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Jennings Makes Prospects Look Bad for Angels

Times Staff Writer

The Angels had this prospect in double A last season. Maybe the kid wasn’t quite ready for the big leagues, but he had a minor league season to remember at Midland, Tex., in 1987.

He tied for the Texas League high in homers with 30, finished fourth in RBIs (104), third in runs scored (106) and fourth in batting average (.338).

Pretty memorable numbers. Funny thing is, the Angels forgot about Doug Jennings. They left him unprotected, and Oakland picked Jennings in the 1987 major-league draft last December.

Saturday night at Anaheim Stadium, the Angels could find no humor in their off-season oversight. Jennings picked up his first major league hit and it was just this little bases-loaded, pinch-hit, three-run double in the eighth inning that turned the game around as the A’s rallied for an 8-6 victory over the Angels.

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Oops.

Under the regulations of Rule 5, the minor league rule that allows organizations to protect just 40 players, a team selecting an unprotected player must keep him on their major league roster all year or offer him back to his original club.

“Considering the numbers I put up, yeah, I was a little surprised when I found out the Angels left me unprotected,” Jennings said. “But I was happy when I found out that Oakland had selected me because I figured it meant I’d get a good opportunity to make the big league club this spring.”

But Oakland Manager Tony LaRussa said Jenning’s status as a Rule 5 player has nothing to do with his spot on the A’s roster.

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“We think we have as good a chance to win this division as anyone, and we’re not going to use a spot on our roster for adding a prospect to the organization,” LaRussa said. “Everybody on this club has a role, and coming off the bench is part of Doug’s role.”

The Angels got pitcher Joe Johnson from Toronto under the same rule and had to inform the Blue Jays before sending him to Edmonton when he failed to make the Angels’ 24-man roster. Toronto refused the offer.

The Angels probably wouldn’t pass up another shot at Jennings. Not after they saw the clutch shot he delivered off DeWayne Buice in the eighth inning, anyway.

Buice, whose locker was ransacked by a mischievous teammate before the game, was left in a shambles by the 23-year-old Jennings a few hours later. He got a curveball out over the plate and the 5-foot 10-inch outfielder drilled a bases-clearing double down the right-field line.

“Yeah,” he said, unable to suppress a huge smile, “it’s always special to get a big hit against a team that you played for. I was pretty happy about it . . . to say the least.”

LaRussa had a couple of proven pinch-hitters on his bench--guys such as Don Baylor and Dave Henderson--but he went to the rookie because “he proved all spring he could come in cold and hit the ball.”

Said Jennings: “I wasn’t really surprised he went to me in that situation and I was definitely mentally prepared. Regardless if he went to me or someone else, I was ready. I was loose and I’d been watching Buice pitch.”

He obviously saw that curveball quite well.

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So Jennings’ fifth year in professional baseball is off to a roaring start. He has made the jump from double-A ball to the majors, and he’s with a team that some say should win the division.

“It’s been a thrill,” Jennings said. “There’s so much camaraderie here and the veterans are great. I’m learning so much.”

And Jennings taught the Angels a little lesson Saturday night: Protect your prospects.


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