Whoa! Take A Look at Van Slyke Now

VERO BEACH, Fla.- Taking about his off-season, Scott Van Slyke was saying, " I stayed at home in St. Louis. Oh, I did get to work out with a couple of major league players."

Oh, really? Who? he was asked.

"Albert Pujols and Mike Matheny."

Albert Pujols! That's like saying you're learning to play the violin with some musician names Yitzak Pearlman.

Of course, Scott's been hanging around big league clubhouses since he was in diapers and gets bigtime instruction at home from dad Andy, who became a broadcaster for the Cardinals after his playing days were done and whose knowledge of the game is such that Jim Leyland, his manager when he was with the Pirates, promptly made him a coach when he came back to the game to manage the Tigers.

Besides getting to work with arguably the game's best player, Scott added another dimension this off-season, one that should be even more valuable. That's some 25 pounds of solid muscle which came about from natural growth and a rigid training regime, not from tips from Barry Bonds.

You see, when he graduated from high school last June and became draft eligible, scouts had a couple of questions about him. One concerned what looked like a definite commitment to go to college at the University of Mississippi, the other the fact that he'd grown up to 6-5 and had yet to fill out, carrying only about 195 pounds.

Oh, he was very athletic, that they knew for he was a standout in football as a quarterback and basketball as a power forward and his latent ability on the diamond was such that he could well become a first-round pick after three years of college ball. Still, many doubted he could be productive on a daily basis as a pro at age 18.

So, they were inclined to pass- at least, until the later rounds. But Logan White, the Dodger director of scouting, is one who pays as much attention to the lower rounds as he does the top rungs. He likes to take what he calls "fall backs," kids others see as a too difficult signee to bother with. Then, if he feels they're worth it and has the available cash to change their minds, he'll make a run at them. Getting Andy LaRoche in the 39th round of the 2003 draft is the glittering example.

It doesn't always work, of course. Take 2004 when lefthanders Joe Savery and David Price were taken in the 15th and 19th rounds respectively. White certainly knew of their talents and made hard runs to get both but their college commitments were so strong that he simply didn't have enough cash left in the till to persuade either to change their minds. And to show what could have been, a recent look ahead to the 2007 draft, when both are eligible again, has Savery as the likely very first selection with Price ranked as the third choice in the nation.

But if he didn't have enough for them, he did in the case of Van Slyke, for he had been the Dodger 14th rounder in 2005 and the more White thought about the more he became convinced that he'd better pay now or probably never get the chance to pay later. He'd take him, physical immaturity or no.

As it turned out, Scott began making the adjustment to pro ball faster than most had suspected for he hit a very respectable .282 with the Gulf Coast Dodgers. Included in that was an impressive day when he ripped two home runs over the 400-foot mark at Dodgertown's Field One and just missed a third which banged off the barrier for a double. At the time, someone remarked," Put some weight on that kid and you've got a monster."

Well, he's done that and now you take a look and can see that here's someone that may take well take his place along side LaRoche and company as a power-hitting prospect- and do it far sooner than most felt he would for he now has the strength to leap forward.

Not to mention the knowledge acquired by working out with some major leaguer named Pujols.