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DOMINGUEZ

Prospects Eager to Sprint for the Bucks

May 29, 1999|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ

Riiiing! . . . riiiing! . . . riiiing!

"Hello"

"Hiya there, young fella. This is Joe Scout from your favorite major league team and I'm calling 'cause we just nabbed you in the draft."

"Gosh, I can't believe it. This is a dream come true."

"Whatdaya say we get together, kid, and bang out a deal?"

"Any time you say, Mister."

****

Some players from the region will experience a similar scenario Wednesday and Thursday, when this year's amateur draft takes place.

The high school guys most commonly mentioned by regional scouts include pitchers Kameron Loe of Granada Hills and Scott Rice of Royal, shortstop Kevin Howard of Westlake, outfielder Michael Falco of Agoura, third baseman John Puccinelli of Notre Dame and catcher Tony Cicero of Cleveland.

From the college ranks, outfielders Danny Phillips of Cal State Northridge and Covelli Crisp of Pierce, first baseman Jason Botts of Glendale and pitcher Traviss Hodge of Pierce are among the draft candidates.

But none of them, said one scout who requested anonymity, are projected to go in the first round like former Kennedy pitcher Jon Garland and former Cal State Northridge shortstop Adam Kennedy did two years ago.

Garland, picked 10th overall by the Chicago Cubs, signed for $1.4 million. Kennedy was selected 20th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals.

The scout believes there isn't a first-rounder in the current crop, either because of lack of ability or of unrealistic money expectations. He said one player reportedly is talking about $1 million to sign. "He's pricing himself out of the market," the scout said.

Let's see what the market yields next week.

*

Kennedy is in the running for a spot on the U.S. team for the Pan Am Games, which run from July 25 to Aug. 2 in Winnipeg, Canada.

He is playing mostly second base at triple-A Memphis, the Pacific Coast League affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, and batting .312 with seven home runs and 31 runs batted in.

Players eligible for the Pan Am team are primarily those with fewer than three years as professionals and those not on a major league 40-man roster, including veterans.

*

Maybe eight is enough for Brent Cookson.

The former outfielder at Santa Paula High, Ventura College and Cal State Long Beach is off to a flying start with Albuquerque, the Dodgers' entry in the PCL.

It's his 12th minor league team and eighth organization since signing with the Oakland Athletics in the 15th round in 1991. He even has played in Mexico.

Cookson, 29, is batting .326 with 31 RBIs and a team-leading 13 home runs. He signed with the Dodgers as a free agent after batting .360 with six home runs and 19 RBIs in an injury-shortened 1998 season at Tucson, the Arizona Diamondbacks' triple-A club in the PCL.

"The key for me is staying healthy," Cookson said.

Cookson was on the disabled list twice last year, first with a bone bruise in his left knee and then with a broken bone in his left hand. He hurt his lower back the year before during spring training with the Texas Rangers and later caught on with the Diamondbacks.

He's now bent on making a serious run at the majors, a level he reached only once, with the Kansas City Royals for 22 games in 1995.

"I work real hard on my game," said Cookson, who plays center field for the Dukes. "I always look for improvements and make adjustments. I take pride in being an all-around player. I'll go through fences for my pitchers. I'll lay down bunts."

After bouncing around the minors, Cookson appreciates his latest stop more than most others.

"I grew up being a Dodger fan," Cookson said. "It's been a dream of mine playing for the Dodgers. When I got the opportunity to sign with the Dodgers, I jumped on it."

*

Come next spring, right-hander Erik Hiljus might want to pack a good-luck charm for training camp.

He could have used one all along.

"I've been to three big-league camps as an invitee and every time I've ended up having something go wrong," Hiljus said. "The last three years I went through a lot of crap."

Hiljus, a 6-foot-5 reliever from Canyon High, was promoted Monday by the Detroit Tigers from double-A Jacksonville to triple-A Toledo. The move took a little longer than anticipated.

Hiljus said he was slated to start the year at Toledo until cartilage problems required arthroscopic surgery in the right knee, like during camp with St. Louis in 1996.

A slight tear in his right rotator cuff, discovered and repaired during spring training in 1997, slowed his progress and the Cardinals gave up on Hiljus soon after.

Hiljus, 26, picked up by the Tigers last year, believes his career is on the right track.

"I've always had the stuff but didn't have it mentally," Hiljus said. "I never realized that talent alone won't get you to the big leagues. My maturity finally kicked in."

Or maybe it was a rabbit's foot.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Rating the Best

The top 10 pro baseball prospects at Southland high schools:

Comments by Staff Writer Gary Klein

Rank: 1.

Player: Ryan Christianson

School: Riverside Arlington

Pos.: C

Ht.: 6-1

Wt.: 215

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