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Ashley Throws Baseball a Curve

Minor leagues: Former Dodger expected to sign with St. Paul and try his hand at pitching.

May 20, 1999|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Bigger Unit?

At 6 feet 5, Billy Ashley isn't as tall as the 6-foot-10 Randy Johnson, but at 250 pounds he is definitely wider.

And the former Dodger figures to be an imposing--and intimidating--figure on the mound, which, at times, is where he will be as Ashley tries to reestablish his career as either a pitcher or outfielder with the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League, it was learned Wednesday.

Ashley, 28, was released by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the end of spring training after being released by the Boston Red Sox at the end of the 1998 season. His signing with Mike Veeck's Saints, a sort of halfway house for players trying to extend or reestablish careers, is expected within days.

In confirming the arrangement, agent Jeff Moorad said Ashley had discussions with several major league teams about joining their triple-A affiliates--one of those teams being the Angels, according to a source--but "Billy was looking for an opportunity to showcase his ability to as many teams as possible, and the Saints also offered the opportunity to pitch, so he'll be on the mound every five days."

"People may not know this, but when Billy was drafted by the Dodgers [in the third round in 1988], he was considered the second-best pitching prospect in Michigan, behind only Steve Avery. The Dodgers, in fact, were the only team, among those that expressed interest, to view him strictly as a position player. The element of pitching has long intrigued Billy, and what better place to see if he can do anything with it?"

While boasting prodigious home run power, Ashley has been perceived as a defensive liability who tends to strike out too often when he plays and has never been in a lineup consistently enough to eradicate the strikeouts.

He has not played since his release by the Devil Rays.

"I think Billy has mixed feelings," Moorad said. "While he'd much prefer to be in the major leagues, he's excited by the chance to pitch again and ever hopeful of prolonging his career."

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