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Arizona Fall League Notebook
By Jack Magruder
PEORIA, Ariz.--In his protection year, Pirates outfield prospect Nate McLouth played himself into a much more exclusive club.
McLouth was a party of one in 2004, the only player in minor league baseball with at least 40 doubles and 30 stolen bases.
The only major leaguers to reach that plateau were Philadelphia teammates Bobby Abreu and Jimmy Rollins, in a season that is about 15 percent longer.
McLouth hit .322-8-73 with 40 doubles and 31 stolen bases at Double-A Altoona, leading the Eastern League in doubles and finishing among the top five in the league in average and stolen bases. He will conclude his season with the Peoria Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League.
A 25th-round draft pick out of Whitehall (Mich.) High in 2000, McLouth nearly attended Michigan before the Pirates lured him away with a $500,000 signing bonus. McLouth, who turns 23 on Thursday, has shown the combination of gap power and speed that would seem to render the question of his protection on the Pirates' 40-man roster this winter moot.
"He has a knack of putting the ball in play with some authority," said John Russell, the Saguaros' bench coach and the third-base coach for the parent Pirates in the last two seasons. "He can get the ball deep in the gaps. He can hit the ball and get in areas of ballpark where he is going to create extra-base hits, and that's what you look for, especially from top of the order guys."
McLouth batted third and played mostly right field for Altoona this summer, and his speed and approach make him a fit as a possible No. 1 or No. 2 hitter. His on-base percentage has been above .380 in each of his last two seasons, and he has nearly as many walks (103) as strikeouts (130) in that span.
"I hate striking out. Who likes striking out? Might as well do it as little as possible, if it is something you can do," McLouth said.
The 5-foot-11, 186-pound McLouth has drawn comparisons to Len Dykstra in the past for his physical appearance, but also for his scrappy style of play. Listen to Russell, and he could be talking about his fellow former Phillie as much as McLouth.
"The biggest thing is that he works his at-bats and he will work a walk. Those are the kinds of guys you like up there," Russell said.
"He is kind of a manager's player, as far as going out and playing hard. He's a baseball guy. You can tell that he pays attention to the game. He likes to work on the little things. He's a guy who can handle the bat. He can bunt. He can hit some balls in the gaps. He does a nice job in the outfield. I guess one of the things you come out with, he's scrappy and works hard."
Those are hardly McLouth's only selling points, however.
While he played primarily in the right corner spot in Altoona, he has the arm, speed and range to play all three outfield positions. He played some center in Altoona and will also play there at times in the Fall League.
"He's a fun player to watch,” Russell said. "He's not the big strong guy or the No. 1 pick, the guy who you are going to look at and say, 'This guy is a bonus player.' He's worked for everything he's gotten. He goes out and does it right."
McLouth had to repeat high Class A in 2002 and 2003, but otherwise his career has continued a steady trajectory upwards. He set career highs in 2004 in average, doubles and RBIs while leading the EL in runs (93) and hits (166). He has amassed solid .291/.368/.433 career numbers in the minors over 1,699 at-bats.
"I try to come with the same approach every day and that's the main thing, staying with your approach, no matter what the pitcher is trying to do to you," McLouth said. "Being consistent in what you are trying to do and not deviating from that. I just try to hit the ball where it is pitched.
"Nothing was given to me. I had to prove myself at every level. So far I've done that. Being the type of season it is, such a long season and such a grind, that you have to take it day by day. If you try to do too much one day, then that's when you start going bad and that's when stuff just starts snowballing. You have to take a day-by-day approach and go out there do what you can do every single day."
• The Fall League is testing a rule designed to speed up play this season, called the "batter's box rule." A batter must have at least one foot in the batter's box at all times during his at-bat, with limited exceptions. For example, if a pitcher leaves the dirt area around the mound, the batter may step out. He also may leave the box if there is a wild pitch or passed ball, or after attempting to bunt.
• Phoenix Desert Dogs third baseman Mark Teahen (Royals) had a hit and was walked four times, scoring three runs, in an 11-1 victory over the Mesa Solar Sox on Saturday while concluding a prosperous week. Teahen (.417-0-5) had two hits Friday against the Solar Sox in a 4-2 loss, rapped three hits in a rain-shortened 5-4 loss Thursday to the Peoria Javelinas, and had two hits in a 10-run fifth inning in a 12-8 victory Wednesday against the Javelinas. Teahen, acquired by the Royals from the Athletics in the three-team deal that sent Carlos Beltran to the Astros, was hitting .432-0-6 with three doubles and three triples in his first 37 at-bats.
• Scottsdale righthanded reliever Todd Coffey (Reds) did not allow a run in his first 11 innings while going 3-0. He gave up two hits and walked two while striking out five in the stretch. Coffey, whose fastball reaches 95 mph, was 5-1, 3.05 with 24 saves at two levels this summer, with 64 strikeouts and just six walks in 59 innings.
• Peoria Saguaros righthander Jeff Miller (Pirates) did not allow an earned run or a walk in his first eight innings, giving up three hits while striking out nine. Miller, a 15th-round pick in 2001 out of New Orleans, had 18 saves and held opponents to a .198 batting average at Altoona this summer.