Pressure Not New to Xavier Paul

Xavier Paul was a second-team High School All American after hitting .391 with nine homers; had hit .444 for Team USA at the 2003 Pan-American Games when the Dodgers drafted him the fourth round of the 2003 draft. He was also a outstanding pitcher in high school, one who threw in the mid-90's, and seriously considered a scholarship to Tulane.

He lived up to all his press notices in 2003, winning the Dodger Dugout Rookie of the Year Award with a big season at Ogden, hitting .307 with seven homers and 47 runs batted in over 69 games. He tied for the league lead with six triples and led Dodger short-season teams in at bats, runs, hits, triples, home runs, total bases and walks.

Baseball America rated him the Dodgers seventh best prospect and had the best arm in the system as he opened at Columbus in 2004.

For the first month of 2004 at Columbus, it was more of the same hitting .361 in April that included three home runs, two triples, four doubles and 20 runs batted in over 21 games. He was considered "the" prospect in the Catfish outfield, despite the presence of Matt Kemp.

Then a sequence of events happened that would have destroyed an average young player to the point he might have considered dropping out of the game.

He caught a persistent, nagging cold that seemed to verge on pneumonia and defied antibiotics and was unable to see the ball clearly. He had worn prescription lens previously, has switched to contacts and nothing helped.

The struggled to finish the year and hit .265-9-73, nothing like the exceptional year he'd had as a rookie.

After the season, the Dodgers sent him to an eye specialist who examined him thoroughly and finally told him he was half-blind in his left eye. The prescriptions lens he'd been using all season weren't the cure so he was fitted with contacts that solved the problem.

Then a back injury and Hurricane Katrina hit him back-to-back, wiping out his home in Louisiana so his family spent the winter in Tallahassee.

He was much more sound at the plate in 2007 and after a slow start in 2006, he was again banging line drives.

The difference? "I was healthy," he said. "My back doesn't bother me. And I'm playing every day. Last year after my injury, I'd play a day, then sit. Can't get anything going that way."

So struggling at the plate early in his first season at Las Vegas, it would be natural for the 23-year-old native of Slidell, Louisiana, has remained on an even keel.

That's probably because the young man knows real-life pressure all too well, the kind he felt when his childhood home and parents' residence was destroyed by Katrina.

"When I went home and saw everything was gone, I had a lot of thoughts running through my head," the soft-spoken Paul said. "What can I do now to help my family? I have to hurry up and get to the big leagues so financially we can be better off and get this situation taken care of."

"But my parents reassured me there wasn't any added pressure, as far as on my job. They really stressed to me I should be being patient and don't try to force the issue."

Paul said the situation gave him "motivation to work harder and do better. The same mind-set, motivation, not pressure, appears to be serving him well as he battles out of his slump with the 51s.

He has boosted his average from near .200 to .253 in just about a week, extended his hitting streak to seven games, smacking seven hits in 12 times at bat over the last four contests.

"I started off slow with the bat, but I've been putting in my early work and I'm feeling more comfortable up there," Paul said. "It's all about making adjustments."

The 6-foot, 200-pound left-handed hitter, sat a good deal of action with Los Angeles during spring training, impressing manager Joe Torre and his coaches. He's regarded as the top positional prospect in Las Vegas.

"He's got some power, he's got some speed and he's got a plus arm," 51s manager Lorenzo Bundy said. "It's very important for us as an organization and for him to be able to play center field. Hopefully he can give us stability. We need some help up there.

"We want him to be a serviceable center fielder as soon as possible."

He was rated by Baseball America as the best defensive outfielder in Class A in 2006 and ranked him with the best outfield arm in the organization each of the last four years.

Bundy said Paul has a "65-to-70 arm on our graded scale, well above the major league average," which is 60.

He's the 51s' youngest player and still needs to improve virtually every aspect of his game, including his defense.

"He definitely has a lot of room to improve in center field, his jumps, his angles, his breaks, his reads on the ball," Bundy said. "He's a work in progress, no doubt about it."

His record:
Xavier Brooks Paul, Jr.  bl  tr  6-0  200
Born-February 25, 1985 in Slidell, LA
Obtained: Selected in fourth round of 2003 draft

year	team   	 ave    obp   gm   ab   r   h   2b 3b hr  bi
2003  Ogden   	.307   .384   69  264  60   81  15  6  7  47
2004  Columbus  .262   .341  128  465  69  122  26  6  9  72
2005  VBeach	.247   .328   85  288  42   71  15  3  7  41
2006  VBeach	.285   .343  120  470  62  134  23  3 13  49 
2007  J'ville   .291   .366  118  422  64  123  21  2 11  50