Blake DeWitt -- On the Fast Track

VERO BEACH, Florida- Blake DeWitt is a young man in a hurry. Which is exactly the way the Dodgers would have it. DeWitt was so anxious to get this season going that he showed up a week ahead of when the position players were scheduled to report. "The weather wouldn't let me work outside," he declared. Understand that he's from Southeastern Missouri, hardly the Snow Belt but you get the idea. He wants to play.

His attitude is just one reason why Los Angeles feels that he could develop into a special player. Certainly, his bat is another for in his rookie season he went into the Pioneer League, a circuit loaded with players that have pro and college experience and proceeded to hit .284 with 12 home runs in just 70 games. And that right out of high school.

The Dodgers have DeWitt because of a shrewd bit of drafting. Possessed of two first round picks, their own and the Yankees (who had forfeited it for signing Paul Quantrill as a free agent) they also had a supplemental choice at the end of the round (also for losing Quantrill.) They first chose another Missourian, lefthander Scott Elbert, with the 20th pick.

"We knew the Twins had been looking at Blake hard," scouting director Logan White recalled. "They had some extra choices so we went after Blake with our next pick (28th) because we didn't feel he'd last until the supplemental round like many did."

"I didn't have any idea that the Dodgers would be the team," says Blake. "I had talked to the Twins and some other teams that had indicated they would pick me. I'm really fortunate that it turned out the way it did."

Pro ball did, indeed, turn out to be all that he had hoped as well. Why, he didn't even mind the long bus rides that occur in the sprawling Pioneer League. "I like the country and there was some pretty countryside to see out the windows so I spent a lot of time looking at the scenery."

Homesick as so many kids are when first away? "Not really, I've never been one to feel that way."

He'd spent the previous summer traveling with a touring team from Missouri so, "I got to experience a lot of what pro ball was like." And that first year? "I learned a lot about how to really play the game."

When the balls started flying out of the park with some regularity, he admits, "I got too pull conscious. I had to learn to stay back a bit on curve balls."

He also had to learn a new position for he was a shortstop in high school who was immediately moved to third. "It took me a few games to get used to it. You have to be quicker but I like it and I thought I did relatively well."

He possess a quick left-handed stroke at the plate, one that carried him to a 19-game hitting streak during the season. Now, "I hope to get better every day. I'm still learning."

If he has his way, he'll skip low class A and start the year at Vero Beach in high A. It's the Dodger philosophy to challenge its better prospects and he welcomes that. "I love challenges. They're what make you better."

More than a few scouts termed him the best-looking hitter in the high school class of 2004. His debut season reinforced that assumption. Now he's getting ready to show that he can move forward in the game at a rapid pace.

Like I said, a young man in a hurry.