Dodger Strike Gold Again in Late-Round Pick

In most U.S. high schools baseball ranks down the sports chain when it comes to interest, well below football and basketball, somewhere around soccer, slightly above cross-country. Not so at Rancho Bernardino High which serves a suburb northeast of San Diego. Take it from Jonathan Dutton, if you're a baseball player there, "You walk a little taller."

At Rancho Bernardino, they have a classy new field, and sponsor donations assure the best facilities and equipment. What's more the coaching is top of the line. All this is part of the school's program being ranked annually among the best in the nation. This past spring they were California Interscholastic Federation champs and wound up as the seventh ranked team in the country.

The center fielder, John Drennan, was a supplemental first-round pick of the Indians so you'd figure that Dutton would be among the early choices, too. After all, he was the number one starter for this elite group, a kid that went 10-2 with 89 strikeouts in 81 innings. Surely, the scouts would be all over him.

Didn't happen that way, though. Maybe it's because his fast ball isn't a mid-90's sizzler, maybe it's because he seemed headed to college, maybe it's because he's very young and not physically imposing but for whatever reason, Dutton was still out there when the Dodgers picked him in the 24th round He had to be more than a little crushed by that.

"I was disappointed," he admits. "I thought I'd go sooner but you have to deal with the way things are."

L.A. has had an uncanny knack of selecting some rather promising hopefuls down later in recent drafts. Andy LaRoche at 39 in 2003 and Russell Martin at 17 in 2002 are poster boys in that area. And when they found Dutton still around in the later rounds, they were delighted to go for him, too. Then, when they had the other signings and found enough money still around, they were able to persuade him to sign in August.

Not that it took all that much coaxing. "Going pro was always number one for me," Jon maintains. "I just wasn't all that much interested in school and even though I had a scholarship to San Diego State (coached by Tony Gwynn, by the way), I felt we could get this done."

So, the Dodgers were able to get a player that scouting director Logan White believes, "Has a lot of projectability. He's got a good delivery, plus a pitcher's body that we think will fill out nicely. He could become quite a pitcher down the road."

Right now Dutton's fast ball sits in the 87-89 range but he'll bump it up to 90-91 on occasion. He has a slider and changeup and has just added a splitter to his arsenal which he feels will become a strong pitch for him.

Being a Dodger is special for him, too for that's always been his team. "My father taught me that. He's always loved them. I though he'd leap out of the room when we learned that they were the team that drafted me."

Dad Larry is an engineer who owns his own firm and he and Jon's mother were entirely supportive of his decision to forgo college. "They discussed my options with me and both were 100 percent supportive of me."

Another item in Dutton's favor is that his coach Sam Blaylock was always very careful not to overwork him so his arm remains fresh. Such can't be said of all prep coaches who tend to ride their aces to impressive records and who worry not at all of the future consequences of such actions.

Jon's in the Instructional camp now, taking his turn and looking quite good. He a 6-2, 160-pound lefthander who just celebrated his 18th birthday Friday. So far, his first taste of pro ball has been good although, "It's too hot here. I'm used to beautiful San Diego. The players are a great bunch, though. They've been helping me with a lot of tips."

His goal? "I'd like to reach the majors before I'm 21. They tell me I can move through the system quickly and I hope to do that."

So, don't let that 24th round selection fool you. He seems to have the ability and the attitude to add his name to that ever-growing list of later-round selections who could make it big.