Dopirak Still Hard at Work

MESA, Ariz. -- First baseman Brian Dopirak, named the organization's top prospect by Baseball America entering 2005, has been hard at work in the Cubs' Instructional League camp this month. And with plenty of good reason.

Both offensively and defensively, Dopirak sees room for improvement. He entered the year projected to put up big numbers for a second straight season after a 39-home run, 120-RBI campaign at Class-A Lansing in 2004.

But the 21-year-old struggled right out of the gate at Daytona -- the Cubs' Advanced A affiliate -- this past season, hitting .235 with 16 home runs and 76 RBI. After the season, the organization approached their highly touted, star-studded prospect about participating in Instructional League activity this fall.

"I'm working on ironing out some kinks in my swing and maintaining strike zone discipline," said Dopirak, who struck out 107 times in 507 at-bats at Daytona. "I'm working on quieting down, shortening my swing, and trying to sit a little longer in the batter's box and be more selective."

The strikeout totals, albeit a high number, weren't too far off of Dopirak's pace a year ago when he fanned 123 times with Lansing. Aside from the drop in power, Dopirak's average took the most noticeable turn for the worse, falling off some 72 percentage points from his .307 clip at Lansing.

He went from a solid .363 on-base percentage in 2004 down to just .289 in 2005. Likewise, what was a season-best 27-game hitting streak at Lansing a year ago transformed into only a season-long hit streak of six games in 2005 .

And it was more than just the offense that took a hit, too. Dopirak's defense also wavered somewhat, as he committed 17 errors at Daytona and posted a slightly lower fielding percentage than in '04.

"Around the bag, I'm working on continuing to move my feet, keeping my hands going and working on digging out throws in the dirt," Dopirak said.

"Progress-wise, it's gone good. We have a lot of good instructors here, so I'm getting a lot of work in of a morning and having my at-bats critiqued."

Among the instructors working with Dopirak include his hitting coach at Daytona this season, Mike Micucci, plus former Daytona manager Steve McFarland, and Roving Hitting Instructor Dave Keller.

Once Dopirak's time in the Instructional League ends, he'll be off to Costa Rica to visit his father and enjoy some deep sea fishing. The family has friends who rent fishing charters in the land and are occupants of a 60-foot Viking ship for months.

As for what to expect from Dopirak in 2006, "Definitely going to cut down the errors," he said.

What about at the plate? It all starts with the strikeouts (or lack thereof), Dopirak says.

"Continuously trying to drop them and get those power numbers back up to the way they were the year before so that I can drive in a hundred-plus runs."

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