Dodgers Prospect #19 - Xavier Paul

Bad luck continues to follow outfielder Xavier Paul. He had battled problems with his eyes and his back, has had his house blown away in a hurricane and just when he finally get the call up to the Dodgers in 2009, an injury ended his season. Still he is our prospect No. 19.

The Dodgers knew they had a real find when the selected Paul in the fourth round of the 2003 draft. He had been a second-team High School All American after hitting .391 with nine homers; had hit .444 for Team USA at the 2000 Pan-American Games and was with the 2001 Junior National Team that won a gold medal at the World Championships.

He was also a remarkable pitcher in high school, one who threw in the mid-90's, and seriously considered a scholarship to Tulane but his future lay in the outfield as far as L.A. was concerned.

He won 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.

Raptor aficionados still speak in awed tones about the monster home runs he had struck for the Ogden entry in the Pioneer League.

Baseball America rated him the Dodgers seventh best prospect and had the best arm in the system as his second season 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, overshadowing the presence of Matt Kemp.

But then the small, black cloud appeared over his head, filled with rain and lightening. The resulting sequence of events would have battered 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.

"I couldn't see the ball well," he told Bill Shelley. "It seemed like every time I was up, there was an 0-2 count because I couldn't pick it up. I had worn prescription lens previously but had started the year with contacts that seemed to work well. But, after awhile, they weren't helping."

He abandoned the contacts and went back to the lens that he'd used previously. They didn't seem to help that much, either. There were times when he had success but compared to what he'd done before and what he (and the Dodgers) expected of him, they weren't there often enough.

Xavier finished 2004 a pedestrian .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 for the problem so he was fitted with contacts that solved the problem.

Then a back injury slowed him and Hurricane Katrina wiped out his home in Louisiana so his family spent the winter in Tallahassee.

He seemed rejuvenated in 2005 and although he wound up at only .247 with seven homers for Vero, he was much sounder at the plate, banging line drives. He's even too aggressive at times but has quick wrists and strong hands. He showed promising power.

In 2006, he started slowly. Then, buried near the bottom of the Vero batting order, the hits started coming so he began moving up. He ended up in the leadoff spot, not your prototypal guy perhaps for he still has a slashing style at the plate but he began getting on and displaying speed, another asset he possesses.

The difference this time? "I was healthy," he said. "My back didn't bother me. And I was playing every day. After my injury, I'd play a day, then sit. You just can't get anything going that way."

He responded with a .285-13-49 season with 22 stolen bases and He seemed to have worked himself into prospect status again.

He topped that in 2007, playing 118 games at Jacksonville and slashing out 34 extra base hits, knocking in 50 and stealing 17 bases. It seems as if, at 23, he is again on the fast track after various delays.

His 2008 season was the best of his career: a .316 average, including a .336 mark after the all-star break, .370 in August and September and a .336 average with runners in scoring position, 28 doubles, nine home runs and 68 RBI. He set personal records in average, runs (82), hits (140) and doubles (28).

"He is an above-average runner with a plus, plus arm, Assistant GM, Player Development DeJon Watson said, "Being under 6 feet tall and trying to play a corner, I don't know how man of those guys there are out there.

"So we really spent a lot of time with him in center field in 2007 and then he played the entire season at Double-A Jacksonville and played exceptionally well. His routes and his jumps are much better now, but he still has some work to do."

After a sparkling spring in 2009, Paul was presented with the Jim and Dearie Mulvey Award, which is given annually to the top rookie in big league Spring Training as voted on by the coaching staff. The award has been given every year since 1969 (2b Ted Sizemore won) and is named for the former owners who held a share of the Brooklyn Dodgers 1912-1938.

He finished the spring with a .308 average and a .923 OPS, had 20 hits and knocked in 13 runs, tied for fifth on the team. With Ramirez reporting late, Paul played in each of the first dozen games and at one point flirted with a .400 average.

"He's emerged this spring," Manager Joe Torre said. "He's played a lot more. He just does a lot of different things. He's very aggressive in the outfield and at the plate. I'm very pleased with what I saw. Last year, he caught our attention a little, but we're taking it more seriously. Even if he doesn't leave with us, he'll be on our minds if something crops up, as it does, during the season."

"You know, if I haven't learned anything else in six years in the Minor Leagues, I've learned not to worry about things I can't control," said Paul. "As long as I'm on the field, I'll play hard. They'll make their decisions."

He blazed out to a quick start in 2009 at Albuquerque, hitting .328 over the first 31 games and then was called up May 7 when Manny Ramirez was suspended. He collected his first major league home run as a pinch-hitter at Florida and was 3-for-7 as a pinch hitter before being injured.

While diving for a ball, he scraped his leg, developed a staph infection and was moved onto the disabled list on May 22. There he stayed for the remainder of the season.

With the trade of Juan Pierre to the White Sox, Paul will battle Jason Repko for the fourth outfield slot in the spring. And with only one more year on Ramirez's contract, a permanent outfield opening will appear in 2011.

After pushing the boulder to the top of the mountain each season like Sisyphus, only to see it roll back down, it seems as if, at 25, he is finally poised on the brink of realizing his dream.

His record:

Xavier Paul

year  team          ave   obp   ops    g   ab   r   h   2b 3b hr  bi  sb
2003  Ogden        .307  .384  .875   69  264  60   81  15  6  7  47  11
2004  Colum	   .262  .341  .749  128  465  69  122  26  6  9  72  10
2005  VBeach       .247  .328  .720   85  288  42   71  15  3  7  41   1
2006  VBeach       .285  .343  .773  120  470  62  134  23  3 13  49  22
2007  Jack	   .291  .366  .795  118  422  64  123  21  2 11  50  17  
2008  LVegas       .316  .348  .841  115  443  82  140  28  5  9  68  17 
2009  L.A.         .214  .500  .813   11   14   3    3   1  0  1   1   0    
   Albuque         .328  .378  .878   31  116  13   38  10  2  2  16   8
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 Totals MiL	   .286  .357  .790  664 2347 392 809 138 27 58 343  80
 Totals MLB        .214  .500  .813   11   14   3   3   1  0  1   1   0	   

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