Dodger Prospect #1 - RHP James McDonald

Someday you may read about the legend of how James McDonald, a failed outfielder, turned to the mound in desperation to become a success -- sort of a Stan Musial in reverse. If that occurs it would like most legends that contain only a part of the truth -- but only a portion. He spent a couple of seasons in the outfield recovering from tendinitis. When the arm healed, he went back to the mound.

6-5 195 BR TR
Born- October 19, 1984 in Long Beach, CA
Obtained- Selected in the 11th round 2002

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. 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. Some wondered if the Dodgers really knew what they wanted to do with the youngster.

Of course they knew and things worked out just as planned. 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 to use him on the mound.

So, why then did he become an outfielder? Because James had a bad case of tendinitis 2004 and that would prevent him from 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 including 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 left fielders don't make many serious throws -- 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. In fact, 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.

"When I was in the outfield I felt like was just out there running around," he said. "I am a lot more competitive when I'm pitching. It is more up to me to get the other guys out."

James is from an extremely athletic family. His father, also named James, was a college basketball star at USC, who became a tight end in the NFL playing for the Rams (1983-1987). His uncle, Ben McDonald, played in the NBA for the Golden State Warriors. His cousins, Darnell (Baltimore, Minnesota), Darin (Philadelphia organization) and Donzell (NY Yankees, Kansas City) have all played professional baseball.

He's a 6-5, 195-pound righthander and has excelled despite the fact that he does not have a overpowering fast ball. His heater resides in the low 90's, but he throws an above average curve from high on his big frame and has a stunning change.

Then when used at the end of the 2008 season, his fastball bumped up to 93-96 and he worked six innings without allowing a run in the regular season, then blew the Phillies away in the NLCS, striking out seven in 5.1 scoreless frames.

McDonald is unusual in the fact that he pitches backwards when needed, but uses his above command and control effectively. He may be a bit too much of a competitor, going right at a hitter instead of sometimes working around them.

As the Dodgers have done for many decades, they want to use McDonald out of the bullpen instead of thrusting him directly into the starting rotation. Don Sutton and Fernando Valenzuela prospered from that time-tested strategy.

But if the crowd of candidates eliminate themselves during he spring, he will be available to open in the rotation, where he obviously will eventually settle.

He was selected in 2002 but as a Draft and Follow didn't sign until 2003 when he worked in a dozen games in his first professional season, for the Gulf Coast Dodgers. In nine starts, while he didn't set the league on fire, he pitched quite well for an 18-year-old, recording a 2-4, 3.31 record. He allowed only 39 hits in 49 innings and struck out 47 while walking 15.

Near the end of the 2005 season, his arm had healed and he told pitching coach Bob Welch he was ready to go back to pitching. He got into four games as the season wound down, working six innings, allowing four hits, striking out nine and limiting opposing batters to a .174 average.

In 2006, he was on the mound full-time for the Columbus Catfish. He led the starting staff with a 3.97 earned run average, 143 innings pitched and 147 strikeouts. He was 5-10 but won his final two games, one of them a shutout, and allowed a .229 average.

From that mediocre start, who could have imagined the spectacular 2007 season that was coming up?

McDonald exploded in 2007 at Inland Empire in the Class A California League and AA Jacksonville in the Southern League although even that didn't start particularly well.

The Cal League has some parks with short field dimensions, dry desert conditions and are located high above sea level, making them about as friendly to pitchers as Shiite neighborhoods are to Sunnis in Bagdad.

But McDonald persevered, with the help of pitching coach Charley Hough, and lowered his ERA to a respectable 3.95. He only had a 6-7 won-loss mark but fanned 104 batters in just 82 innings (11.4 per nine innings) while walking only 21.

Inland Empire manager Dave Collins said, "He was our most consistent pitcher. No doubt about that. His record wasn't that good because we didn't score a lot of runs for him but I also think in a lot of cases the other guy he was pitching against just brought his 'A' game because he knew he had to."

Then he was promoted to AA Jacksonville where in a much more compatible atmosphere for pitchers, he soared. The righthander posted a 7-2 mark with the Suns, recording a 1.71 ERA and holding batters to a .218 mark. In all, he finished with a combined 13-9, 3.07 with 168 strikeouts (and only 37 walks) in 134 innings.

A remarkable year and more than deserving of LADugout, Dodgers Dugout and the Los Angeles Dodgers Pitcher of the Year Award.

He opened the 2008 season at Jacksonville and was 5-3, 3.19 after 22 starts, working 118.2 innings, allowing 98 hits and fanning 113. Moved to Las Vegas, he got into only five games (four starts) before jumping to Los Angeles. He was 2-1, 3.63, striking out 28 in 22.1 innings for the 51s.

He pitched six scoreless innings for the Dodgers during the regular season, then shut the Phillies down cold in the NLCS, allowing five his and striking out seven in six innings.

Overall he was 7-4 and his ERA of 3.26 was third best in the franchise. He led the all Dodgers minor league pitchers in starts (26) and allowing only 7.34 hits per nine innings; was second in strikeouts (141) and strikeouts per nine innings (9.00) and was ninth in WHIP (walks + hits per nine innings).

He again earned the Dodgers Player of the Year Award and the LADugout and Dodgers Dugout Ben Wade Award as the Pitcher of the Year Award

Charlie Hough enjoyed having McDonald as a student and liked his potential while at Inland Empire. "At 25, he could be a big league pitcher. If everything goes right for him he is 300 to 400 innings away," Hough said. "The biggest thing for him right now is maturing physically to be able to pitch a full season. He has the right makeup and mentality."

James, now 24 has come of age all right and Charlie seems to be right on the money and, depending upon how the stars line up, may even have underestimated the young man by a full season. He'll open the 2009 in Los Angeles in some capacity.

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

His record:

James McDonald

year	team   w-l   era   gm  gs   in   h   bb   so   ave
2003	GCL   2-4   3.33   12   9  49   39   15   47  .289

               ave   obp  gm   ab   r   h 2b 3b hr  bi sb
2004	GCL   .224  .291  46  125  15  28  2  1  0  10  3  
2005	Ogden .229  .312  28   83  12  19  3  1  0   8  3
  Totals      .226  .300  74  208  27  47  5  1  0  18  6  

year	team   w-l   era   gm  gs    in    h  bb   so  ave
2005	Ogden  0-0  1.50   4   0    6    4   2    9  .174 
2006	Colm  5-10  3.98  30  22  142  119  65  146  .229   
2007	InEm   6-7  3.95  16  15   82   79  21  104  .255
	Jack   7-2  1.71  10  10   53   42  16   64  .220 
2008    Jack   5-3  3.19  22  22  119  98   46  113  .227 
      LVegas   2-1  3.63   5   4   22  17    7   28  .200
      L.A.     0-0  0.00   4   0    6   5    1    2  .227 
     PSeason   0-0  0.00   2   0    5   3    2    7  .166      
 Min totals   22-17 3.41  99  82  473 398  172  511  
 MLB totals  0-0   0.00   4   0    6    5    1    2
 Postseason  0-0   0.00   2   0    5    3    2    7