Once Haynes warms up, he's not shy

March 03, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

VIERA, Fla. -- Jimmy Haynes? Tall kid from Georgia. Never says a word. "A green pea" when the Orioles drafted him in 1991, according to scouting director Gary Nickels.

Jimmy Haynes? Mention the name, and Larry Pitts starts to chuckle. Pitts is the baseball coach at Haynes' alma mater, Troup County (Ga.) High School. He first met Haynes in sixth grade, and remembers him as, well, a flake.

"He's a little bit off the wall," Pitts said. "He's got a weird sense of humor. He'd be cutting up a lot on the bus and in the dugout when he wasn't pitching."

Must be a different Jimmy Haynes.

"He never says anything around here," Mike Mussina said.

Haynes smiled yesterday when asked what happened to the gregarious kid who used to perform mock broadcasts at the far end of the dugout in high school, complete with crowd noise and commercials.

"I'm quiet around people when I first meet them," he said. "But once I get going, and get to know you, it's hard to shut me up."

If that's the case, the Orioles are about to hear more from Haynes, the rookie right-hander from LaGrange, Ga., who projects as their fifth starter.

Haynes, 23, held opposing hitters to a .136 batting average in four appearances last season, and yesterday he worked two scoreless innings in the Orioles' exhibition opener, a 10-1 victory over Florida.

"He pitched like a veteran," manager Davey Johnson said.

Funny thing about Haynes -- quiet as he seems, he always knew where he was going. His lanky physique and smooth delivery attracted scouts to LaGrange, a town of about 30,000 near the Alabama border. But what intrigued the Orioles most was his desire.

Lamar North, the scout who signed Haynes, still remembers their first meeting. Haynes said it took place after school in an empty classroom. Right away, North could tell how badly the kid wanted to pitch in the major leagues.

And soon after, the Orioles selected Haynes in the seventh round of the 1991 draft -- the same draft that yielded left-handers Rick Krivda and Vaughn Eshelman, and outfielders Mark Smith, Curtis Goodwin and Alex Ochoa.

Eshelman, Goodwin and Ochoa are now with other clubs. Haynes, though, could represent a turning point for the organization -- he should be a keeper, a young player who succeeds in Baltimore, not somewhere else.

The Orioles acquired three of their starting pitchers (David Wells, Scott Erickson and Kent Mercker) by trading prospects. Now, with Haynes and Rocky Coppinger emerging, perhaps the trend will reverse.

We've heard it all before, about Arthur Rhodes, about Brad Pennington, about too many busts to mention. But if this next wave of prospects is legitimate, it would behoove the Orioles to stop eating their young, to save money, to build morale.

Haynes, in particular, represents a triumph of an organization, not an open wallet.

Baseball scouting is more inexact than, say, basketball recruiting, where top prospects are identified as early as junior high school. North said he saw Haynes pitch only three or four times -- once for Troup County, then in a few all-star games.

John Stokoe, the Orioles' regional supervisor in the eastern third of the country, saw Haynes just once. Nickels, the man in charge of the draft, did not see him at all -- not unusual, considering Haynes was a seventh-rounder.

So, what distinguished Haynes? For starters, his long, lanky build -- at 6 feet 4 and 170 pounds, North said the right-hander "kind of reminded me of what a young Jim Palmer might have been."

As Nickels put it, "Pitchers with long bodies tend to throw harder as they mature." And since signing out of high school, Haynes has added 25 pounds.

North said Haynes had excellent mechanics at Troup County, and threw 85 mph on the slow radar gun. He described him as "very projectionable" -- meaning he could envision a pattern of growth.

"Certainly, I didn't know he'd be this successful," said North, an Orioles scout since 1976 who previously signed Gregg Olson and John Shelby. "It's a guessing game."

And in such a game, every intangible matters.

Which brings us back to North's first meeting with Haynes, the "signability meeting" at which the scout wanted to determine how badly this kid wanted to play pro ball.

The two struck a bond.

North, 66, is a former catcher who played from 1948 to '60, making it to Triple-A with the New York Yankees, where he was stuck behind Yogi Berra and Elston Howard.

"He's a small-town boy, raised the way I was raised," said North, a lifelong resident of Rossville, Ga. "I didn't know much of anything when I was his age."

"I can remember sitting in that same position -- everything looks like the big time. I thought he was very sincere. There was nothing phony about him. He wanted a career in baseball. This was his lifelong dream."

North was right about Haynes' sincerity -- "he was the first high-school kid I could remember who didn't throw college in there as leverage against us," the scout said.

"I didn't have any experience in negotiations like that," Haynes said. "Hardly anybody around there has ever been drafted."

Agent Scott Boras would have been appalled, but here is Haynes, poised to join a rotation of millionaires in what would have been his first year out of college.

"He's a character," said Pitts, his high school coach.

Can't wait to hear him broadcast a game from the dugout.

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