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Ex-St. Bernard Star Is the Rolls-Royce of California League : Baseball: Royce Clayton, a first-round draft choice of the Giants in 1988, is living up to expectations.

June 22, 1990|DAVID RAATZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

BAKERSFIELD — Former St. Bernard High shortstop Royce Clayton, who had the game-winning hit in the California League All-Star Game at San Bernardino Tuesday night, is one of baseball's hottest commodities in his third year as a professional.

Lee Lacy, an agent and former major league player with Baltimore, Pittsburgh and the Dodgers, is one of many baseball people intrigued by Clayton's potential. After watching Clayton, 20, hit a home run for the Class-A San Jose Giants June 12 in a game at Bakersfield, Lacy made a point of introducing himself to the 6-foot, 185-pound shortstop.

"Hey, Royce, I'm Lee Lacy," he said. "You looked good tonight, you can really swing the bat."

Mike Davis, a former Dodger outfielder who signed with San Jose after being released by Los Angeles last season, was putting away his bats outside the clubhouse at Sam Lynn Ballpark. "Royce can play, can't he, Mike?" Lacy asked.

"You bet he can," Davis said. "Just wish we had a few more like him."

Lacy continued to sell his services as an agent to Clayton.

"That was your first?" Lacy asked Clayton while his associate handed the young player a business card. "That's OK, they come in bunches, don't they, Mike?

"Oh, you don't have an agent yet? Well, nice to meet you, Royce, and think about joining us, OK?"

Clayton, as much as any young prospect in the California League, is used to getting a lot of attention. The right-hander was the San Francisco Giants' first-round draft choice in 1988 and the 15th player taken overall.

The Giants are pleased with his development. San Jose Manager Tom Spencer said that Clayton is a better player at this stage of his career than the Chicago Cubs' Shawon Dunston was at a similar point.

"I was with the Cubs' organization and was with Shawon Dunston in the minors when he was about the same age as Royce," Spencer said. "'And there's no question in my mind that Royce is more advanced than Dunston was at a similar stage. Royce is the type of player that you just naturally focus on when you're watching a game."

Although the Giants managed only a third-place finish (33-38) in the first half in the California League's Northern Division, Clayton enjoyed individual success. He hit .252 (fourth best on the team), drove in 34 runs (tied for third on the team) and stole a team-high 14 bases. His slugging percentage for the first half of the season was .367 and his on-base percentage was .357. His hitting prowess and solid play on defense earned him a starting position in the All-Star game.

He responded by singling in the go-ahead run in the sixth inning as the North Division defeated the South Division, 8-6.

As a rookie in the Northwest League at Everett, Wash., in 1988, Clayton hit .259 and stole 10 bases in 60 games. Last year, he hit only .236 with 28 steals in 104 games at Clinton, Iowa, a Midwest League team in low single-A. He was moved up to San Jose, but hit a disappointing .120 with 10 steals in 28 games.

Clayton is a different player in 1990. He attributes the turnaround to his upbringing in Inglewood, which has enabled him to endure the tough times.

"I got off to a really rough start (at Clinton) and had to battle back to get my average where it ended up," Clayton said. "And then things were tough at San Jose, too.

"But I've adapted well. And I give all the credit to my parents. We have a strong family. I never feel like they're far away from me."

Besides his parents, Antoinette and Royal, Clayton has a brother, Royal Jr., 24, a former UC Riverside star and a pitcher for the Albany (N.Y.) Colony Yankees in the double-A Eastern League. Like his brother, Royal Jr. will participate in the league's All-Star Game (Monday at London, Ontario).

Royal is 5-5 with a 3.47 earned-run average.

"I got the call from my mom that (Royce) made All-Stars too, and I felt a lot of pride," Royal Jr. said.

Royce's relationship with Royal Jr. has developed the past several years into one of mutual respect.

"He's been telling me I can play a little bit for the first time ever," said Royce, who signed a letter of intent with USC but never attended college. "In high school, I could go 4 for 5, but I'd come home and he'd say, 'But you didn't knock in that run,' or something like that.

"He was tough on me, but it helped push me. One time we were playing together when I got a bad bounce and the ball hit me square in the mouth.

"I was bleeding a little bit and I think a couple teeth were a little loose. I was thinking maybe I'd have to leave the game, but he said, 'You're not going anywhere.'

"And I stayed in and finished the game. Things like that helped me a lot.

"And I'm really happy for the success he's having. Because of our age difference, we were apart a lot as kids, but every year we get closer and closer."

Likewise, Royal greatly admires his brother. "He liked to play with me and other older guys sometimes, so it was tough on him, but I never wanted him to give up or make excuses," Royal said.

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