Hu's Not On First -- He's On The Fast Track

VERO BEACH, Florida-- Chin-lung Hu is what they call in the acting profession, "a quick study," which means his ability to learn is high on the curve. A year ago, for instance, an interview with him required the use of an interpreter. Not any more, his English, while hardly polished, is more than good enough for a one-on-one conversation in our language. More to the point for his career, he's learning the nuances of baseball just as rapidly.

This is the third year as a professional for the native of Taiwan and he's done little to disappoint in that time. He plays the field with the assurance of one who's been around much longer and he's a constant surprise at the plate. That's because the tendency is to look at his 5-9, 155-pound frame and think that fast balls will blow the bat out of his hand. That may be what pitchers believe when they first see him . Those around the Florida State League have learned by now that they have to rid themselves of notion or be in peril.

For Hu may look slight and it's doubtful that he'll ever get much bigger but a check of his body reveals that he's rock solid. He's got muscles in his molars. As a result the ball swooshes off his bat with regularity. No, he's not going to challenge Alex Rodriguez as a power-hitting shortstop but he sprays the ball into the gap with authority as doubles will attest and can upon occasion, ride one out as witness his home runs.

"I look for a fast ball in a certain zone," he says of his approach at the plate. He generally has a good at bat, and is cutting down on a tendency to try to do too much. Thus far, he admits, he's a streak hitter, though he's careful not to alter matters if he gets cold. He tries to make every plate appearance a good one and he does quite often. He doesn't strike out much and is the perfect contact hitter for the number two hole which he has occupied for much of Vero Beach's season.

It's in the field that he's a marvel with excellent range, quick hands, a smooth exchange from glove to hand, a strong, accurate arm all combining to make him acclaimed the best fielder at his position in every league he's been in since turning pro in 2003. His athleticism is particularly on display for he regularly makes plays that could be difficult look so easy , they seem almost routine. If he has a problem, it's the one of losing concentration on the easy chance at times although he's been smoothing that out, too.

The Vero fans delight in him with shouts of "Hu, Hu" and the inevitable, "Hu's on first," when he singles. He'll steal a base every now an then although he's not a threat to lead the league in that department with speed that is slightly above average.

In his three years, he's moved ahead at a steady pace for rookie ball to low A to high A. He actually came up to Vero last season after Joel Guzman was promoted to Jacksonville and hit .307 before being shut down with a sore arm. That arm is fine now , something he displays with regularity.

It was the total package that caught the eye of then international scout Jeff Schugel when he saw him in the World Junior Cup played in Canada late in 2002. After he hit. 474 with four homers, he was signed for a bonus of $250,000.

Hu has become acclimated to this country but still returns home to Taiwan each off-season to attend college. There's a dual purpose in that for not only is he acquiring an education but as long as he's a student, he's exempt from the compulsory two years of military service that Taiwan requires of its male citizens.

It's the Dodger hope that he'll be a big leaguer before he graduates. Right now he's on track to do just that.