McDonnell's On the Right Track

James McDonald was initially drafted as a first baseman. He was signed a year later as a pitcher. After spending his first professional summer on the mound, he became an outfielder for the better part of the next two seasons. Then, it was back to pitching. Do they really know what they want to do with this guy?

Of course,they do and have for some time. Yes, he was more of a first baseman than he was a pitcher when he was selected in the 11th round out of Long Beach Poly High in 2002. But he wasn't deemed quite ready for pro ball so went to junior college for a year where his pitching improved so much that when he signed the next year as a draft-and-follow they wanted him utilizing that arm on the mound.

So, why then did he become an outfielder? Because James had a bad case of tendinitis the next spring and that would prevent his pitching. The normal course would have been to slot him in the rehab program but some had other ideas. There were those who were still intrigued by his bat and that group included James himself.

There were others, though, that thought that rest and work with trainers would eventually get his arm back into pitching shape. In the meantime, a trip to the outfield could keep him busy. He could work with trainers and play in games and left field wouldn't put any particular strain on that arm. After all, how many serious throws does a left fielder have to make? Far fewer than a throwing program as part of a full rehab stint would require.

So, James became an outfielder and along the way showed convincingly that he wasn't going to be Babe Ruth and earn his livelihood there. He didn't hit particularly well at all. So, by the end of the 2004 season when his arm had completely healed, he was ready to go back to pitching.

He's been doing it ever since and right now he's doing it just about as well if not better than any other pitcher in the system. He's moved up from Inland Empire to Jacksonville and has become a vital part of that team's quest for a pennant.

The numbers reflect this. He lost a tough game Tuesday but is still 6-2 with a 1.65 ERA. Opposing batters are hitting only .200 against him. What's more he gets the ball over, having thrown 47.2 innings for the Suns in which he's struck out 55 while walking only 15.

He's a 6-5, 195-pound righthander whose fast ball resides in the low to mid-90's, throws an excellent curve and a good change. He's learned fast and keeps getting better.

James is from an extremely athletic family. His father was a college basketball star (at USC), who became a tight end in the NFL. His cousins are good minor league players.

Now, as noted, James at age 22 (he'll be 23 in October) has come of age. His name almost certainly will grace the Dodger 40-man roster this winter.

As a pitcher, of course. And that's exactly what those who've overseen his development thought would happen all the time. He may be a surprise to some people but not to them. The path might have been a bit curved at times but it's leading to the mound in Dodger Stadium.