Kershaw All They Said He Was - And More

When Clayton Kershaw moved into the pro ranks, he carried a lofty reputation. Acknowledged the high school Player of the Year by most who rate such things, he was the first high schooler chosen in the June draft when the Dodgers took him with the seventh pick. So, there was a great deal to live up to.

Now that he's completed his first year, a perusal of what he did and how he did it shows that he more than lived up the hype. If anything, he exceeded it.

His record in the Gulf Coast League was glittering- 2-0 with a 1.95 ERA. In 37 innings he struck out 57 batters. Opponents hit only .210 against him. This caused league managers in the annual poll conducted by Baseball America to rank him as the No. 1 prospect in the league. He then participated in the Arizona Instructional League where, while they don't conduct polls on such things, most observers agreed he was the most impressive pitcher the Dodgers had.

The more you look at Kershaw the more there is to like. Start with his physical makeup. He's 6-3, 210, an ideal size for a power pitcher. He does appear a bit soft around the middle but regular work in the weight room will take care of that.

Then there's the pitches His fast ball was regularly clocked at 93-94 all summer and that caused him to frown. "I hit 96 in high school, " he lamented. "I want to do that here. " He did so in Arizona. His first efforts as a pro saw him rely almost entirely on the fast ball for his control of the curve was spotty. He soon corrected that, though, and used his breaking pitch effectively the rest of the way. His changeup is just starting to come around ; understandable for he never really used it against high school hitters.

His control is almost phenomenal. In those 37 innings he walked only five batters. Five! As a result, a lot of the hits against him came as batters went up there looking dead red and swinging. They knew he'd be around the plate

. And if somebody got on, particularly via a walk? That's best illustrated by the time a neighbor of his back in suburban Dallas, who had come to see a Gulf Coast game, commented, "Oh, he hates to walk people. Watch him try to pick him off. " Which is exactly what Kershaw did. His pickoff move is first-rate, too; another weapon high school lefthanders aren't suppose to have.

Trouble occurred rarely in his season but when it did, he bore down and made his best pitches. And a number of the hits they did manage against him were, frankly, something a better fielding team than you'll find in the Gulf Coast would have handled.

There's his overall attitude. While he's obviously confident of his ability, there's no cockiness about him. He's a refreshingly good kid. On his days off he'd act as bat boy and he did it with complete gusto, running to pick up the discarded bats or supply the umpire with a supply of new balls.

Playing in the Gulf Coast is not for every person. The games are played at noon under a withering mid-summer Florida sun an environment more conducive to siestas than rigorous games. And since there's only four or five spectators at most games, the atmosphere can appear almost sterile. No painted-up fans carrying signs and chanting for him. Some players decry it.

Not Kershaw. When asked how he felt about it, he exclaimed, " I love it. All I have to do is play baseball and I get a check every two weeks for doing it. "

The check, of course, is much larger than most of his teammates since he received over $2 million to sign. That's a big reason why he wasn't sent to Ogden. There 's no income tax in Florida as there is in Utah so the bite wasn't nearly as large in the GCL as it would have been in the Pioneer League.

Now that he's wound up year one, there are those who are already saying he's the best lefthanded prospect in the minors. Could be. He certainly rivals Scott Elbert as the best-looking in the organization.

In all, quite a year. And it was just the beginning of what is looming as a monster career. They probably won't see him in Ogden next year, either. He's expected to hurdle that to either of the two new outposts- Midland, Mich, or San Bernardino. There should be a good number of spectators at either location. Whoever gets to see him will more than enjoy the view.

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