Paul's Slip in '04 Not Sophomore Jinx

VERO BEACH, Florida- Xavier Paul seemed to have it all going for him at the start of 2004. Here he was, coming off a year, that saw him win the award as Baby Blue Rookie of the Year in the organization for 2003, that atop the previous high school All-American honors.

It all started so well, too. Assigned to Columbus, he had ripped pitchers for a .361 average in April that included three home runs, two triples, four doubles, 13 runs and 20 ribbies in 21 games. Oh, this was a special hitter, no question.

But then came -- no, not a crash, just a slide that was a persistent, nagging agony like a cold that seems to verge on pneumonia and which seems to defy antibiotics. For he knew the trouble and applied remedies. They just didn't seem to work.

"I couldn't see the ball well," he says now. "It seemed like every time I was up, there was an 0-2 count because I couldn't pick it up. I had worn prescription lens previously but had started the year with contacts that seemed to work well. But, after awhile, they weren't helping."

He abandoned the contacts and went back to the lens that he'd used previously. They didn't seem to help that much, either. Oh, there were times when he had success but compared to what he'd done before and what he (and the Dodgers) expected of him, they weren't there often enough.

"X", as he's called by most finished 2004 at .265-9-73. Not horrible, you understand. But not the breakout, dominant season that he had been tabbed for. Certainly, nothing like the .307-7-47 year he'd had as a rookie at Ogden in 2003, a year in which he pounded some monster shots that are still talked about in the Utah city.

After the season, the Dodgers sent him to an eye specialist who examined him thoroughly and finally told him, "You're half-blind in your left eye." Those prescriptions lens he'd been using all season weren't the cure for the problem. What was?

"They talked about ;laser surgery," noted Paul. "At last, they felt they could come up with contacts that would solve the problem." So he was fitted and this spring he feels "They're working just fine." He's seeing the ball well again and handling pitches accordingly.

This has to be a huge relief for the Dodgers because he's always been thought of as a young player with serious batting potential. So much so, that even though he was a superior pitcher in high school, one who threw in the mid-90's, it was the outfield as far as L.A. was concerned.

A native of Slidell, La., Paul had seriously considered a scholarship to Tulane before the Dodgers persuaded him to become a pro after securing his rights in the fourth round of the 2003 draft. He probably would have gone higher except for the Tulane commitment but the Dodgers knew their man and signed him.

Last winter, Xavier (whose older brother Matt was a 2004 draftee out of Southern University) built up his legs the way the old-fashioned players did- by hunting. Rabbits, in this case. He also lifted weights for more upper body strength.

He feels he's ready to resume treading down the path that has been laid out for him. He's not overly large at 6-0, 200 but possessed of tremendous strength (plus that rocket-launcher throwing arm) that makes him a strong two-way candidate to move up quickly.

Now that he can clearly see the way -- and the pitches- once more.