Growth Spurt Left Aude Head and Shoulders Above the Rest

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Rich Aude did not bowl over professional baseball scouts during his career at Chatsworth High.

He grew on them.

Last year as a junior, Aude was a 6-foot-1 designated-hitter and part-time second baseman because, admittedly, he wasn’t good enough to supplant Joel Wolfe at third base.

Today, Aude is 6-5 and 185 pounds of developing muscle.

On June 5, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Aude in the second round of the amateur draft--he was the 48th pick overall--projecting him as a third baseman, first baseman or outfielder in Three Rivers Stadium.


“He’s a big kid that’s long and lean with a lot of room to physically mature and get stronger,” said Cam Bonifay, the Pirates’ director of scouting. “We feel like he’s going to be a big man with fine body control who could develop into a power hitter.”

Exactly where, and for whom, Aude, 17, does his developing remains to be seen.

The Pirates have visited the Aude home three times bearing offers that have fallen substantially short of the six-figure bonus Aude reportedly is seeking.

Meanwhile, Al Ferrer, the baseball coach at UC Santa Barbara, holds a signed letter of intent from Aude, who says he’s prepared to hit the beach if the Pirates don’t make the right pitch.

“I figure I’m in the driver’s seat,” Aude said this week. “I’ll just hold out until I get what I want or I’ll go to Santa Barbara.”

Interesting phrasing coming from Aude, who has neither found the need to obtain a driver’s license nor been a particular fan of academic pursuits.

“I hate studying,” said Aude, who nevertheless met the rigorous academic requirements for acceptance to the University of California system. “It’s because I’m lazy I guess. I’ve never liked school.”


Other than baseball, Aude says he doesn’t have a long list of interests. However, a well-rounded background never has been a necessary ingredient for success on the baseball field, especially while navigating through the minor leagues. In fact, Aude’s single-mindedness and even demeanor are attributes that will probably help him cope with the day-in, day-out schedule of professional baseball--whether he begins his pro career now or a few years later.

“He has the ability,” Chatsworth Coach Bob Lofrano said. “You hate to use the word potential, but you have to use it with him.”

For proof, just look at Aude’s past two seasons.

In 1988, he batted .286 as the Chancellors’ designated-hitter. Over the summer, however, something clicked in Aude’s pituitary gland. He returned for fall workouts taller and stronger.

“They leave in June and come back different, physically, in the fall,” Lofrano said. “That’s the fun thing about coaching at the the high school level.”

This season, playing third base, Aude batted .455 with six home runs and led Valley-area City Section players with 39 runs batted in. He also stole 16 bases.

Aude will put those skills on display today in the 13th Bernie Milligan All-Star game at Cal State Northridge at 4:15 p.m.


“I’ve always known I was a good player,” Aude said. “I suddenly just came into my own this year. I just got faster, my arm got better and I got bigger and started to hit.”

He also got the opportunity to play every day, something Wolfe had prevented before leaving Chatsworth for UCLA.

Aude also was able to draw on the experience he gained during the off-season playing for a Lofrano-run team of Valley-area high school players that scrimmaged against college teams.

“You could see the confidence building,” Lofrano said. “The light goes on inside the head of a kid that makes him say, ‘I can play with these guys.’ ”

Finally, Aude refined his swing into a power stroke with the help of former Chatsworth assistant Joe Koh.

“With his long arms and quickness I knew I had something special,” said Koh, who recently was named head coach at L. A. Baptist High. “But when we first started working together he hit like he had half the arm length he has.


“We worked on just getting extended. He’s never had a bad swing, it was just a case of nurturing it and getting it to a level above everyone else.”

Before the season, Eric Johnson, Derek Wallace and Jason Evans were the names that came up most often when coaches discussed the Chancellors. Aude’s name, however, came up first during the draft, and he became the highest Chatsworth player ever drafted; Dwight Evans was a fifth-round draft choice of the Boston Red Sox in 1969.

Aude’s only regret is that Chatsworth never got an opportunity to play for the City Section 4-A Division title at Dodger Stadium. The Chancellors lost in the semifinals three years in a row.

“I had three chances to get to Dodger Stadium and never made it,” Aude said.

If Aude and the Pirates come to terms, perhaps he’ll get his chance.