By John Perrotto
It almost seems at times that Neal Huntington has a compulsion for many waiver claims.
The Pirates general manager made his second claim in five days this past Tuesday when he snagged outfielder Xavier Paul off the wire. Paul had been designated for assignment by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Huntington has now claimed 19 players off waivers since taking over for Dave Littlefield in September, 2007. Huntington believes the 26-year-old Paul is someone who could develop into an everyday player because of his above-average speed and arm along with a quick left-handed hitting stroke, though there doesn’t seem to any room for him in the lineup at the present.
“Our scouts have seen some things with Xavier as a hitter that we think we can help him with,” Huntington said.
Paul has not performed well at the major-league level as he hit .230 with one home run and 12 RBIs in 55 games with the Dodgers over the last three seasons with a .280 on-base percentage and a .329 slugging percentage. The Dodgers never gave him a look in left field this season, going with journeymen Tony Gwynn Jr. and Marcus Thames before calling up prospect Jerry Sanders last week from Class AAA Albuquerque.
However, Paul has shown signs on being a good offensive player in the minor leagues as he hit .291 with 70 home runs and a .360 on-base percentage in 721 games in the Dodgers’ system. In three seasons and 203 games with Albuquerque, he had a .320 batting average and a .380 OBP while slugging .502. However, batting statistics are usually skewed upward in the Pacific Coast League, especially for those playing their home games in thin air of New Mexico.
Despite this being his ninth professional season, Paul has yet to gain a foothold in the major leagues. He was the Dodgers’ fourth-round draft pick in 2003 following his senior year of high school in Slidell, La., a suburb of New Orleans.
However, a scout who has followed Paul from his days in rookie ball believes he could be a late bloomer and was definitely worth a waiver claim by the Pirates.
“He’s got some tools, there’s no doubt,” the scout said. “He probably lost a little motivation the last few years because the Dodgers never gave him a chance at the major-league level. He has talent and maybe he’s a guy you wind up hitting on. When you have an opportunity to get a guy like at no risk, it’s worth a shot.”
For the record, here are Huntington’s 19 waiver claims: Kevin Thompson, Phil Dumatrait, Jimmy Barthmaier, Josh Wilson, Ty Taubenheim, Rey Olmedo, Virgil Vasquez, Steven Jackson, Anthony Claggett, Chris Jakubauskas, Brandon Jones, Hayden Pena, Chan Ho Park, Chris Resop, Chris Leroux, Aaron Thompson, Garrett Olson, Brandon Wood and Paul.