Friday, May 04, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Devil shines on the diamond

Leader sports editor

For the love of the game. That’s a phrase tossed about in sports to describe why an athlete does what he does. But there’s a reason that phrase was used as a title for a novel and movie about baseball, instead of some other sport. Unlike most other sports, natural ability is never enough to be one of the best in baseball. It takes a dedication that can only come if the player has that love for the game.

Jacksonville High School is currently home to one of the most gifted ball players in Arkansas. Just get Major League draft prospect D’Vone McClure talking about baseball, and you’ll quickly get a sense for his love of the game.

Drop by the Dupree Park batting cages or the JHS field house during after school hours, and you’ll see it for yourself.

McClure, the youngest of six brothers with one younger sister, will be there swinging away or working on some other aspect of his game. Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows said the signs of McClure’s love of baseball showed early, even before he could play for the Red Devils.

“He started showing up around here as an eighth grader,” Burrows said. “He showed up after school on game day one day and asked if could he ride the bus to the game with us. I told him to get his mom on the phone and if she tells me you can, you can ride the bus with us. I knew who he was back then, but I didn’t know he was going to turn out like he did. He was just a kid who loved baseball and loved to be around it. He’d ride the bus to games. He’d sit in the dugout and not say a word, just watch us play.”

That childlike love of just being around the ballpark, being around the game, has never subsided in McClure. In fact it’s developed into an insatiable appetite for it.

“I love this game, everything about it,”McClure said. “Batting, defense, batting practice, all of it. I can see myself doing this every day really.”

Last summer McClure got a taste of what offseason is like for a pro ball player. He tried out and made it into program for prospects that had them in Florida, training every day just like they would in major league spring training.

It was baseball 24/7. Batting practice first thing in the morning, games and other workouts the rest of the day, complete with regimented meals three times daily.

McClure loved it.

“It was great,” McClure said. “The every day grind of it to me was exciting. It is a grind. It is a lot of work. But ultimately you’re still playing baseball, and that’s what I love to do more than anything.”

McClure’s natural ability and dedication to work has already garnered him a scholarship to play for Dave Van Horn and the University of Arkansas.

In about a month, it will get him drafted early in the 2012 Major League Baseball draft.

At least two baseball websites with mock drafts have him going in the third round. has McClure as high as the 98th pick to the Baltimore Orioles, but only as low as the 110th pick to the Washington Nationals. It also says if both of those teams pass on him, the Toronto Blue Jays will greedily scoop him up with the 111th overall pick.

If he goes that high on June 4, day one of the MLB draft, it would mean a signing bonus well into six figures and that could mean he’ll bypass college altogether and begin immediately pursuing his dream of becoming a major leaguer. said of McClure’s performance at the mock spring training last summer, “D’vone McClure (Jacksonville, Ark., HS) has shown off some good tools. McClure stood out on Monday, but carried things over to the second day. His arm is just okay from the outfield, but his bat really whips through the zone and he continues to make solid contact.” was even more glowing in their analysis of McClure.

“McClure is teeming with upside. A projectable bat at 6’3, 190, McClure is raw in his approach at the plate, but shows big-time tools. He swings with tremendous bat speed and solid lift, and when he connects on a swing, he hits the ball with authority, although he hasn’t been able to tap into too much of his power yet. His pitch recognition is questionable at this point and he’s too aggressive at the plate, but if a pitcher makes a mistake against him, he can destroy it. Defensively, McClure has above-average speed that gives him nice range in centerfield in addition to making him a stolen base threat, but his arm is noticeably below average. If he can put it all together, McClure is a four-tool prospect.

“McClure is a raw athlete but one with impressive bat speed and above-average power who adds into the equation speed and excellent range in centerfield. In the third round, he’s definitely a worthwhile risk, and the type of gamble that could pay off big-time for whichever team drafts him. The Blue Jays (who hold the next pick) will be dismayed if the Nationals draft McClure.”

McClure made himself known to scouts last summer in Florida, but raised his draft stock considerably during a high-school game on his home field in late March.

Mountain Home’s Trey Killian, a 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher and also an early-round draft prospect, took the mound against the Red Devils on March 27. No less than 50 major league scouts were on hand to watch the hard-throwing Bomber, but McClure stole the show.

He went 2 for 3 with two doubles. The two hits were line drives. One hit the wall in centerfield on the fly, the other did the same in left.

Scouts took notice, and have been at every Jacksonville game since, and most practices. One person that wasn’t surprised was Burrows.

“He’s the best I’ve ever had at hitting good pitching,” Burrows said. “He did it down in Florida too. When you can take wood (wood bats were used at the camp) and turn around 93-94 miles per hour, you’re going to get noticed. There are only so many fast-twitch muscles a person has, and he has plenty of them.

Whether McClure plays for the Hogs or accepts a professional contract depends on what’s offered by the organization that drafts him. So it likely depends on just how highly he’s drafted.

He is truly in a win-win situation though. He’s fully qualified to step right into the Razorback lineup if the professional offers aren’t enticing enough, and that’s something he’s always dreamed about too.

“I didn’t even take any other visits,” McClure said of his college recruitment. “I knew I wanted to be a Razorback. I’ve known all along, but when I went up there I fell in love with it even more. Coach Van Horn and coach (Todd Butler) were great. The team accepted me immediately and started treating me like one of them, like a teammate. So I’ll be very happy no matter what happens.”

This is part one of a two-part series.