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Archive for Tuesday, November 18, 1997

T BE DRAFTED

November 18, 1997

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Lee Stevens won't hear his name called in today's major league baseball expansion draft.

Stevens, a 1986 Lawrence High graduate, has been placed on the protected list of the Texas Rangers, who are concerned about the health of regular first baseman Will Clark.

"They almost had to protect me in case he (Clark) can't play," Stevens said by phone from his home in Wichita.

While Clark was sidelined with a foot injury during the last month of the 1997 season, Stevens filled in at first base.

"He (Clark) was hurting pretty bad and they didn't have surgery so they don't know," Stevens. "It's the same kind of heel injury Mark McGwire had, but McGwire had surgery."

Stevens, who has rarely been injured during his 12-year professional baseball career, played in 137 games for the Rangers last season, mostly as a substitute for injured regulars Juan Gonzalez, Mickey Tettleton and Clark.

"I've been fortunate to stay healthy," Stevens said, "and it really worked out for me filling in for those guys last season."

The 30-year-old left-handed hitter finished with his best major league numbers -- a .300 batting average, a .514 slugging percentage, 21 home runs and 74 runs batted in.

Stevens has come a long way from from the early 90s, when he flopped with the California Angels. He spent the 1993 season in the minor leagues and the 1994 and 1995 seasons playing in Japan.

After being released by the Kintetsu Buffaloes, he didn't have a job until the Rangers signed him to a Triple-A contract the day before the 1996 season opened. At Oklahoma City, Stevens had such a breakthrough season he was named the most valuable player in the American Association.

"I stuck with it. I persevered," Stevens said. "A lot has changed for me both mechanically and mentally. Maybe you could call me a late bloomer."

The Rangers, who cannot trade Clark because of a clause in his contract, have to decide how much they want to play Stevens. He earned $230,000 plus incentives last season, but will obviously ask for more this year.

"I'm eligible for arbitration, but that's not until January and I'm hoping to get something done before then," he said. "About 98 percent settle before it gets to arbitration."

Stevens is hoping the Rangers offer him a two- or three-year contract.

"I'd definitely look at that," he said. "I'm not getting any younger. I'd definitely take the security."

Stevens and his wife, Kim, have two young sons.

-- Chuck Woodling's phone message number is 832-7147. His e-mail address is woodling@ljworld.com.

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