The New "D-Train?"

Left-hander Donald Veal was taken by the Cubs in the second round of last year's draft. Before he even got a chance to get his feet wet at the professional level, many scouts were already drawing vague comparisons between Veal and Florida Marlins thrower Dontrelle Willis. But what does Veal himself think of all the hoopla surrounding the second-year Cubs minor leaguer?

"I'll take the Dontrelle comparisons and be happy with them," Veal says, as if he's been asked the question ad nauseum. "I don't know why I get them, because that guy's won a World Series and a Rookie of the Year. I'm just coming up and still have a lot of work to do.

"But I'll take ‘em – take ‘em with a grain of salt."

It's hard to ignore the success Veal is having in his first full professional season. Drafted and signed out of Pima (Ariz.) Community College in 2005, the left-hander went to short-season Low-A Boise – a hotbed for recently drafted college talent – after four appearances with the Arizona rookies in Mesa, and put together a 2.48 ERA in seven games with the Hawks.

He began 2006 on the full-season circuit at Peoria and had no trouble adjusting to Midwest League hitters after a shaky pair of outings to open the year. Veal won five of his final six decisions with the Chiefs and left the team en route to High-A ball with a 2.69 ERA and the lowest average against of any Cubs minor league starter: .179.

Upon arriving in Daytona, it was clear Veal's success would not be deterred following the mid-season promotion. The southpaw did not allow an earned run through his first three starts and has again maintained a .179 average against through eight starts in the Florida State League.

His ERA sits at a shining 1.17 mark through 46 innings with the team. He has allowed more than one run in a start only once since June 5.

"I started out really slow due to the adrenaline rush and the fact that it was my first full season," Veal said of his long forgotten first two starts with the Mid-A Chiefs. "I was a little erratic, but I calmed it down, worked on a couple of things and started progressing. My curve started to get better and I started throwing my changeup a little more. Before the all-star break, things really started to come together and I had a couple of great starts."

Veal's repertoire features a standard fastball, curveball, and changeup. The changeup is not an overly new pitch that Veal has perfected, but it wasn't until he arrived at Boise last year that he began to overly concentrate on it during counts.

"I'd had it, but never really used it," he said. "In junior college, there's maybe one or two guys in a lineup that you really think about throwing it to. I've been using it a lot more here and I can locate it really well anywhere in the count. It keeps my fastball fresh."

Veal's fastball usually sits between 88-92 mph. Daytona pitching coach Tom Pratt has worked with Veal since he arrived from Peoria toward the end of June and describes the pitch as "unhittable at times."

"He'll throw some fastballs with a little late life to them. He'll touch 93 and stay in the 90-91 range, but he's very deceptive with good arm action. He's very tall and throws on a good down plane, so the hitters don't see the ball very well when it comes out of his hand," Pratt said of the 6'4" Veal.

"He's got a lot going for him and there's a lot of swing and misses on some fastballs in the zone, either because of the late explosion or the sink that he has on it."

Pratt describes Veal as having a very high ceiling and a tremendous work ethic.

"He just needs to be refined and some things need to be ironed out with his mechanics, and sharpen up a few pitches," Pratt said. "It's wide open for him. He's a guy that will control his own destiny. He's got a lot of intangibles that a lot of players wish they had. He's very competitive. He studies the game well and is a very good learner, both physically and mentally.

"I just can't say enough good things about him. I really couldn't tell you anything bad about him at this point in time."

Coming into the year, Veal's goal was to eventually earn his way up to Daytona before season's end. Now, the expectations have shifted a little. Veal can now see himself moving up to Double-A within the next month.

In the meantime, he will continue to make up a Daytona rotation that has the team fighting for a playoff berth in the Florida State League's Eastern Division. The Cubs ended a five-game losing streak with a win over Lakeland on Friday night and are 23-17 in the second half – one full game ahead of St. Lucie, who swept the team in three games earlier this week.

"If that's what the organization wants and I keep doing well here, it's a good possibility," Veal says of another promotion. "I still have to do my work here, and if they want to keep me here, that's more than fine with me."

And as for those lofty Willis comparisons?

"Don't pay attention to them," Pratt said. "Donny is his own person and I've had a chance to work with Dontrelle in instructs. They're just too different. The comparison that they have in common is they're both highly motivated and both have extremely good work ethics. Their physical talent is out of this world with high ceilings. But Donny is Donny, and Dontrelle is Dontrelle."

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