Monday, May 9, 2011

Xavier Paul

The newest Bucco OF'er, Xavier Paul Jr., 26, is a native of Slidell, Louisiana, and was a high school baseball hero in his hometown.

He was selected to Baseball America's second team HS All-America team, hitting .391 with nine homers, 17 RBIs and 18 stolen bases for dear ol' Slidell High in 2003, and was named Lousiana's "Mr. Baseball."

Paul joined Team USA for the '03 Pan-Am games and hit .444. He also played with the 2001 Junior National Team that won a gold medal at the World Championships.

The OF'er was selected in the fourth round of the 2003 draft by the LA Dodgers and signed in mid-June, receiving a $270K bonus to skip college and turn pro. Paul was assigned to Ogden and made the Rookie League All-Star team after hitting .307/7/47 with eleven steals for the Raptors as an eighteen year old.

He moved up to Class A in 2004, where he hit .262/9/72 for the Sally League's Columbus Catfish. BA liked what they saw; the magazine named him the Dodgers' #7 prospect and rated him as having the best outfield arm in the Dodger system.

Paul spent the next two seasons in High A with the Vero Beach Dodgers. As a 20 year old, he tread water his first season, but in 2006 he hit .285/13/49 and BA named him the Best Defensive Outfielder at the Class A level.

It was enough to get him promoted to the AA Jacksonville Suns in 2007, where he hit .291/11/50 with 17 stolen bases, earning a spot on the Southern League Mid-season All-Star Team.

The Dodgers sent him to the Arizona Fall League after the season and then to the AAA Las Vegas 51s to open 2008. He also earned a spot on the LA 40 man roster. He hit .316/9/68 with Vegas.

He opened the 2009 season with the AAA Albuquerque Isotopes, and then on May 7th, 2009, Paul was called up to the show to replace Manny Ramirez, who flunked his dope test. He made his MLB debut the same day, grounding into a double play in his first at-bat as a pinch hitter against the Washington Nationals. But he picked it up some.

His first major league hit was against the San Francisco Giants three days later, and he hit his first home run against the Florida Marlins on May 15th. But he only got 16 plate appearances before being sidelined by a staph infection.

That earned him a spot on the DL, and while he was rehabbing at the Dodgers complex, he suffered an ankle injury, effectively ending his season.

He appeared in 57 games with the Isotopes during the 2010 season, hitting .325. Paul also got into 44 games with the Dodgers, called up to cover injuries to Ramirez, and hit .231 in 121 at-bats before Manny came back.

Paul suffered a late season a neck injury would end his 2010 season; so much for another cup of coffee in September. He didn't know it then, but that was to be his Dodger audition.

He began the season with the Dodgers in 2011 - like John Bowker, he probably made the opening roster because he was out of options - but was DFA'ed on April 18th to make room for LA's newest hot prospect, 23 year old Jerry Sands. In parts of the past three seasons with the Blue, he had 146 at-bats and hit .233 with a .329 slugging percentage and 33 strikeouts.

The word was that the Dodgers tried to trade Paul before they cut him, and couldn't find a willing taker even after he was DFA'ed. On April 26th, he was claimed by the Pirates.

His scouting report is that Paul has nothing left to prove at AAA, but needs to stay healthy to show whether he's potentially a solid big-leaguer or just another AAAA player. He has good speed, a strong arm, and can play all three OF positions.

The down side is that he strikes out a bit too much (23.5%) for a guy who doesn't have much punch (.096 ISO; .337 slugging %). Most reports tag him as a tweener; not quite an elite CF'er but without the stick to be an everyday corner. And that's the textbook definition of a fourth outfielder.

He did fill a hole on the team; the Pirates needed an OF'er with center field skills and who could come off the bench and run; John Bowker could do neither; Paul can do both.

So far between the Pirates and Dodgers, he's hitting .290 and struck out 11 times in 33 plate appearances with one extra base hit and two stolen bases, pretty much according to profile.

Paul's not going to challenge for a starting role, but he does provide some needed tools for the bench. And if he doesn't work out, Alex Presley is at Indy and Starling Marte at Altoona with the same type of skill-set, just waiting for the call.

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