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Mondesi Keeps Dodger Tradition Alive by Winning Rookie Award : Baseball: Right fielder from Dominican Republic is team's third consecutive winner, following Karros and Piazza.

October 21, 1994|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Right fielder Raul Mondesi was selected unanimous winner of the National League's rookie-of-the-year award in voting announced Thursday and said it was a fantastic feeling to sustain what he called a Dodger tradition.

How much of a tradition?

Mondesi, who received all of the 28 first-place votes from a committee of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America, is the 14th Dodger to win the award. Jackie Robinson won the first in 1947. No other organization has won more than six. Mondesi also makes it three in a row for the Dodgers, following Eric Karros and Mike Piazza, the unanimous pick last year.

And the Dodgers have a chance to make it four in a row and match the streak that began in 1979 with Rick Sutcliffe, who was followed by Steve Howe, Fernando Valenzuela and Steve Sax.

Fred Claire, the Dodgers' vice president, said the latest streak merely spotlights the regeneration of a farm system that had gone fallow during the mid- and late '80s.

"It's one more indication of the direction in which we want to head," he said. "I don't believe we've ever had as many quality young players on the verge of being ready.

"We have a lot of good things happening, and we definitely have a chance to win a fourth in a row, although as you project the team and the people who could be candidates, the guy who figures most prominently has eight (major league) at-bats too many to qualify as a rookie, and that's unfortunate."

Claire alluded to left fielder Billy Ashley, who batted .345, hit 37 home runs and drove in 105 runs in 388 at-bats with triple-A Albuquerque. Ashley, 24, hit 11 more home runs in 94 fewer at-bats than in 1993 and also walked 18 more times, sustaining his power while cutting down on his swing.

"He has Piazza-type power and his time has come," Claire said. "He'll get every opportunity to be a regular player."

But if Ashley will not have a shot at the rookie award, the Dodgers have others who might. Claire mentioned outfielders Roger Cedeno and Todd Hollandsworth, along with third baseman Ron Coomer, who hit 22 homers, drove in 123 runs and batted .338 at Albuquerque.

Conceivably, the Dodgers could start a home-grown lineup in 1995--if the labor situation is resolved--with the exception of second baseman Delino DeShields. Claire said Mondesi's award was another tribute to the scouting and development staffs, the hard work Mondesi put in and the finishing touches applied by Manager Tom Lasorda and his coaches.

"We threw Raul enough breaking balls this spring that he'll remember it the rest of his life," Lasorda said. "He saw curveballs in his dreams."

The result: Mondesi hit .306 in 434 at-bats. He had 16 homers, 27 doubles, eight triples and 56 RBIs. He also led major league outfielders with 16 assists.

Lasorda said that with more selectivity and patience, Mondesi can realize his full potential as a "five-point player who can run, field, throw and hit for both power and average."

In a conference call from the Dominican Republic, Mondesi said he was proud to become the first Dominican to win the National League award and that he owed thanks to the Dodgers and Lasorda for giving him the opportunity to play every day and to his teammates for challenging him from the start to play hard.

"They told me I have the ability to win the rookie of the year," Mondesi said, adding that the strike-shortened season didn't diminish the honor.

"I have the best numbers. That's all that matters," he said.

Houston Astro relief pitcher John Hudek was second in the voting, and Atlanta Brave outfielder Ryan Klesko was third. Mondesi said he will be playing in the Dominican Winter League because he wants to come to spring training ready "to play even harder and with more confidence."

In the meantime, Chris Gwynn rejected an outright assignment to the minors and chose free agency. Gwynn had previously filed for free agency, but his claim was rejected by the owners' Player Relations Committee on the basis that he was a day shy of the required six years of major league service and that striking players didn't accrue service time.

The players' union is expected to file a grievance today on behalf of the nine players thwarted by the PRC from becoming free agents over the service-time issue. Claire said the Dodgers could still re-sign Gwynn, but that they have freed a roster spot in the meantime and provided him a way to become a free agent.

Pitcher Kevin Gross filed for free agency after the Dodgers failed to offer arbitration as part of the repeater-rights procedure.

Dodger Rookies of the Year

1947--Jackie Robinson*

1949--Don Newcombe*

1952--Joe Black*

1953--Jim Gilliam*

1960--Frank Howard

1965--Jim Lefebvre

1969--Ted Sizemore

1979--Rick Sutcliffe

1980--Steve Howe

1981--Fernando Valenzuela

1982--Steve Sax

1992--Eric Karros

1993--Mike Piazza

1994--Raul Mondesi

* Brooklyn

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