marty Castillo, who spent two seasons with the Detroit Tigers, and Tim Flannery, a Padre infielder--he isn't what you would call a hot commodity.

He has good size (6-feet 2-inches and 190 pounds) and strength and is an above-average hitter, but his throwing arm, speed and defensive skills are average. He is a converted second baseman, and this is only his second season in the outfield.

But he's getting better all the time.

"I have to get drafted," said Nelson, a former Orange High School and Fullerton College infielder who has never been drafted. "I'm going to play baseball until someone I respect, someone who knows baseball, tells me I can't play anymore. Right now, I don't think they can tell me I can't play. I think I deserve a shot."

Nelson is a little worried because no pro scouts have talked to him this season. And he has filled out only one informational card--for a Minnesota Twins scout.

But that's normal. Pro scouts say they usually don't approach players until the last two weeks of the season. Chapman Coach Mike Weathers has received plenty of feelers on Nelson.

"The scouts ask what I think, and I tell them he definitely needs a chance," Weathers said. "If he doesn't, it'll be a shame."

He can definitely play Division II. After an average junior season, in which he hit .292 with 4 homers and 17 RBIs, Nelson is having the year of his life. He leads the Panthers (21-21) in every offensive category except triples, runs scored and stolen bases.

He had a 21-game hitting streak snapped Friday and, during one stretch of the season, from March 24 to April 1, he hit home runs in six consecutive games. A home run in a seventh game would have tied the collegiate record for all divisions.

"He's been the impact guy," Weathers said. "When he's had the chance to hurt someone, he has. There have been 10 or 12 times when he's been the guy to win a game or put us back in."

Wednesday's California Collegiate Athletic Assn. game against UC Riverside was a case in point. Nelson, who hit a home run in the third inning, hit another in the eighth to tie the score, 3-3. Brent Ryhlick followed with a home run to give Chapman the victory, 4-3.

If Nelson gets a chance to continue hitting for some professional team this summer, he won't set any timetable to make the major leagues.

"They'll be drafting me at 21, so I better do something within three years, because they don't want to have a 28-year-old rookie," Nelson said.

"But I'm not going to tell myself I'm not good enough. If I'm 27 and still in the minor leagues, then I'll be 27 and in the minors. I'm not going to quit."

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