Dodger Prospect Discovered at Team Reunion

<b>VERO BEACH, Florida</b>-- There exists in the lore of baseball the stories of the accidental discovery of an exceptional player by a scout. If you examine such tales carefully and find some truth in them, it is usually that said scout was one who made extra effort that produced such a reward. No accident at all, really.

Which brings us to the case of Jamie Hoffmann. He certainly appears as one who could rise far in the game. If he does, the telling of how he was signed will become a legend that may bear little resemblance to the truth. And that would be a shame because the actual story is rather fascinating in its own right.

In August 2003, then-Dodger scout Jeff Schugel asked permission from scouting director Logan White to take some time to return home to New Ulm, Minn. to atend a 25th reunion of a championship American Legion team, one that Schugel had starred on. "Go ahead," replied White. "And, who knows, maybe you'll find a player there."

Schugel went, relived old memories with his former teammates (including onetime Twins catcher Terry Steinbach) and, fulfilling his scouting duties, watched the current Legion entry from that area play. There, he saw a player that intrigued him.

It wasn't that Jamie Hoffmann was a total unknown. After all, he had been named the state's Class AAA Player of the Year after leading New Ulm to the state title. It's just that, as good as he was on the diamond, it seemed clear to most that hockey was Hoffmann's game. After all, he had been so prominent a bruising defenseman that he had been drafted by the Caroline Hurricanes of the NHL but ultimately had decided to accept a scholarship to Colorado College, an NCAA ice powerhouse.

Schugel, though, did further investigating to discover that although Hoffmann was certainly the hockey player all said he was, he was developing a growing affinity for baseball. And, since he hadn't been drafted in that sport, was a free agent. So, Schugel did n some talking, produced some figures, and Jamie declared that henceforth baseball was to be his sport.

Since it was too late to play that season, he debuted last summer down in the Gulf Coast League in which he promptly became one of the league's best. At 6-3, 205, he was a powerhouse third baseman with a stroke that was somewhat long but still quick to the ball and produced big numbers. When the season was over he had hit .310, leading the league in hits (71), triples (7), RBI (36) and runs (40). He was also among the leaders in stolen bases (14 out of 19 tries) and that plus those triples is what surprised the Dodgers the most for they didn't believe at first that someone of his size (6-3, 205) could move so quickly.

"We had a 40-yard dash in spring training, " Jamie recalls. "When I won they looked at me and said, ' What's going on here?' "

What's going on could be the development of a special player with both power and speed. That's why they decided to make the next step which is a change in position.

Heretofore, Hoffman has been a third baseman, one of more than acceptable skills at that post. But the Dodgers, looking down the road, know well that they have two excellent prospects at that position -- Andy LaRoche and Blake DeWitt. But with his combination of skills, Hoffmann can be an outfielder.

So, that's what they're doing, trying Jamie out there. They were to start the move in the fall Instructional League but hurricanes wiped out those plans. Now, it's a spring undertaking. They know that Jamie has the arm for right but also enough speed for center.

So far, he says, he's enjoying it. But don't think he's forsaken hockey altogether. Oh, no, he isn't allowed to play the game seriously anymore. The Dodgers shudder to think of what a crash into the boards could do to a promising player. Instead, he's coaching at St. Olaf College back home. "I help out where I can and it gets me on the ice," he notes. He also plays attention to the school he almost attended, noting that Colorado College has been ranked at or near the top of the collegiate polls all season.

But Jamie's a baseball player now and he loves it- even the extended spring camp, which he was part of last season and which many players dread. "Oh, that was a blast," he enthuses. "We had fun!"

Schugel no longer scouts for the Dodgers but definitely his prize signee and New Ulm's pride, Jamie Hoffmann, is. No accident. Just the result of a scout and player arriving at the right time together. Of that, legends are sometimes made.