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June 3, 2003
LOS ANGELES--The Dodgers scored potentially one of their best draft hauls in years last season with a high school-flavored strategy.
They went for the teenager route again this year, topped by promising pitchers in the first three rounds. But scouting director Logan White prefers not to lead mislead anyone.
"People think I'm a high school guy," White said of the Dodgers' trend in his first two seasons coming over from Baltimore. "They always ask me if I'm a college guy or high school guy. We're an equal opportunity organization. The truth of the matter is, we draft who we think is the best available player."
And the Dodgers concluded righthander Chad Billingsley fulfilled the need in the first round. The 24th overall pick from Defiance (Ohio) High, Billingsley was one of the aces of USA Baseball's junior national team along with Marlins first-rounder Jeff Allison.
Billingsley suffered a football-related ruptured spleen injury early in his high school career. But the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder reminds White, at least physically, of Hall of Famer and original Dodgers draft pick Tom Seaver.
"He's got a power pitching arm," White said, noting Billingsley's velocity tops out at 95. But what intrigued the Dodgers as much was his command. "He has a major league curveball right now and a hard slider that comes in at 83-84. He's a guy that's very advanced who knows how to pitch."
White defended taking Billingsley in the first round in an era when many organizations are reluctant to draft a high school pitcher in the first round. A safer bet has been selecting polished, more mature college pitchers or position players.
The Dodgers came up big with the latter notion last year with sweet-swinging Texas prep first baseman James Loney.
"It most definitely can be a risk," White said of using early-round picks on high school prospects. "I think when it comes to high school players, they have a chance to improve in a hurry or get worse in a hurry."
The lefthanders the Dodgers chose after Billingsley, local product Chuck Tiffany of Charter Oak High in Covina, Calif., and Texas prep Cory Van Allen, were selected with the idea they can move quickly through the system.
Billingsley has a scholarship offer to play at South Carolina but said he's always dreamed of pitching in the big leagues. The Dodgers figure why not start him on his way now rather than draft him after three years of college baseball? That philosophy led the Dodgers to take 16 high school players among their first 20.
"We had a chance to get a power arm in the first round," White said. "What we got is a great kid who's a competitor."