When James Loney was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers with the 19th pick of the 2002 MLB Amateur Draft, it was expected that he could turn into a future star. While he was unlikely to ever turn into a prototypical slugging first baseman, he was expected to hit for a high batting average, and potentially contend for several batting titles. Coming out of the draft, he was compared to players like Mark Grace and Wally Joyner, former All-Stars who were solid defensively and ended their careers with over 2000 hits.
Yet, despite an excellent rookie season in 2007 where he finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year ballot in just over half a season, Loney never really became what the Dodgers envisioned. His power, which was not expected to be great, never really developed. That would have been acceptable if he was hitting in the .320 to .330 range, but Loney never hit above .290 in a full season. After five and a half years of mostly disappointment, Loney was shipped out to the Red Sox, where he was even worse before becoming a free agent.
Yet, since signing with the Rays, Loney has been a different player. In fact, he has become what the Dodgers expected, as he is currently seventh in the American League in batting average, while playing excellent defense. He is second on the Rays in OPS+, third in RBIs and leads the team in hits. According to Loney, the difference has been being able to relax, having gotten away from pressure markets like Boston and Los Angeles.
Now, Loney returns to the place where it all began, heading to Dodgers Stadium, where the Rays are making their first ever trek as part of a three game set. While it may be a bittersweet return for Loney, it may be for the Dodgers as well. From afar, they have seen Loney turn into the player they expected that he would be, only it is on the opposite side of the country.
Even though they say you can never go home again, James Loney is returning to Los Angeles once again. This time, he is coming back better than he had been before.