Prospect #2 - RHP Chris Withrow

There seems to be a dark cloud hanging over the Dodgers' draft picks. Some flared brightly and then faded; Bobby Valentine, Greg Miller, Jason Repko, Darren Dreifort, Steve Howe. Some drafted by the Dodgers hit their peak with other clubs: John Franco, Rick Sutcliffe, Paul Konerko, Pedro Martinez and a number of them just never reached the expected heights.

Some feared that Chris Withrow and Ethan Martin would make one of the above lists. However, they both bounced back in 2009 and will hopefully enjoy a strong Major League

In 2009, Withrow, the Dodgers First selection in the 2007 draft, finally got to pitch a complete season. At Inland Empire he was 6-6, 4.69, working in 19 games, 16 of them starts, and allowed only 80 hits in 86.1 innings, walking 45 and striking out 115. Moving on to Double-A Chattanooga, he seemed to have not problem with the promotion.

He finished second in the franchise in hits allowed per nine innings (7.65) and was also second with 131 strikeouts and in strikeouts per nine innings (10.80).

Withrow won the Dodger Pride Award in April, going 2-1 with a 4.26 ERA (10 ER/19.0 IP) in four appearances (three starts). ... he struck out 28 in his 10.0 innings, including 10 strikeouts in 5.0 innings on April 22 vs. Lancaster (Astros).

His expertise was apparent at a young age and it began with his father Mike, who was a standout pitcher for the University of Texas. Mike seemed on his way to the big leagues, too, but after reaching Double A, he blew out his shoulder and that was it as far as his playing the game was concerned.

He went back to Texas, but as soon son Chris was old enough to toddle, he was out tossing a ball around with his dad. And Mike has remained his mentor as well as to countless other kids in the area.

Not that Chris was always a pitcher. For a time he was a catcher among other positions. He's always been able to swing a bat quite well -- well enough that more than one scout talked about drafting him as a position player because they thought he could hit his way to the big leagues.

Chris was playing on a summer team when the head coach was offered the job at Midland Christian in the nearby town. He asked Mike, who had been helping out, to join him as his pitching coach. In turn they asked Chris to consider transferring there.

"It was a very tough decision to make, "Chris recalls, "because it meant leaving all my friends. I finally decided to do it and it turned out to be the best decision I ever made."

So, began a ritual of rising around five each morning for the 20-minute drive across the plains of West Texas to Midland.

He developed to become the best pitcher in the area, then one of the best in the state and finally one of the best in the nation. The scouts were out in force but he had no idea that the Dodgers would be the team that would ultimately select him. "I talked to a number of team but don't recall talking to the Dodgers before the draft. Maybe they talked to my agent but not to me."

Before the draft he had accepted a scholarship to Baylor, which he said was no ploy. "It was a very real option. We set our sights high. I value the college experience and I'm sorry I'll miss it."

The Dodgers made him their choice. Despite the scholarship he signed for $1,350,000. The Dodgers received a 6-3, 200-pounder with a projectable body, just the kind of player the team has traditionally selected since Logan White took over as director of scouting in 2002.

He threw mid-90s with a smooth delivery, thanks to his father. Withrow's curve showed considerable promise.

He didn't pitch much all that much for the Gulf Coast Dodgers in 2007, working six games, four of them starts, but really had only one shaky outing, thus his record of 0-0, 5.00 ERA. He dropped out of the rotation for awhile to do some adjusting and when he came back he was just fine.

He only worked two innings in the playoffs against the Yankees but in those he threw 98 and was unhittable as the Dodgers won their only game in the three-game set.

He was not as refined as Kershaw was at this stage, one scout said, "but he reminds one of how Billingsley threw early in his career. Maybe even better."

Another reported: "Athletic pitcher with plus velocity, command and ability to dominate. Advanced for his age, pitching like a veteran by mixing his pitched and working to hitter's weaknesses. May not project more velocity, but getting stronger could allow him to maintain it longer."

He was chosen for the Instructional League in Arizona. "Another experience I liked," he says. "Meeting a new set of teammates, playing in a different part of the country. For that I'd like to thank all my coaches."

"I think learning to pitch every five days is one of the toughest parts because we didn't do that. And you learn in a hurry that you just can't throw your fast ball up there because everybody here can hit a fast ball. You have to keep it low and learn to hit spots."

Then the black cloud-thing rolled in. In 2008 his spring was delayed because of a bizarre injury -- a cut suffered while handling a snorkeling mask. When he was about ready to return, he was sidelined with a sore elbow that kept him out until July.

Obviously, the Dodgers weren't going to take any chances with their first-rounder, but this wasn't a case of an organization being overly cautious. Withrow needed to shut it down for as long as he did to ensure his health, both short- and long-term.

"It doesn't matter what round he was taken in, or how old he is, if he's hurting and not feeling good, you need to shut him down," Dodgers Farm Director De Jon Watson said. "It's a tough game to play even when you're feeling good. You want him to be in the best possible condition to be able to compete. I trust our medical staff and base it on their recommendations. We'll sit down and talk about it and go from there."

So Withrow spent most of the year rehabbing in Inland Empire. It is unusual for a teenager on the disabled list to spend his time at that level, but it worked well. First, there was the weather. Inland Empire's warm weather is more helpful to a sore elbow than perhaps Great Lakes would have been. Second, former Dodger Charlie Hough is one of the best pitching coaches in the franchise and the Dodgers are comfortable with him working with their top arms.

"Charlie is one of our best instructors," Watson said. "It's a benefit for both sides. It was a good league for him to be in."

Withrow did make four relief appearances near the end of the season, allowing two runs on two hits and six walks over four innings. From there, he was in good enough shape to participate almost fully in instructional league play last fall.

His fastball again touched 98. And his two seamer has considerable sink in on a right handed batter. He has the feel for both his curve and change but they are still a work in progress.

"It's a question of how he comes in and how he competes," Watson said. "Coming into spring, if he's healthy and good to go he's got a chance to start with Chattanooga."

Perhaps in 2010 the dark clouds have drifted off and the exciting young pitcher will get a chance in he bright sunshine to really demonstrate his talents.

Chris Withrow
Throws- right Bats- right
Height- 6-3 Weight- 195
Born- April 1, 1989 in Austin, Texas
Obtained- First selection (20th overall) in the 2007 draft

year  team   w-l  era   gm  gs   in    h  bb  so  whip  
2007  GCLg   0-0  5.00   6   4   9.0   5   4  13  1.00
2008  IEmp   0-0  4.50   4   0   4.0   2   6   1  2.00  
2009  IEmp   6-8  3.87  19  16  86.1  80  45 105  1.45  
      Chat   2-2  3.95   6   6  27.1  24  12  26  1.33
Totals      8-10  4.55  29  20 130.2  87  55 119  1.31 

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