Dodgers draft preview

Dodgers won't be deterred by late pick

LOS ANGELES -- Offseason roster maneuvering by general manager Paul DePodesta has left Dodger scouting director Logan White with fewer picks in the upcoming First-Year Player Draft than recent years, but not less work to do.

"Hopefully, we'll continue to do as good a job after the 10th round as we have in the past," said White, who took top third-base prospect Andrew LaRoche in the 39th round in 2003 and surprising catching prospect Russell Martin in the 17th round in 2002.

"You look at the way they've progressed, they're like first-round picks. It's easy to focus on the biggest names and lose touch with good players down the line."

The Dodgers' first-round pick in this year's June 7-8 draft (No. 26 overall) went to the Boston Red Sox as compensation for signing free-agent pitcher Derek Lowe. For losing free agent Adrian Beltre to Seattle, the Dodgers received the Mariners' second-round pick (No. 53), because a team drafting in the top half of the draft cannot lose its first-round pick. And the Dodgers retained their second-round pick (No. 76).

"We've always had a first-round pick the other three years I've been here, but that said, I don't mind trading one for Derek Lowe," said White. "And in my opinion, if you're not going to have a first-rounder, this is a good year. The talent level for players that would be there when we'd pick isn't quite what we've seen in the past."

White said this year's draft shapes up as an equal mix of college and high school talent, particularly deep in third basemen.

"There are decent position players at the college level that will be selected early, while, as a whole, the high school players are what I call tools players with chances for a decent number of misses," he said.

White has three choices in the first 76 this year, but none until No. 40, the sandwich pick between the first and second round that was additional compensation for losing Beltre. Last year, the Dodgers had four choices in the first 58.

"I've got less margin for error this year," he said. "I still think you need the same strategy, in that you target players you like and figure out who will be there, which means sometimes you might take the 53rd player 40th and the 40th player 53rd, depending on the other teams you think are on the player. We did that last year with Scott Elbert (17th) and Justin Orenduff (33rd)."

White said the club is attempting to sign one draft-and-follow from last year, 33rd-round pick James Gilbert, a right-handed pitcher from Chabot College, who was clocked at 97 mph this spring but has since required Tommy John elbow reconstruction.

White's three Dodger drafts have been ranked second, first and fourth in the Major Leagues by Baseball America, in part because he doesn't run with the pack. He'll roll the dice on a rehab project like Gilbert or lobby ownership to reallocate financial resources to land a player believed by others to be unsignable.

That was the case with LaRoche, who is absolutely tearing up the Florida State League. The son of former Major Leaguer Dave LaRoche and brother of Atlanta Brave Adam LaRoche, he certainly had the bloodlines, but appeared headed to Rice University when the Dodgers selected him in 2003.

"Normally, a 39th-round pick will get a $1,000 bonus and he isn't going to make it, but anybody who's seen how LaRoche has progressed realizes he would have been one of the top 15 players had he entered the draft the following year," White said.

LaRoche signed for $1 million.

"It's a way to get an extra first-round pick every year, because there's one or two players who are tough signs that get overlooked and if you've got the budget, you can make something happen," he said.

What the industry has observed happening with White's drafts is the restocking of the Dodger farm system with talent that will arrive on the Major League level sooner than later.

It has come to the surprise of many who believed White would be the first casualty after the arrival of DePodesta, whose reputation for preferring college-level draftees supposedly was at odds with White's history of selecting high-ceiling high school prospects.

"I think the whole industry has gotten past that," said White. "Paul and I realize what each of us brings to the table. We have an even better relationship this year than last year. This has been better than anybody expected. He likes to get involved and I don't mind that. Because it's never been, 'Hey, take this guy.' If he did that, I wouldn't do this job. But I'm real happy with the way it's working."

Here are the Dodgers' top picks in the last three drafts and how they're doing:

Scott Elbert, LHP, 2004, Pick #17: After a season of adjustment at Rookie level Ogden last year, he's putting it together at Columbus in the South Atlantic League this year. He's striking out more than a batter an inning and allowing only six hits per nine innings.

Chad Billingsley, RHP, 2003, Pick #24: After going 4-0 in a late callup to Jacksonville last year, he's been hit there a bit more this year, which should temper the temptation to rush him. He was the organization's pitcher of the year in 2004 and at 20 hasn't done anything to tarnish that reputation.

James Loney, 1B, 2002, Pick #19: After struggling through an injury-plagued 2004 season, he still hasn't put it together offensively this year, despite a return to the same Double-A level. Has yet to answer questions about power at a position where it is expected.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.