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Background: More than a few eyes were raised when the 20-year-old Dawkins was named to Team USA for the Pan American Games last July, with a berth in the 2000 Sydney Olympics on the line. Why put a Midwest League shortstop hardly two years removed from a rural South Carolina high school program on the field with the Cubans and professionals from other countries? No worry, as they would say in Australia. Dawkins was more than up to it, providing flawless fielding and timely hitting as the Americans finished second. By September, Dawkins was in Cincinnati watching the pennant race and learning from 10-time all-star Barry Larkin. Strengths: Dawkins' fielding tools are what made him a second-round pick in 1997 and what get noticed first today. He is relatively tall and rangy for a shortstop but has a little man's quickness and balance. Dawkins' hands are soft and sure and he has the arm strength to make the off-balance throw and get runners from the hole. Dawkins' quick feet translate into a 3.9-4.0 runner to first base from the right side and he has a chance to steal 40 bases a year in the major leagues. The big difference in Dawkins from 1998 to 1999, according to Reds officials, was just physical maturity and strength. He went from a hitter who just tried to make contact against decent fastballs to a stronger hitter with the bat speed to drive plus velocity fastballs. Dawkins has always had good command of the strike zone and rarely strikes out. Weaknesses: Defensively, Dawkins is ready to play in the big leagues now. At the plate, the Reds feel that Dawkins needs to look to drive pitches more when the count is in his favor instead of just feeling for them. That's a mental adjustment that goes in hand with being physically stronger. The Future: "Gookie" has the same Gold Glove potential as Pokey Reese but a far higher offensive ceiling. Larkin is showing signs of his age in the field, but his offensive ability and leadership guarantee that he will play somewhere. That situation will continue to evolve, as will Dawkins' swing and strength.
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