Advertisement

This Left-Hander Is Under the Gun : College baseball: Major league scouts are eager to get a reading on UCLA’s Dave Zancanaro.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are times when it looks as though a military platoon has been assigned to Jackie Robinson Stadium. Actually, they are units of major league baseball scouts, all with speed guns drawn and pointed through the backstop at UCLA pitcher Dave Zancanaro.

Zancanaro’s weapon? A 90-m.p.h. fastball and a change-up that tails away.

Sometimes, it has been more like a stampede. The scouts, who have spent hours waiting for this hot prospect to pitch, will draw their guns during a game and run over to the bullpen to clock Zancanaro’s warmup pitches. They take what they can get.

“Maybe I would be playing center field, or (designated hitter), and the coach would have me warm up to relieve,” Zancanaro said. “The scouts would follow me down to the bullpen and point those guns at me, and I just look at my pitching coach and shake my head. It’s kind of a comedy thing. But it’s flattering that all these scouts are here to see me.”

Advertisement

This is crunch time for Zancanaro, and it has little to do with UCLA’s final examinations. As a junior, he is expected by baseball experts to be one of the first 10 players picked in major league baseball’s amateur draft June 4.

Unfortunately for the scouts, though, it hasn’t been easy to catch this left-hander’s pitching act. Instead, they have seen him run down fly balls, hit, and, to their dismay, risk injury when he dives headfirst into a base.

“It make the scouts cringe,” said his father, also Dave Zancanaro.

At the start of the season, the Bruins had an abundance of pitching talent, so Zancanaro was a reliever. The plan was to use him in the outfield and then have him relieve in the seventh or eighth inning.

Advertisement

For a time, it worked. For example, in a game March 6 against Cal State Fullerton, Zancanaro started in center field, went three for five with five runs batted in, and pitched the last three innings, earning the victory. He has started 17 games as the designated hitter and 11 in the outfield.

“At one game against Cal, UCLA was ahead, 7-5, when Cal started rallying,” said his father. “David was playing center field, and UCLA had a pitcher warming up in the bullpen. Time out was called to change pitchers, and (Coach Gary) Adams had David warm up in the outfield with the right fielder.

“When Cal scored a run to close within 7-6, David was brought in from center to pitch. They have done that a few other times and it was beginning to get a little trying and tough on David. So he was about to go to the coaches when they came and told him they weren’t going to use him that way anymore.”

Simply, Zancanaro was tired. Realistically, because of injuries, Adams needed him as a starter. Since March 11, Zancanaro has been a regular in the rotation, and has raised his record to 10-5 with five saves and a 2.98 earned-run average. Moreover, he is still used as a designated hitter against right-handed pitchers, and has a .257 batting average with three home runs and 20 RBIs.

Advertisement

But Zancanaro has always been an all-around athlete. His father talks about how former Dodger left fielder Dusty Baker, who attended the same high school as Zancanaro--Del Campo in Fair Oaks near Sacramento--would run track before he played baseball.

“So on an off-day, David decided to do that too, and he ran in a track meet,” Zancanaro Sr. said. “He won four events--the 100, 200, long jump and anchored the 400 relay.”

And in a prep baseball tournament after Zancanaro’s senior year, he got 15 hits, breaking the record of 11 held by major leaguers Steve Sax and Ricky Jordan.

Zancanaro wasn’t drafted then, but he says he wouldn’t have been ready anyway.

Advertisement

“I’m ready to turn pro now, but then I just wasn’t mature enough,” he said. “I would like to pitch, and that’s what the scouts are looking at me for. I like to start because it’s like you have control of the game. But I like to relieve, also. And a few scouts have asked me if I would be interested in playing the outfield. I just want to play.”

Scouts turned their attention to Zancanaro after last summer when his team, the Auburn Cardinals of the Stan Musial League, won the West Regional and finished second in the league’s championship series. Zancanaro hit three home runs in the regional, and was named most valuable player.

Then, during UCLA’s fall league, the scouts began to show up, and have never stopped. At one game, 10 members of the Dodger organization showed up.

The irony of this is that scouts say they have been told by their clubs not to tout their prospects to the media because it makes it more difficult and more expensive for clubs to sign the player.

Advertisement

At first, Zancanaro said the attention affected him a little.

“But I don’t feel the pressure now,” he said. "(Scouts) are only here because of what I have done in the past, and nothing will change that. I figure I’ll just try my best and keep doing what I always have done.”

And the agents?

“There’s really nothing to talk to agents about yet and it’s illegal to have one while you are playing college ball,” Zancanaro said. “Besides, my dad can handle this. What’s an agent going to get me at first, $5,000 more? It’s not certain yet that I’ll be drafted in the first round anyway. That’s something we won’t know until it happens.”

Advertisement

For now, Zancanaro has set his sights on UCLA making the NCAA tournament and the College World Series. Going into this weekend’s final nonconference series against Nevada Las Vegas, the Bruins were 37-23. Zancanaro is scheduled to start today.

Should the Bruins not make it to the College World Series, Zancanaro says he and his roommate, catcher Paul Ellis, will be home on June 4. Ellis leads the nation in home runs and is also considered a top prospect.

“I’ll be in bed,” Zancanaro said, “just waiting for that phone to ring.”


Advertisement