Logan could have bright future in Tigers’ system

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 9, 2003

ERIE, Pa. &045; Chances are the play didn’t make an ESPN highlight, so here’s a brief recap.

On the mound was the Dodgers’ hard-throwing right-hander Guillermo Mota up against an inexperienced Detroit Tigers lineup on a sunny day back in March at Major League Baseball spring training. Mota can bring it, and on that day he was ringing up 94 and 95 on the gun.

Stepping into the box to face him was not only a rookie but a speedy 24-year outfielder spending his first spring training with the parent club after spending last season in Class A.

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But that rookie &045; Natchez native Nook Logan &045; didn’t get wide-eyed and buckle under pressure.

He slapped a double off Mota. And for good measure, he stole third off Dodgers all-star starting catcher Paul LoDuca.

It was the biggest highlight back in March for the Detroit Tigers farmhand, a rising prospect in the system. While he got just a handful of at-bats in the spring, Logan got a taste of what big-league life is all about by getting to chat with the likes of Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Brian Jordan and Fred McGriff.

Logan nearly had another shot to prove himself later that spring, but the game ended as he stood in the on-deck circle with Roger Clemens on the mound.

&uot;That was awesome,&uot; said Logan, who has spent this summer starting in center for the Class AA Erie (Pa.) Seawolves of the Eastern League. &uot;I was on the 40-man roster, and hopefully I’ll get called up in September. I had a great time. It was a great learning experience in my first spring training. Everything went well.&uot;

Since then Logan has been productive for the Seawolves on the bases and in center field, but team officials acknowledge he’s got room to improve at the plate. That’s due largely to the team advising him to take up switch hitting at the start of last year &045; a process one doesn’t learn overnight.

But he continues to improve his game, and the Tigers may have plans for him at the big level in the future. The parent club is going through a nightmare of a season that may set a new record for futility, and next year is well under way.

&uot;They’re the worst, but if you’re a guy that’s young, I think that’s a great situation to be in,&uot; said Co-Lin head coach Keith Case, Logan’s college coach. &uot;I don’t think he’ll get a call up (this season), but I feel like next year if he doesn’t start there he’ll get called up at some point. I think their plans are for him to be up in 2004.&uot;

Learning to switch-hit

A right-handed hitter all his life, Logan was drafted following Co-Lin’s run to the Junior College World Series in 2000 by the Tigers and was assigned to Rookie League ball. There they had two changes for him &045; learn to play center field and become a switch-hitter.

The team liked his blazing speed, and left-handers can get out of the batter’s box much quicker than a right-hander. But Logan’s stats so far this year &045; .243 batting average heading into Saturday’s game with a team-high 86 strikeouts in 414 at-bats &045; is due largely to the adjustment and having to do it in his first year at Double-A.

&uot;I’ve only been switch-hitting for 2 1/2 years, so it’ll take me a while to get used to everything,&uot; Logan said. &uot;It’s real tough. You get frustrated at times. I probably hit on the left side about 30 or 40 at-bats a week and maybe three or four from the right. It’s tough, but I’ve got to hang with it. I’ve got to recognize pitches, which I’ve been doing. I’m still learning.&uot;

Logan had a similar batting average last season at Class A for the Lakeland Tigers while still excelling in the areas he does best &045; playing a steady center field and stealing bases. The adjustment period, meanwhile, is admittedly starting to come in the last 30 to 45 games as Logan has started to show a little more consistency from the left side.

&uot;It’s really tough for them to put a bat in your hands and say, ‘Go start switch-hitting,’&uot; Case said. &uot;He didn’t do that in high school or in college. Where he’s at after a couple of years is really unbelievable. Most of his strikeouts are from the left side.

&uot;You have to turn around and see everything from the opposite side. His left eye is his dominant eye, and now it’s in the back. Fastballs don’t look too much different, but offspeed pitches are going to give him problems low and away.&uot;

Logan has taken well to bunting from the left side this summer, and he’s shown a flash of power with two homers last week. He also started slow last year before hitting .286 last August at Lakeland.

But his stolen bases are up there &045; 31 in 40 opportunities to rank second in the league.

&uot;There’s always an adjustment period when you go to a new level,&uot; Seawolves manager Kevin Bradshaw said. &uot;He’s making some strides. From the right side, he’s driving the ball. From the left side, he’s bunting well. He’s still got to get stronger, but he’s really picked up his game. We’re trying to get him to choke up a little bit from the left side, but he’s making much better contact.&uot;

A prospect

Logan has always been fast. Also a star on the basketball court, he was drafted out of Natchez High by the Yankees as a draft-and-follow choice due largely to his speed.

That’s also what the Tigers like about him, and Seawolves coaches give him the green light while he’s on the bases.

&uot;Right now it (total) is kind of down because I had a slow start,&uot; he said. &uot;I’ve got 31, and the guy leading the league has about 35 or 36. We’ve got 30 games left, and you never know what’s going to happen. I wasn’t getting on base like I needed to, but now I’m getting on and stealing bases.&uot;

Defensively, meanwhile, he’s become a stalwart in center under the discretion of Seawolves coaches. Bradshaw said he’s still learning to play defense there as well, although he benched Logan him at one point earlier this summer for failing to hustle.

That incident, too, is behind him, and Logan recently made a diving grab at the warning track at New Haven that his manager described as &uot;one of the best catches I’ve ever seen.&uot;

&uot;He’s always been solid defensively,&uot; Bradshaw said. &uot;Now the thing we’re trying to teach him is now how to dive for the ball and know which balls you can get by diving. He’s been diving and getting to balls you don’t think he can get to.&uot;

The Seawolves are encouraging the 6-2, 180-pound Logan to get stronger to be able to drive the ball further. Bradshaw and an assistant liken him to Willie Wilson, the tall, lanky leadoff hitter who starred for some of the Kansas City Royals’ best teams in the 1980s.

Speaking of leadoff, Logan has learned to do that better, too. Earlier in the season he was swinging at 3-1 pitches, but now he’s taking more pitches and giving the club a better idea of what type of pitcher is on the mound that night.

&uot;He’s got a lot of room to build a lot of muscle and get bigger,&uot; Bradshaw said. &uot;He’s got the potential to not only bunt single and steal bases but also gap power and maybe home run power. He’s got to cut down on his strikeouts. As a leadoff guy and a guy that’s very important to the team, you’ve got to get on base. We’ll get that fixed and cut down on his strikeouts.&uot;

As for the future, the Tigers’ trade for leadoff hitter Alex Sanchez from Milwaukee may have put Logan’s plans on hold a bit, but Sanchez was tagged as being selfish with the Brewers and may be temporary.

What the Tigers do is anybody’s guess, and two calls to the Tigers’ media relations office were not returned. Farm director Ricky Bennett was unavailable for comment Friday.

But Case, however, has an idea of what will happen when Logan becomes comfortable from the left side.

&uot;He leads the team in stolen bases now without question and is only a couple behind the league leader,&uot; Case said. &uot;But if he cuts his strikeouts down, that number will go up and be phenomenal. If he can get his on-base percentage up, his stolen bases could be up around the league leader in Major League Baseball without question.&uot;