Hawaii Winter Baseball Feature: Dexter Fowler
See also: Previous Hawaii Winter Notebook
HONOLULU--Since the season opener when he went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and made several nice catches in center field, Waikiki BeachBoys' center fielder Dexter Fowler has impressed just about everyone in Hawaii Winter Baseball.
"I like all his tools," said North Shore Honu hitting coach Mike Lum, recently promoted to hitting coach for the Brewers.
"He's just an exciting player," said Honolulu Sharks manager Gary Kendall, manager at low Class A Delmarva during the regular season.
Most impressed is his manager for Waikiki, Lenn Sakata, manager of the Giants' high Class A team in San Jose.
"He's well-above average defensively," Sakata said. "He's close to being a major league outfielder. He's still learning and he's young. He swings well from both sides of the plate and he's pretty even from both sides. There's a lot of upside.
"That's the thing that impresses me about him is that he's going to get better and he's pretty good already. His swing is kind of long and wild (and) that has to be tightened up. He has to use the strike zone better. He's a big guy, so he's probably going to fill in and become a power guy. That's a five-tool player. It's hard to say that and be definitive about it. But he's close to being a five-tool guy.”
The Rockies prospect is among the league's leading hitters at near the halfway point of the of the 40-game HWB season. His .288 batting average ranked seventh in a league dominated by pitching, especially from the Japanese, who occupy five of the top eight earned run averages in the league. (The Japanese players, in general, are older and have more years of pro ball experience, noted coaches and managers.)
Fowler is tied for third with 11 RBIs, is fifth in on-base percentage at .390, third in slugging at .439 and tied for the lead with two others with seven extra-base hits.
In only his second year of pro ball since slipping to Colorado in the 14th round out of high school in Alpharetta, Ga., in 2004, Fowler has opened eyes. He batted .296 with 31 doubles, six triples, eight home run and 46 RBIs, while scoring 92 runs and stealing 43 bases at low Class A Asheville is the South Atlantic League, where Lum saw him quite often.
"He has a lot of tools," Lum said. "When you look at these young players with tools and they have the desire to play, you know those guys are going to become big league players because they will develop."
And only more at-bats and increased innings on defense will allow Fowler to sharpen his skills. That is the main reason he is spending the fall in Hawaii. Not that he minds.
"I tried a little surfing," he said. "Still trying to get a hang of that. We went body surfing. It's been fun out here. I'm having a lot of fun."
But, of course, he knows when it's time to play and time to work. He said he wants to improve his base stealing, as he has discovered that speed alone doesn't guarantee a swipe. He was caught 23 times last season.
"Really, I've just been running," he admitted. "I need to work on the times to go and (on) my jumps. Reading pitchers and situations."
"That will come with experience," Lum said.
Another reason he is here is to refine his swing. Two years ago, the natural righthanded hitter took up switch-hitting at the advice of Bill Geivett, the Rockies assistant GM and VP of baseball operations.
"I was fooling around in the cage and our roaming hitting guy saw me," Fowler said. "Bill Geivett called me into his office and said that's what the organization wanted me to do."
Fowler's first year of pro ball was as good a time as any to learn, Geivett said. Being that he is still 20 years old, Fowler has time on his side to refine his swings.
"There were some issues with his righthanded swing," Geivett said. "Since we had to work with his right side, we said why not try switch hitting and do work on his left side, too. Plus, he showed some aptitude early that he could handle it."
It's easy to see why the Rockies like Fowler's makeup. He appears to be a quick study, and he takes instruction well. He was good enough to get a baseball scholarship to Miami and draw interest from Ivy League schools to play basketball. Fowler, a projected early-round pick in 2004, said he was told he wasn't taken until the 14th round because of his scholarship to play for the Hurricanes. But the Rockies gave him $925,000, which equates to slot money for a first-round supplemental pick.
"Of course (my parents) wanted me to go to college, but they wanted whatever was best for me," Fowler said. "I'd promise them I'd go back to school and get my diploma. But I told them I really wanted to play baseball and if I get the right opportunity, I'd go play. I was projected (as a) first round (pick). That's what I heard. I just asked for first-round money. I'm pleased. It couldn't be with a better organization."
Although not in school, Fowler still shows a willingness to learn things outside of baseball. Since the players have at least two days off each week, he took an off day to visit the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. His grandfather was a survivor of the attack on Dec. 7, 1941.
"I definitely got chills when I was walking through there," he said. "You see valor up there. Your whole body gets numb."
• Cubs catcher Michael Barrett
will hold a free youth clinic Nov. 4 and 5 at Hans L'Orange Park. League officials said Barrett enjoyed his experience in the first winter league (1996 with the Honolulu Sharks and 1997 with the West Oahu CaneFires) and that he wanted to give back to the community.
• Former big league outfielder Brett Butler
, who will manage at Double-A Mobile in the Diamondbacks organization, was in Hawaii at Hans L’Orange Park and Les Murakami Stadium to check out the action last week.