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Etherton Signs, Prepares to Begin at Double-A Level

The options were clear for pitcher Seth Etherton, the Angels’ first-round pick (18th overall) in the June draft. He could sign by July 1 and pitch two months for double-A Midland or let negotiations drag into the summer, sign in August or September and play in the fall instructional league.

Etherton chose to play right away, agreeing to terms Wednesday on a 1998 contract that includes a $1.075-million signing bonus and tuition money to complete his education at USC.

“Starting at double A was a great incentive,” said Etherton, the former Dana Hills High School star who helped USC win the College World Series championship in June. “I’m heading straight for the big guys. It will be a great learning experience.”

It also can be humbling for those not prepared to handle the rigors of double-A ball, a level at which few prospects start. Even Angel All-Star Darin Erstad began his pro career at Class-A Lake Elsinore in 1995.

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“But we wouldn’t put a kid there who couldn’t hold his own--that’s pretty dangerous,” said Bob Fontaine, the Angel director of player personnel who handled the negotiation. “When you have a kid who has four quality pitches and can throw his breaking balls for strikes, you can take that challenge.

“Not only has he improved his velocity since his junior year of college, he’s become a better pitcher. This is the right place for him.”

Serious discussions between the Angels and Craig Landis, Etherton’s advisor, didn’t begin until Tuesday afternoon, when Landis asked Fontaine to make “his best offer.” The figure was close to what Etherton was looking for and, after some negotiation, an agreement was reached Tuesday night.

“We decided if we could do it by the end of June it made sense for Seth to play this summer,” Landis said. “He’s rested. He’s in shape. It wouldn’t have made sense for him to go two months without pitching.”

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Etherton, who will report to Midland on Friday, went 13-3 with a 3.23 earned-run average in 18 starts for USC, leading the nation with 182 strikeouts in 136 2/3 innings.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound right-hander was a first-team All-American selection by Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, the Sporting News and USA Today/Baseball Weekly. A ninth-round pick in 1997, Etherton turned down a $75,000 offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I feel 10 times more comfortable now,” Etherton said.

TONIGHT

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ANGELS’ JASON DICKSON

(8-5, 5.72 ERA)

vs.

GIANTS’ KIRK RUETER

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(9-3, 4.05 ERA)

Edison Field, 7 p.m.

TV--Channel 9.

Radio--KRLA (1110), XPRS (1090), KIK-FM (94.3).

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* Update--Angel pitcher Jack McDowell, on the disabled list since June 1 because of a stress reaction in his right elbow, played catch Wednesday for the first time in about a month and is confident he will be able to return this season. “I’ll be back--it’s just a matter of how long it will last,” said McDowell, who has been limited to seven starts because of injuries. “I’ve been pain-free for a couple of weeks. Hopefully we have it calmed down to a point where I’ll be able to open it up.” Ken Hill, who had bone chips surgically removed from his right elbow June 15, has been cleared to begin throwing soft-toss next week.

*

To join in a discussion of the Angels on The Times’ Web site, go to: https://www.latimes.com/angels.


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