Baseball BeatFebruary 14, 2004
Dream Weaver
By Rich Lederer

I've just closed my eyes again
Climbed aboard the dream weaver train
Driver take away my worries of today
And leave tomorrow behind

Ooh dream weaver
I believe you can get me through the night
Ooh dream weaver
I believe we can reach the morning light
Fly me high through the starry skies
Maybe to an astral plane
Cross the highways of fantasy
Help me to forget todays pain

--Gary Wright

I attended a baseball game between #9-ranked Long Beach State and #16-ranked University of Southern California on Friday night. The game was played in Long Beach at Blair Field, one of the most beautiful ballparks in the country. A school-record 3,163 fans attended the Dirtbags' home opener. It was a standing-room-only crowd except for those sitting atop the fire engine truck beyond the left field wall.

The sell-out crowd was treated with a dazzling performance by Jered Weaver, Long Beach's ace starter. Weaver struck out the first ten Trojans he faced, including four in the third inning. Ten up, ten down. All via strikeouts. The first six went down swinging on 0-2 and 1-2 pitches.

In the top of the third, Weaver continued his streak, getting Baron Frost to miss on a 0-2 pitch far outside the strike zone. The ball eluded Catcher Brad Davis and rolled to the backstop, allowing Frost to reach first base. The big right-hander proceeded to "K" Billy Hart (who served as USC's fourth-string QB last fall), Hector Estrella, and Jon Brewster, the latter for the second time in the first three innings.

Michael Moon then flied out to right field to lead off the fourth inning, ending Weaver's strikeout streak at ten. The All-American went on to whiff 14 Trojans in seven innings as Long Beach State defeated USC, 3-1. Relievers Brett Andrade and Neil Jamison combined for three strikeouts, tying the 49ers' record of 17 for the game.

Weaver opened his 2004 season last week, pitching seven shutouts innings while scattering three hits with no walks and six strikeouts. For his effort, Weaver was honored as Collegiate Baseball's National Player of the Week--the third time that he has won this award.

Big-Time Prospect

If you hadn't heard of Weaver before, you have now. If he remains healthy, look for him to go in the top five in this year's draft. Weaver is so advanced and such a dominant force that it would not surprise me if he pitched in the big leagues in 2005.

Weaver's pedigree (he's the younger brother of Dodger pitcher Jeff Weaver), size (6'6", 200), arm (low-90s fastball), and record make him as good a bet as any amateur pitcher to succeed as a professional.

I sat directly behind home plate among a sea of major league baseball scouts, surrounded by more radar guns than at a California Highway Patrol convention.

A Kansas City Royals scout sitting behind us told me that he "wouldn't rush" Weaver. When I asked him if he preferred high school or college players, he said "college" when it came to pitchers--noting that most arm injuries are incurred between the ages of 18-20.

When I mentioned Zack Greinke, the Royals' top pitching prospect and #1 draft pick in 2002, he just smiled. Greinke was drafted as a high schooler even though General Manager Allard Baird had instructed his staff that he wanted to select a college pitcher in the first round. The 20-year-old prized prospect dominated the Carolina League and acquitted himself well enough in the Texas League last year that he stands an outside chance of making the team this spring.

Weaver is actually a year older than Greinke. If the latter can make it to the big leagues this year, then why couldn't the former get there next year? Although Weaver may not have Greinke's professional experience, he has pieced together an incredible resume.

During his sophomore season, Weaver was 14-4 with a 1.96 ERA. He tied a school record with 144 strikeouts. Weaver then led Team USA to the silver medal in the Pan American Games. He went 4-1 with a USA single-season record 0.38 ERA and was named Baseball America's Pitcher of the Summer. Weaver strung together an all-time record scoreless innings streak of 45 before giving up his only two runs in an eight-inning loss to Cuba in the championship game.

Nothing But Dirtbags

Weaver was the fourth straight 49er to be named to Team USA, following teammate Abe Alvarez (2002), Jeremy Reed (2001), and Bobby Crosby (2000). Alvarez was selected by the Red Sox in last year's draft.

After the draft, Boston GM Theo Epstein said, "We were really happy to get Abe Alvarez. He's a first-round talent and we got him in the second round."

"Alvarez is a left-hander who has gone out for Long Beach State every Friday night for the last three years against other team's No. 1 starter. He's an outstanding performer. He has command of the strike zone and can get swings and misses with his changeup. He's an entertaining pitcher to watch."

Reed, a center fielder with the Chicago White Sox, and Crosby, a shortstop with the Oakland A's, are two of the favorites to capture Rookie of the Year honors in the American League this year. Reed and Crosby were named first team Minor League All-Stars in 2003.

Reed, who finished third in the Minor League Player of the Year voting, led all minor leaguers in batting average (.373) and on-base percentage (.453), splitting time between Single-A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham. Reed was rated the the second-best prospect in the Carolina League and the third-best prospect in the Southern League.

Crosby, who made his major league debut last September, batted .308 with 22 home runs and 90 RBI for Triple-A Sacramento. Crosby was voted the third-best prospect in the Pacific Coast League and was named Baseball America's Triple-A Player of the Year.

Other past National Team players from Long Beach State include current major leaguers Rocky Biddle (1995) of the Montreal Expos, Jason Giambi (1991, 1992) of the New York Yankees, and Chris Gomez (1990, 1991) of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Long Beach's baseball program has also produced Mike Gallo (Houston Astros), Jeff Leifer (Milwaukee Brewers), and Steve Trachsel (New York Mets) as well as Termel Sledge (Montreal Expos). Sledge, a 27-year-old rookie, had an outstanding season (.324, 22, 92) at Triple-A Edmonton last year and is expected to compete for the team's starting left field job this spring.

If you sold any of the above 49ers short, please be advised that it's not too late to climb aboard the Dream Weaver train.


Excellen article! Go Beach!