Friday, April 2, 1999
Angel all over
Molokai's Keith Luuloa mayBy Scott Bordow
make the big-league roster
thanks to a power surge and
an increasing ability to
play many positions
Special to the Star-Bulletin
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The number says it all: 86.
A player doesn't have much chance of making a major-league baseball roster when he has the same number as an NFL wide receiver.
s Keith Luuloa knows that. And he doesn't care.
At least the Molokai High alumnus has a job waiting for him at the Anaheim Angels' AAA affiliate in Edmonton. It sure as heck beats the alternative.
"I didn't even expect to be here this long," Luuloa said last week as he sat in the Angels' locker room, sipping on a bottle of water as Mo Vaughn dressed just a few lockers away. "So I'd say it's going pretty well."
Pretty well? Try unbelievably well.
Last year at this time the Angels thought they might have seen the last of Luuloa, a 6-foot, 185-pound second baseman.
He didn't have the pedigree to begin with, having been selected in the 30th round of the June 1993 amateur draft.
His climb up the Angels' minor-league chain had been slow and unimpressive. Only once had he hit better than .273, and he never had more than nine homers or seven stolen bases in a season.
The Angels sent Luuloa down to Class AA Midland, where he played full seasons in 1996 and 1997. The message was clear: You're not in our plans.
"It might have been the end of the road," said Angels vice president and general manager Bill Bavasi.
'He's done a good job opening
the eyes of everyone around here.
He's got a chance.'
Angels Vice president and general manager
Luuloa, 24, wondered where his career was heading.
But a funny thing happened on the road to nowhere. Luuloa started hitting. And he never stopped. He hit .334 for Midland in '98 with 17 homers and 102 RBIs.
"He really jump-started his career," Bavasi said.
The difference? Luuloa hit the gym. He had never been a proponent of weightlifting, fearing it would hurt his flexibility. But with nothing to lose, he started a weight program in the off-season.
He couldn't believe the difference. "Before I wouldn't hit it very hard. Now I swing and the ball just jumps," he said.
The Angels were stunned by Luuloa's power surge.
"They should have been shocked," he said. "All of a sudden I came out and put numbers up."
Luuloa has continued his solid hitting in Cactus League games. Yesterday he went 2-for-5 with his first home run of the spring to raise his average to .357 (15-for-42) and his slugging average to .476. He's scored eight runs and driven in 10.
And he's trying to increase his chances of making a major-league roster by becoming a utility player. He's played shortstop, second, left field and right field this spring.
"My everyday position is second base, but being a utility guy might be my role right now," he said. "Whatever it takes."
Luuloa fully expects a trip to Canada when the Angels break camp, but Bavasi isn't so sure. A guy who can play four positions and hit is valuable.
"I don't know if he's totally out of the picture," Bavasi said. "He's done a good job opening the eyes of everyone around here. He's got a chance."