Dodgers Look Beyond the Numbers with Handke

When the Dodgers drafted Chris Handke out of Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, there were a number of Dodgers aficionados wondering who he was. Normally, a 41st selection doesn't generate that much speculation, but this 6-11 former basketball player could just be something very special.

When you look at his college statistics, right-hander Chris Handke is obviously a work in progress but the Dodgers saw so much potential that they overlooked his relative lack of experience. The 6-11, 235-pounder had great numbers during his junior year at Division III Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, however they were in basketball.

Over the past four seasons, Handke led the team in rebounding, blocked shots and field-goal percentage while earning all-conference honors.

"The Dodgers picked a great kid," Cornell basketball coach Mike DeGeorge said. "He's a guy who is just starting to get comfortable with his frame. It's so much harder for big guys. I'd like to have him for another eight years because he's only going to get better."

In baseball, it was a different matter. Over 10.2 innings for the Rams in his junior season of 2009 he had a 0-1 record and a 15.19 earned run average, walking 12, hitting nine and striking out eight.

"Yeah, saying my junior year didn't go the best would be a bit of an understatement," Handke admitted. "The problem was that I was just too inconsistent. My mechanics weren't very good and as a result my velocity and control varied greatly from outing to outing.  

"I had some very dominating outings where I would look great and some absolutely disastrous outings.  

"I would say that most of the time I was throwing in the Mid 80's.  Luckily though, I had a friend at Perfect Game who suggested I come in for some work there and a few good suggestions in just one session of work there seemed to work miracles and I was suddenly throwing 92-93.

"However, my control was still a little suspect and I had not much experience in repeating that delivery."

Still, he caught the eye of a number of teams but it was the Dodgers who wanted a closer look at him.

It is obvious he would have no trouble learning. He's biochemistry and molecular biology major who is conducting research into Lou Gehrig's disease this summer at Cornell. 

Even though the Dodgers came calling, he wasn't certain he would sign a professional contract.

"I originally didn't think that I would sign because I was close to finishing my degree and finishing my basketball career. I felt that I had made a commitment both to turning around the basketball program at Cornell and to finishing my Biochemistry and Molecular Biology degree and I needed to see it through to the end. It just wouldn't have been right to quit.  

"So, I told the Dodgers how I felt and they, surprisingly, said 'no problem.' They allowed me to finish my degree and finish my basketball career after spending the summer in the AZL, which I understand is pretty rare. 

"After my first two outings in the Arizona Rookie League, it was clear that I needed more work on my mechanics to be able to throw strikes and quality pitches consistently. 

"Luckily though the Dodgers have some great pitching coaches who were all more than willing to work with me and I spent about a month just working on refining and repeating my delivery with them.

"I made some significant strides and was just about to get back into pitching in games when I injured my shoulder that kept me out for the rest of the summer."

Most of the work he did during the summer was on the sideline and he got into only two games late in the season, and struggled, as was expected. He worked a combined 1.1 innings, allowed three hits, walked one, hit a pair of batters and threw a wild pitch while posting a 13.50 ERA.

"Over the off-season I was able to continue working on pitching what little time I could find between a very busy class and basketball schedule and I have continued my work with the pitching coaches again this Spring.  

"It's still kind of a work in progress but the improvement that I've made is pretty evident to anyone who had seen me pitch in the past. 

"But it really couldn't have worked out any better for me because I was able to start receiving the pitching instruction that I needed and still finish my Pre-Med degree so that if baseball doesn't work out I will have plenty of other opportunities.   

"Anyways, my basketball career concluded and I was able to finish my degree in 3.5 years so I was still able to make it back to Arizona in time for Spring Training."

We wondered about his routine during extended spring training, where players who are rehabbing injuries or who are not ready for  full-season competition are conditioned and trained, waiting for the Short-Season rookie seasons to open in June.

But he found the extra preparations anything somewhat boring but necessary.

"In my experience extended spring training has been very similar to regular spring training.  It just gives players who may need a little more work a chance to concentrate on whatever aspect of the game they need to improve without the pressure of performing in a regular season game.   

"A typical week in extended spring training normally consists of 6 training days with an off day on Sunday. We typically get to the ballpark around 6:00 for breakfast. 

"That if followed by more individualized early work where players work in a small group with one of the coaches on a particular area of their game.  

"After, there is a team stretch, throwing program, team oriented fielding drills, and bp.  Then it's time for a short snack and typically there are two games that start at 10:30.  

"After the games we usually eat and lift and then have a baseball history video or talking baseball segment where we learn about the game from the experiences of some of the Dodger legends.

"The repetitiveness of extended Spring Training can definitely get to you especially after going through regular spring training but you just have to realize that it's a necessary part of development for some players.  

"Honestly, the repetitiveness almost serves a motivational purpose in that you have to concentrate on improving so that you can get out of it as soon as possible or so that you don't end up in the same place next year."

We wondered if the Dodgers had mapped out a plan for his career since, at age 22, he was getting a later start than many other players who have had more experience.

"As for what the Dodgers are expecting of me I am not sure but I feel that I do have a couple of things that work to my advantage, even though I am kind of behind the curve.  

"The first is my height (I'm now 6'11"). It is well known that tall pitchers like myself typically take more time to develop and require more patience. I was a particularly late grower growing three inches in college and am still kind of getting used to my body. As a result I may be a little behind now but I have a good work ethic and am willing to put in whatever work necessary so that as I get used to my body and repeating my mechanics I think I can continue to improve pretty quickly."

If they Dodgers have visions of Randy Johnson (who was also 6-1 but left-handed) flashing across their eyes, they are keeping it to themselves. For the record, in his debut at about the same age, Johnson allowed 29 hits and 24 walks in 27 innings for Low-A Jamestown in the NYPL League back in 1985, a little over three years before Handke was born.  

Christopher James Handke  6-10  235  br  tr
Born- March 19, 1988 in Dubuque, Iowa
School- Cornell College, Cornell, Iowa

 Team	         w-l   era  gm  gs  in  h  bb so
AZ Rookie	0-0  13.50  2   0  1.1  3  1  0