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Magic leads Dodgers' push to sign Abdullah

LOS ANGELES -- When Imani Abdullah's mobile phone rang during his fourth-period class Tuesday, he excused himself to answer in the hallway and learned that he had been drafted in the 11th round by the Dodgers and, oh by the way, someone "high up" wanted to speak to him.

"Imani, this is Magic Johnson," said the Dodgers part-owner and recruiter-in-chief.

Abdullah's reaction?

"What the heck?" Abdullah said. "I was speechless. I couldn't believe Magic called me. I was just in awe. I was shaking. It was crazy."

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An 18-year-old senior at San Diego's James Madison High School, the 6-foot-5, 205-pound right-handed pitcher scared away most clubs before the Draft because he sought a bonus in the neighborhood of the 75th pick slot -- $814,300. But the Dodgers called him after Monday's second round to verify that was still his position and took him with their first pick on Wednesday.

"We love Abdullah," said amateur scouting director Billy Gasparino. "He's a priority sign. We think he's the prototype projectable high school pitcher with arm action, fastball and delivery. He's a target signing for us."

The club strategy on Abdullah was clear. Going heavy on signable college players on the first two days of the Draft (10 college, two preps) left excess pool money for a pricier high school player who fell into the later rounds like Abdullah, who has a commitment to San Diego State as leverage.

In that way, the club also hedged its bet. When a player taken in the first 10 rounds doesn't sign, the slot value for that pick is subtracted from the club's pool. Not so after the 10th round, so if Abdullah doesn't sign, it won't count against the Dodgers' bonus pool.

But with Magic's full-court press, Abdullah sounded likely to forego college and join the Dodgers if the bonus meets his stated target.

"I think I'll take the opportunity to go pro," said Abdullah, "especially when someone like Magic Johnson tells you that you have a bright future. That's pretty darn convincing."

Abdullah described his pitching style as a combination of Mariano Rivera and Aroldis Chapman.

"I like how Rivera is fluid and easy-going, like he never tries to throw 100 mph," Abdullah said. "And Chapman has the super long arms and high hips, a lot of leverage."

As a senior and captain, Abdullah was 7-1 with a 0.45 ERA with 114 strikeouts and 18 walks in 78 1/3 innings for Madison, completing six of 12 starts.

Jeff Lachman did the scouting for the Dodgers.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for
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