Baldwin getting valuable experience in Australia
Outfield prospect building on strong second half while with Great Lakes Loons
MELBOURNE -- On a sunny Sunday afternoon, James Baldwin of the Adelaide Bite prepares for the rubber match of a three-game set with the Melbourne Aces.
While he is a long way from home, the experience of playing abroad is nothing new to the 22-year-old Dodgers prospect, who has already logged three full seasons in the Minor Leagues.
"I went to Panama last year, and this is a great opportunity to come to a different country," said Baldwin, who is ranked the Dodgers' No. 17 prospect by MLB.com. "I'm just thankful for everybody that sent me here, and I'm happy to be here, trying to get better any way I can to try and make it to the big leagues as soon as I can."
Though he hasn't yet played a game above Class A, the young outfielder knows something about the big leagues. His father, who shares his name, spent 11 years pitching in the Majors with seven different teams, seven of them with the Chicago White Sox. Primarily a starter, the elder Baldwin compiled a lifetime record of 79-74 over the course of 266 appearances and 202 starts -- and he often let his son tag along.
"When my dad was playing, when my dad was pitching [for the Chicago White Sox], I would always stay in the clubhouse and play video games and the chef would cook for me," Baldwin said with a broad smile.
The younger Baldwin was not even 10 years old when he was critiquing his father's pitching for Chicago, and he is well aware of the advantages he gained by simply being there.
"It was a great opportunity to have my dad play in the big leagues, because I've been there, done that, you know? I knew the game when I was a little kid."
The young Baldwin's path to professional baseball has been remarkably similar to that of his father. Like his dad, Baldwin was a fourth-round Draft pick, and like his dad, he was drafted directly out of Pinecrest High School in Southern Pines, N.C.
Selected out of the same high school, taken in the same round 20 years apart, the Baldwins were picked for markedly different reasons -- the elder for his arm, the younger for his bat, his speed and his raw athleticism.
During Baldwin's first season in the Midwest League with the Great Lakes Loons in 2012, he stole 53 bases and was caught just eight times. This past season saw him steal 42 bases, and he raised his batting average by 30 points. In four pro seasons, Baldwin has already racked up 134 stolen bases, swiping bags at an 85 percent success rate.
Baldwin takes his craft very seriously and is relentless in his preparations.
"I definitely go off what I see when he's throwing bullpen [sessions]," Baldwin said of opposing pitchers.
"I always look to see what he's doing. What kind of mechanics ... moving his hips back a little early, or his knee over his other knee. I study the pitcher more than I study anything else. I always have a stopwatch to see what the time [to home plate] is, and always see what the catcher's pop time is, and go off that."
So far, Baldwin's yet to be caught stealing in the Australian Baseball League, going 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts through his first 10 games. Hitting in the middle of the Bite lineup, Baldwin is batting .273 with four RBIs, and he isn't shy when asked if he's pleased with his performance so far.
"Most definitely," said Baldwin. "I'm putting the ball in play a lot more, I'm bunting, I'm making solid contact, and right now I'm hitting pretty good and hopefully it just keeps carrying."
The numbers are an improvement over his Minor League career stats. Through 337 games, his average sits at .235, but Baldwin is now building off what he considers a strong second half with the Loons in 2013.
"I've had a couple different swings, but the last half, I just stuck with one approach, one batting stance, and I got better and better when it came along," Baldwin said. "I just had one approach instead of thinking too much. Just go up there and see the baseball, hit the baseball, just put the ball in play a little bit more and use my speed."
Add to that the lessons he's inherited from an 11-year Major League veteran, and there is much to be optimistic about in his young career.
"Since I know my dad had a tough time sometimes, I know what it's like," Baldwin said, remembering some of his father's forgettable outings.
"I'm glad my dad went through that and I'm glad I went through that with him -- through tough times, through bad times. He told me, 'Don't hold your head down, because you got plenty of baseball. Just go out there with your family, your baseball team, your brothers and do anything for each other to try and win a baseball game.'"
The consummate teammate and a true baseball lifer, Baldwin is genuinely grateful for the chances he's been given and isn't taking any of it for granted.
"I'm just glad I have this great opportunity to come down here and play to a different culture out here," said Baldwin. "I just love the fans, I love the people, and hopefully I'll get better."
So far, Baldwin has, and Dodger fans will certainly want to keep an eye on him in the months and years to come.