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Players begin long journey to majors with draft

Baseball's apprenticeship often takes years, so don't expect to see even the first-round picks from this year's Major League Baseball draft in the big leagues anytime soon.

June 04, 2011|By Kevin Baxter
  • Corey Dickerson of the Casper (Wyo.) Ghosts steals second against Ogden (Utah) Raptors shortstop Jake Lemmerman. Leagues like theirs are often the first stop for recently drafted players.
Corey Dickerson of the Casper (Wyo.) Ghosts steals second against Ogden… (Kerry Huller / Associated…)

Jake Lemmerman remembers the day he was taken in the Major League Baseball draft like it was yesterday — in fact, it's been nearly a year.

"It's kind of surreal, basically. This is what I always wanted, with the team I always wanted to play for," says the Dodgers minor leaguer who was taken in the fifth round last June.

Teammate Blake Smith, a second-round selection in 2009, won't soon forget his selection, either.

"I think about it all the time," he says. "It definitely changed my life."

Stories like that bring a smile to Logan White, the Dodgers' assistant general manager for scouting and the man who selected Lemmerman and Smith — as well as every other Dodgers draft pick over the last nine years.

"Actually, that's part of why I do this job," he says. "I love watching players get drafted and helping them and making their dreams come true."

White's own dream also started in the draft, 27 years ago when a scout named Jeff Malinoff — now with the Angels — persuaded the Seattle Mariners to take a chance on a scatter-armed right-hander from western New Mexico.

"I remember what it meant for me," says White, a 23rd-round pick who went 5-12 in three seasons in the low minors. "And I remember the guy that signed me. And if he didn't draft me and I didn't get signed, would I be where I'm at today in baseball?

"Probably not."

A lot of journeys will get started Monday, the first day of baseball's annual amateur draft. White won't tip his team's hand, but the Dodgers, picking 16th in the first round, are once again interested in pitching. Oregon left-hander Tyler Anderson and South Carolina high schooler Taylor Guerrieri are said to top their list.

Expect the team to put a premium on a prospect's willingness to sign. With the Dodgers struggling to make payroll at the major league level, the team might not be able to offer much more than the below-slot bonus of $1.06 million that last year's 16th pick, pitcher Hayden Simpson, got from the Chicago Cubs. ("Slot" is the suggested bonus MLB assigns to each pick.)

The Angels pick 17th in the first round, but then don't select again until Round 3 — 87 picks later. They are also interested in high school pitchers, though in their first draft under new scouting director Ric Wilson they might also go for high school position players such as Florida infielder Francisco Lindor or power-hitting Texas outfielder Josh Bell.

Whoever the Dodgers and Angels select, don't expect to see them in the major leagues any time soon. While top picks in the NFL and NBA drafts are often starting for their teams the next season, there is typically an extended apprenticeship in baseball.

Of the 50 players the Angels and Dodgers have drafted in the first five rounds since 2007, just one — Angels right-hander Tyler Chatwood — is in the major leagues.

"I don't like to call it an exact science. I like to call it an art," White says. "There's a long list of guys that don't make it. My role is to be realistic, preach patience and know I'm not right 100% of the time."

Three years ago, White took high school pitcher Ethan Martin with his first pick, giving him a $1.73 million bonus. Martin missed his first pro season with a knee injury and has gone 19-25 with a 5.57 earned-run average in Class A in the 21/2 seasons since.

For Martin, being a first-round pick guaranteed nothing beyond that big, one-time bonus.

"Yeah, you're a first-round pick but … you can't expect to be treated any differently," Martin says. "I'm just another person, just another player trying to get to the big leagues, trying to fulfill their dream."

There's that word again. Dream. It's what keeps Martin and others pushing through the tedium and frustration of minor league baseball. And it's what gets people like White out of bed each morning — especially around draft day.

"More than anything in the world, I like being a part of the dreams of these kids," says White, who gives every draft pick his cellphone number and continues to speak with many of them, even those who were released long ago.

"Helping them along the way and watching them fulfill their dreams, being able to help them in their lives and their career is just awesome."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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