Top Dodger Prospects #5 - James Loney

We continue the countdown among the top Dodger prospects


Position- First Base
Residence-Missouri City, Tex.
DOB-May 7, 1984
04 Club -Jacksonville (AA)

There were three distinct parts to James Loney's 2004 season -- the first and the last were in keeping with his status as one of the top prospects in the Dodger system. The middle, though, was a disappointment. That, unfortunately, was the portion in which the statistics become part of the record.

Loney came to spring training as a non-roster invitee in the big league camp. He was in excellent shape, having finally shaken off the effects of a wrist broken by a pitch that had abruptly ended his rookie year in 2002 and bothered him quite a bit throughout 2003. In many ways he was the best-looking hitter in the whole camp; even his outs were solid smashes. However, he never was considered as a bona fide candidate for the first base job since he had only Class A experience.

Sent to Jacksonville, the hopes for a banner season ended abruptly when another errant pitch smashed a finger. It became infected, resulting in hospitalization and subsequent lost weight and strength. He returned to the lineup, probably too soon, and seldom drove the ball with the authority that he had previously, winding up with an unimposing .238-4-35 year. Yet, even in the midst of all this, there were flashes of his silky smooth stroke and his fielding was exemplary.

He wound up the year, playing in the Arizona Fall League where he seemed to regain his strength and style, hitting .314 albeit with little home run power, knocking only two out of the park. But it was enough to keep his status as a potential big league star who could hit for both average and power. He has the knack of spraying the ball to all fields and has hit as many as 31 doubles in a season (2003 with Vero Beach). He's learning to turn on balls and could well wind up hitting around 25-30 homers a year in the bigs.

There is that worry that he's injury prone because he has yet to have one completely injury-free season. However, he 's a dedicated worker who stays in shape and should overcome his early physical difficulties. The top Dodger draft pick in 2002 (when he hit .371 at Great Falls), he'll be stationed either at Las Vegas or Jacksonville again to start 2005 and if he develops as expected may well challenge for big league time before the season runs its course.