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Dunedin Duo Provides Future Power For Cubs
By Jim Callis
Unquestionably, the Cubs are Jim Hendry’s team. His two full seasons as general manager were the club’s first consecutive winning years since 1967-72. As the former farm director and scouting director, he has had a hand in acquiring or developing virtually every player who will play for Chicago this season. Yet in a couple of years, Hendry figures to be only the third-most-powerful Dunedin (Fla.) High alumnus on the Cubs.
First baseman Brian Dopirak and right fielder Ryan Harvey can punish pitches like few players in the minors. Hendry concedes they have a bit more pop than he showed at Dunedin in the early 1970s.
“My power was nonexistent,” Hendry says with a laugh. “You’re talking about a guy who hit maybe five or six homers his entire life after Little League. Those guys have unbelievable power. They’re a lot better than the GM was.”
Power To Spare
Dopirak and Harvey first played together on a youth team for 11- and 12-year olds in 1996. “He was a foot taller than everyone else, 6 feet tall at age 12,” Harvey says. “He was hitting tape-measure shots through car windows back then.”
“He was a stud back then, too,” Dopirak says. “He played shortstop and he could play anywhere you put him.”
They weren’t reunited until the spring of 2000. Dopirak played his freshman year at Palm Harbor (Fla.) High before transferring to Dunedin, where Harvey was a freshman. In their three years together, the Falcons went 81-9 and won three district championships. In 2002, Dunedin won its first 32 games before losing 3-1 in the state 4-A semifinals.
“Brian just hit some mammoth homers,” says Dunedin coach Tom Hilbert. “Ryan hit some big home runs, too. They’re both just ungodly skilled athletes.”
Dopirak tied Dunedin’s home run record of seven as a sophomore and a junior, then shattered it with 11 as a senior. Some of his shots have become legend. One time, he got ahead 3-0 in the count, and the pitcher laid in a waist-high fastball right down the middle. Dopirak smoked a liner that was still rising as it carried over the lights in left-center. He also cleared the batter’s eye—410 feet from home plate—a few times.
Though Dopirak was considered the best power hitter in the 2002 draft, he wasn’t a consensus first-rounder. Some clubs didn’t like his swing, some thought he was too stiff and some were turned off by his tattoos. The Cubs got him in the second round with the 56th overall choice.
“He had a short swing for a big guy, bat speed and obvious power,” says Indians scout Mike Soper, the Cubs’ East Coast crosschecker at the time. “Some guys had a concern that he was stiff, but I didn’t see that. I saw a loose swing. There was stiffness to his defense, but not in the batter’s box.”
Harvey, by contrast, was considered a lock first-rounder for 2003. Teams preferred him as a hitter, but he also could have been a high pick as a 6-foot-5 righthander who threw in the low 90s. His future got cloudier, however, at a showcase in November 2002. Running after a blooper in right field, Harvey collided with the center fielder and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Harvey worked religiously and returned in April, two months before the draft. Though his knee wasn’t 100 percent, he showed enough for the Devil Rays to make him one of three candidates for the No. 1 overall pick. In a workout at Tropicana Field, Harvey drilled one ball more than halfway up the Batter’s Eye Restaurant in center field. Tampa Bay decided to take Delmon Young instead, and the Cubs were elated to get Harvey with the sixth choice.
Mutual Admiration Society
After quiet starts to their professional careers, both Dopirak and Harvey unleashed their power in 2004. Dopirak hit 39 homers to finish third in the minors and three shy of the low Class A Midwest League record. He also batted .307 and topped the MWL with 166 hits, 38 doubles, 77 extra-base hits and 321 total bases, winning the league MVP and the Cubs’ minor league player of the year awards. He more than held his own against advanced competition in the Arizona Fall League, where his seven homers were one off the league lead.
Harvey, who played sparingly in his first pro summer while still nursing his knee back to health, hit .268 with 14 homers at short-season Boise. He added four more longballs in three games to carry the Hawks to the Northwest League championship.
They still need to improve their plate discipline, while Dopirak is trying to polish his defense and Harvey has further adjustments to make against pro pitching. But at their ages—Dopirak is 21, Harvey 20—they have plenty of time to do so.
They have yet to play together in pro ball, and probably won’t this year, with Dopirak ticketed for either high Class A Daytona or Double-A West Tenn, and Harvey headed to low Class A Peoria. So it may not be until they get to Chicago that the question as to who has more power is resolved.
“Personally, I think he does,” Harvey says, “but I think it’s real close.”
“It’s a tossup,” Dopirak says. “He can hit a baseball just as far as I can. I can hit a baseball just as far as he can.”
Otherwise, they have few equals.