A Dodger management team that is trying to rebuild the depleted farm system it inherited from the previous regime finally got its first chance to make an impact Tuesday during the first day of baseball’s first-year draft.
The Dodgers, who did not have a first-round pick last year, selected James Loney, a high school first baseman from Texas with the 19th selection overall. Then, with compensation picks for the loss of pitcher Chan Ho Park, they chose Anaheim Esperanza High left-hander Greg Miller 31st and high school pitcher Zach Hammes with the 51st pick.
Loney, 6 feet 3 and 205 pounds, batted .509 with eight homers and 56 runs batted in for Elkins High in Missouri City, Texas, which was ranked by Baseball America as the top prep team in the nation much of the season. He was 9-1 with a 1.80 earned-run average and 106 strikeouts in 54 innings. He has signed a letter of intent with Baylor.
Dodger scouting director Logan White, who oversaw his first draft, compared Loney to John Olerud.
“He’s a well-proportioned, strong, physical left-handed hitter and also a tremendous fielder,” White said. “About 80% of baseball had him as a pitcher and 20% as a hitter. We think he is going to mature into a great hitter.”
Miller, 6-5, 175 pounds, went 9-3 with four saves this season. He struck out 137 and walked only 20. Hammes, 6-6, 220, has a fastball clocked in the low 90s.
“You always think about where you might go and this was the very best I could have possibly have hoped for,” Miller said. “I’d love to get out and play as soon as possible.”
The Dodgers benefited from Park’s decision to sign as a free agent with the Texas Rangers, giving them two compensation picks and a chance to restock their once-admired farm system. Eight of their first 10 picks were high school players.
“I didn’t feel any pressure because I didn’t really think about the past or what happened here before too much,” White said. “I also think we have a few more prospects in our system than people think.”
The Angels selected Virginia Tech left-hander Joe Saunders with the 12th overall pick. Saunders, 6-4, 200, was 9-2 with a 2.86 ERA and had 102 strikeouts in 972/3 innings.
The Angels chose pitcher Kevin Jepsen of Bishop Manogue High in Sparks, Nev., with the 53rd pick and left-hander Kyle Pawelczyk of Chipola Junior College in Florida with the 84th selection.
Angel scouting director Donny Rowland said Saunders has good velocity and command and could reach the big leagues faster than Chris Bootcheck, the club’s No. 1 pick in 2000.
Bryan Bullington, a pitcher from Ball State University, was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the No. 1 overall pick but the next seven teams chose high school players.
Adam Loewen, a high school left-hander from Surrey, British Columbia, was chosen fourth by the Baltimore Orioles, and left-hander Jeff Francis of the University of British Columbia was chosen ninth by the Colorado Rockies, marking the first time two Canadians have been chosen in the first round.
Two Southland high school shortstops were selected in the first round. Scott Moore of Cypress High was picked eighth by the Detroit Tigers and Sergio Santos of Santa Ana Mater Dei was selected 27th by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“Every kid playing Little League dreams about getting drafted and having a chance to play in the major leagues,” said Moore, who has signed a letter of intent with Cal State Fullerton.
Santos, who has signed a letter of intent to USC, worked out for the Dodgers, Angels and Diamondbacks before the draft. On Sunday, he took batting practice at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix.
“I don’t think I ever hit the ball as far as I did that day,” Santos said. “I think it was just the adrenaline.”
Three first basemen who are sons of former major league players were also selected in the first round. Prince Fielder, son of Cecil Fielder, was picked seventh by the Milwaukee Brewers. John Mayberry Jr. was selected No. 28 by the Seattle Mariners. And Nicholas Swisher, son of Steve Swisher, was chosen 16th by the Oakland Athletics, who had seven of the first 39 picks.
Third baseman Kiel Fisher of Riverside Poly High was selected in the third round by the Philadelphia Phillies. Oxnard left-hander Alex Merricks went to the Minnesota Twins in the fourth round.
Outfielder Jeremy Reed of Long Beach State, selected with the 59th overall pick by the Chicago White Sox, was the highest drafted Southland college player.
Left-hander Bill Murphy of Cal State Northridge was selected in the third round by Oakland. Pitcher Chris Smith of UC Riverside went in the fourth round to Boston.
USC first baseman Bill Peavey was chosen in the 11th round by Cleveland. Trojan pitcher Anthony Reyes, projected before the season as a high-round pick, was chosen in the 13th round by Detroit.
UCLA outfielder Ben Francisco was drafted in the fifth round by the Cleveland Indians, and the Bruin football team’s presence in professional baseball might continue to grow.
Incoming freshmen defensive backs Michael Nixon and Jarrad Page were selected Tuesday and could join Bruin safety Matt Ware and cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. as dual-sport athletes.
Nixon, a 6-2, 210-pound catcher, from Phoenix Sunnyslope High, was the Dodgers’ third-round pick. He was the Arizona player of the year in football as a quarterback, defensive back and kicker. Page, a 6-0, 200-pound switch-hitter from San Leandro High who can play short and center, was taken in the fifth round by Milwaukee.
Staff writers Steve Henson, Bob Rohwer and Eric Stephens contributed to this story.