Great Expectations : Ex-Titan Powell Is Beginning to Reach a Level of Play Many Predicted For Him
Whenever baseball people talk about Dante Powell, one word almost always enters the conversation.
From his high school days in Long Beach, through three years playing for Cal State Fullerton, it was inescapable. Scouts looked at Powell’s speed, his instincts and the smooth natural swing, and created an extraordinary level of expectation.
In the past, Powell has had difficulty measuring up. But that might be changing.
In his third season in professional baseball, Powell is hitting .303, with nine home runs and 31 runs batted in as of June 13 for the San Francisco Giants’ double-A team in Shreveport, La. He leads the Texas League in stolen bases with 22.
It might be too early to label this a breakthrough season for Powell, but he’s pleased with the way it’s going. So are the Giants.
“He’s doing all the things he needs to do now to progress,” Shreveport Manager Frank Cacciatore said. “He’s hitting the ball well, he’s stealing bases and he’s up among the top players in the league with his on-base percentage.”
Powell says part of it comes from gaining more maturity as a player. And he thinks being in the leadoff spot in the batting order also has helped.
“I like batting first,” Powell said. “It probably fits in more with the things I like to do. I like getting on base, and getting in position to score with my speed. That’s the role I like, and I feel I can be good at it.”
Fullerton Coach Augie Garrido moved Powell into the leadoff position at the start of his junior season with the Titans, and Powell became more and more comfortable there.
A year ago, however, when he played for San Jose in the Class-A California League, he batted mostly in the No. 5 spot. He hit .248 in 135 games. He struck out 131 times, but had 10 homers, 70 RBIs and stole 43 bases.
“Hitting down in the order is totally different,” Powell said. “I struggled more there because I think I felt more like I had to be the one to drive in runs.”
Cacciatore says the Giants came to the same conclusion.
“It was an organizational decision,” he said. “The more you see a player, the more you get a feel for where he performs best, and the feeling now is that he’s more of a natural leadoff hitter. He could still move down in the order later on and do fine, maybe even in the No. 3 spot if you want a speed guy there. But, at least for now, we think we can use more of his talents batting him first.”
Powell acknowledges that moving a step closer to the major leagues this year probably helped him become more focused.
“In double-A, you know you’re only a jump or two away,” Powell said. “It’s a lot more of a professional atmosphere, and you probably think more about that. The level of competition is a lot better, and I like that too. The pitchers are better and smarter. You know you’re going to see a good pitcher every day on this level.”
Powell says last season was a learning experience.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “It was my first full season, and it was an important year on the maturity level. It’s a long season, and I learned that I have to take care of myself physically. It’s something you have to go through, and learn from it.”
Powell has been on the Giants’ fast track since they made him their first-round pick in the 1994 amateur draft. Powell was the 22nd player and the fourth outfielder chosen, and he signed for a bonus of $507,500. Powell turned down the $425,000 Toronto offered him as a high school senior at Long Beach Millikan to play in college.
“He’s obviously very talented,” Cacciatore said. “But he still has some things to learn. From a tool standpoint, he’s got everything you want in a ballplayer. He’s got the speed, for sure. He plays good defense, and his throwing arm is good. He’s made some mistakes in judgment on the base paths, but that’s to be expected somewhat in a young player.
“But he’s learning to make adjustments, the same way people will adjust for his strengths. This is a good league, with a good mixture of returning players and young ones, so it’s a good challenge for him.”
Cacciatore said Powell’s speed has quickly become recognized by Shreveport’s opponents.
“Because he’s such a base-running threat, he’s always going to be a target,” Cacciatore said. “The pitchers work a lot more now on holding him close. It’s a matter too of him learning how to steal that big base when everyone knows you really need it.”
Cacciatore says he’s also encouraging Powell to take more of a leadership role.
“We want him to be a leader in the clubhouse and on the field because we think he can do that,” he said. “The more he matures, the more that will happen. And when he’s able to do that, it will be icing on the cake. It will make him a more valuable commodity when he reaches the big leagues.”
Cacciatore didn’t say “if.” He said “when.”
There has never been much doubt that Powell will get there. Baseball America has called him “easily the best athlete” in the Giants’ minor-league system.
Brian Sabean, the Giants’ vice president of player personnel, says Powell is ahead of schedule.
“Based on the time he’s been in the minors and the success he’s had, he’s done very well,” Sabean said. “We thought the more he was challenged, the better he’d respond, and it’s worked out that way. He has that combination of speed and power you like to see.”
Sabean says he expects Powell to finish this season in Shreveport, but it’s likely that he will start next season with the triple-A team in Phoenix.
“He definitely has the ability to carry a ball club: to be an impact player,” Cacciatore said. “That’s really what we’re talking about. He’s shown this season he has that potential. But we all know potential can be a dangerous word. You can set expectations so high that they’re very hard to live up to.”
No one has to tell Dante Powell about that.
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