Dodgers focus on pitching in first round
High school lefty Kershaw and JC righty Morris are top picks
LOS ANGELES -- Drafting twice in the first round, the Dodgers on Tuesday went with pitching, selecting Texas high school left-hander Clayton Kershaw with the No. 7 overall pick and Tennessee junior college right-hander Bryan Morris with the No. 26 pick.
The Dodgers then went for bloodlines with the 31st overall (compensation) pick, taking Preston Mattingly, a high school shortstop from Evansville, Ind., and the son of former Yankees All-Star Don Mattingly.
Kershaw was considered the top high school pitcher in the draft and was the Gatorade National Player of the Year. The left-hander from Highland Park High School in Dallas is 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, with a 92-mph fastball and a legitimate curveball. He suffered a strained oblique muscle in his regular-season finale. To that point, he was 9-0 with a 0.45 ERA, 109 strikeouts and 22 walks in 46 innings.
"I compare him to Dave Righetti," said Dodgers scouting director Logan White. "He throws from a high angle, has a power fastball, a good curveball and a feel for a changeup. He's got a natural delivery and he's a great makeup kid."
Baseball America rated Kershaw as the No. 6 player available overall, the No. 5 pitcher and the high school pitcher with the best fastball.
"I try to pattern myself after Johan Santana of the Twins," said Kershaw. "He's as close to a left-handed power pitcher as you can get."
Morris is from Motlow State (Tenn.) Community College, a 6-foot-3, 175-pound right-handed pitcher who was 9-1 with a 0.91 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 79 innings. Morris showed off his trademark breaking ball (and an unorthodox delivery) as the first pitcher the Dodgers put on the mound during a Sunday night tryout camp for potential draftees at Dodger Stadium.
Morris was taken last year out of high school by Tampa Bay and thought he agreed to a $1 million signing bonus, but the deal fell through when the Devil Rays underwent a management change. He then went to junior college, where he played for his father, the head coach.
He demonstrated a 93-mph fastball, along with a big-league curveball, and also played an aggressive center field when he wasn't pitching. He broke a bone in his non-pitching wrist with a headfirst slide.
"He reminds me of John Smoltz," said White. "He has an above-average fastball that sinks and runs and an outstanding curveball."
Kershaw's choice is in keeping with a preference established by White for targeting high school players first, predominantly pitchers. This is White's fifth draft for the Dodgers, and he has taken a high school player first four times, three of them pitchers. The only time he took a college player with his first pick was last year and it didn't work out very well.
As for Mattingly, he wasn't ranked in Baseball America's top 200 available draftees.
"Matt Kemp and Russell Martin weren't ranked in anybody's top 200 when we drafted them, either," White said, referring to players taken in his first two drafts that are now making Major League impacts.
Because the Dodgers lost their second- and third-round picks as compensation for signing Rafael Furcal and Bill Mueller, White said he wanted to get an athletic position player with the 31st pick and was convinced Mattingly wouldn't be available when he drafted again in the fourth round.
"But Mattingly was an ability pick," said White. "We love the bloodlines. He has a high ceiling. He's one of the best athletes in the draft, he's just been playing a lot of basketball and football."
The Dodgers had three of the first 31 picks in this year's draft because of a combination of their poor play last year (rewarding them with the No. 7 overall pick) and the free-agent loss of pitcher Jeff Weaver to the Angels (compensatory picks No. 26 and No. 31).
Last year -- without a true first-round pick that went to Boston for the signing of Derek Lowe -- the Dodgers took Tennessee right-hander Luke Hochevar with a compensation sandwich pick at No. 40.
Hochevar originally sought a $4 million bonus. He tentatively agreed to a $2.98 million bonus, reneged in the midst of a squabble over agents, and ultimately did not sign with the Dodgers and re-entered the draft to become the overall No. 1 pick this year by Kansas City.
Because of the experience with Hochevar -- and candid comments by new general manager Ned Colletti stressing the importance of signability -- it is presumed the Dodgers are confident that Kershaw and Morris will agree to terms quickly.
What will be the cost? Last year's picks at No. 7 and No. 26 -- Long Beach State shortstop Troy Tulowitzki by Colorado and St. John's right-handed pitcher Craig Hansen by Boston -- signed for $2.3 million and $1.325 million, respectively.
"I have a good feeling we can sign them," said White.
None of the three is represented by Scott Boras, who represents Hochevar.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.