Huston Keeps Pierce Alive, Pros Waiting : College baseball: Soft-spoken power hitter can sign with Chicago Cubs after Brahmas' run through state playoffs.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pat Huston is playing too well to turn professional.

Huston, Pierce College's sophomore third baseman, is neither a high-priced holdout nor a waffling two-sport standout, but he is in a pleasantly paradoxical situation. The more successful he and Pierce are now, the longer Huston's professional career is delayed.

Having been drafted by the Chicago Cubs last June, Huston can turn pro when Pierce's season ends, but, thanks in large part to Huston, the Brahmas (23-13) are still in the playoffs.

Pierce will play Citrus at 3 p.m. Friday in the second round of the double-elimination Southern California regional at Harbor College, and, until some team finds a way to stop Huston and his teammates, the Cubs will remain on hold.

"They're going to make me an offer as soon as our last game is over and then, if I like it, I'll sign with them. If not, I'll go back into the draft," Huston said. "Not a lot of scouts have talked to me.

"I guess they just kind of stay away once they know another team has already drafted you, so I have no idea if anybody else would even draft me."

The Cubs chose Huston in the 27th round last year as a draft-and-wait, a player who would gain an extra year of seasoning at the junior college level while the Cubs retained his rights until shortly before the next June draft.

The Cubs hope Huston will become the delayed steal of the draft. Huston hits for power and can play several positions. He split the season between first and third, and the Cubs have talked about moving him to catcher.

His fielding prowess sometimes gets lost in his barrage of extra-base hits, but at 6-foot, 210 pounds, Huston is a dancing bear at third base. Huston was agile enough to play middle infield at Montclair Prep, and he fielded .980 while splitting time on the corners of the infield this season.

Pierce co-Coach Bob Lofrano, also a part-time scout for the Cubs, said the Chicago team primarily likes Huston for his power potential. When Huston steps to the plate, he is standing in the boom box.

Earlier in the season, Huston hit a ball so hard that it bounced off a shortstop's shoulder for a double. He led Western State Conference players with 11 doubles and 26 runs batted in and earned first-team all-conference honors for the second year in a row.

"The ball explodes off his bat. That could take him a long way," said Pierce co-Coach Bob Lyons, who compared Huston to former Pierce standout Mark Brouhard. Brouhard went on to play several seasons in the major leagues.

This season, Huston leads Pierce with 52 hits, 51 runs, 46 RBIs, seven home runs, 13 doubles and 34 walks. He is batting 377 and is eight for eight in stolen-base attempts.

"Actually, I felt a lot better last year," Huston said.

As a freshman, Huston hit .336 with 29 runs, 11 doubles, seven home runs and 33 RBIs.

"Here's a guy who can hit the ball a mile and makes contact," Lofrano said. "He's definitely our top hitter."

Huston bats third instead of fourth because Lofrano has frightening visions of a close game ending with Huston marooned in the on-deck circle.

He has bench-pressed 300 pounds, but Huston describes himself as more of a line-drive hitter than a power hitter.

"He hits two-irons," Lofrano said. "He doesn't hit high, towering fly balls."

Despite his thundering bat, Huston is more of an Atlas than a Zeus. Like Atlas, the Titan who carried the world on his shoulders, Huston is the strong, silent type. He can carry a team more easily than he can a conversation.

"I'm pretty quiet and shy. I don't like to go out and do a whole bunch of stuff with everybody," said Huston, who described himself as "a little bit" of a loner.

Huston began college at Valley but quit the team in the fall of 1988. He said he went to Pierce because of its proximity to his Chatsworth home and because of Lofrano.

Huston's silent nature, however, nearly cost him a place on the Pierce roster as a freshman. When Lofrano made his first cut in the fall of 1989, he inadvertently left Huston's name off the list of players who had survived. The cut was preliminary, down to about 35 players, and Huston was not only one of the top 35 but also probably one of the top five players.

Lofrano, realizing his mistake, frantically called Huston to assure him that he had indeed made the cut.

"I often wonder would he have come back and said anything," Lofrano said. "Would he have come up and said, 'God, don't you think I was better than those guys?'. . . . He hasn't said a whole lot more in the last two years."

Huston nearly did not make the team this season but not because of athletic shortcomings.

"Over the fall I had to get all my units and I did. If I didn't pass any I could have been ineligible," Huston said. "I knew I was passing basically, but you also had to get a 2.0, so it was kind of close."

Huston freely admits he has little interest in academics. Although he is considered the best prospect on the Pierce team, Huston has heard little more than perfunctory inquiries from four-year colleges.

"He'd be a real good prospect if he had any grades," one college coach said. "He has power and he can hit. He's definitely the guy in JC baseball (in the Valley area) who I think could be a legitimate power hitter."

Huston is eager to put school behind him and concentrate solely on baseball.

"A few four-year schools have liked me, but it's useless because I basically can't go there," Huston said. "It's not that bad because I didn't really want to go to school anyway."

Huston would rather make his name inside Wrigley Field's ivy-covered walls than in some campus' ivy-covered halls.

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