Vero Replaces Dodgertown Signs in Florida

Some of the more visible symbols of the former Dodgertown spring training complex were being stored away. Recently, the large Dodgertown signs around the complex were replaced with those carrying the Vero Beach Sports Village logo. Indian River County is paying for the rebranding of the facility and renaming it The Vero Beach Sports Village.

The facility has played host to hundreds of college and other amateur baseball games since Minor League Baseball took it over, as well as various other events including soccer tournaments and preseason football training for the University of South Florida Bulls.

At least a half-dozen of the old Dodgertown signs were replaced over several hours December 22 with new Vero Beach Sports Village signs. The old Dodgertown signs were put in storage.

"Our intent is to preserve them," said Indian River County Assistant Administrator Mike Zito. "I think we are seeing a turning point in the Vero Beach Sports Village brand."

At the same time, he said, the county would welcome any chance to return to being able to use the Dodgertown name for the facility. At one time, MiLB officials had hoped to use the name "Historic Dodgertown," but an agreement was never reached with the Dodgers to use that name. That doesn't mean MiLB is cutting off all ties to the history of the former complex.

As part of the agreement with the county, MiLB also agreed not to change the name of Holman Stadium and a new sign identifying the stadium as such, as well as listing the Dodgers' championship years, has been installed.. In addition, Zito said a marble, monument sign bearing the name Dodgertown will be retained at the site.

ANNUAL DEVELOPMENTAL MINICAMP
As they've been doing in recent years, the Dodgers again have let the world know which farmhands might make a Major League impact by "inviting" them to an annual developmental minicamp, to be held at Dodger Stadium Jan. 7-15.

Here's the invitation list:

Pitchers (8): Chris Withrow, Rubby De La Rosa, Javy Guerra, Ethan Martin, Aaron Miller, Nathan Eovaldi, Steven Ames, Luis Vasquez.

Position Players (8): Matt Wallach, Gorman Erickson, Justin Sellers, Dee Gordon, Kyle Russell, Trayvon Robinson, Jerry Sands, Pedro Baez.

The group includes last year's organization pitcher of the year (De La Rosa) and the past two players of the year (Gordon and Sands). Also included are three top-pick pitchers -- Withrow, Martin and Miller -- who have shown flashes of brilliance but haven't advanced through the system as quickly as hoped.

Guerra and Robinson will miss three days as they attend MLB's development program with prospects from other organizations. Guerra is recovering from a gash on his pitching hand.

Seven of last year's invitees appeared in the Major Leagues for the Dodgers during the season. They were Carlos Monasterios, John Ely, Jon Link, Travis Schlichting, Kenley Jansen, A.J. Ellis and Russell Mitchell.

This will be the fourth year of the developmental minicamp, which is designed to take the best and brightest of the farm system, accelerate their Major League arrival and aid acclimation to what they will encounter when they get there.

Among earlier participants are Clayton Kershaw and Blake DeWitt. Assistant general manager De Jon Watson's minicamp also allows club officials to get a line on each player's conditioning prior to Spring Training and to tweak flaws in a pitcher's delivery or a hitter's swing before the start of the real camp, where the player is focused on making the club.

They receive coaching on baseball skills, but also are instructed in aspects of Major League Baseball that should be essential but often are overlooked, from media relations to security issues to interaction with fans and the importance of community outreach.

FIREBALLER SIGNED
The Dodgers signed right-handed pitching prospect Scott Nestor to a minor league deal, and many wonder if they had inked another Rex Barney. For those of you who are too young to remember Barney, the young righthanded was praised by none other than Yankee outfielder Joe DiMaggio as "the fastest pitcher I have ever faced" after the 1947 World Series.

Joe Garagiola added that he troubled catchers also. "One night we were playing in a park where the lights were not so good and when I put down two fingers for a curve, he only saw one and here comes his fastball.

Catchers wear chest protectors but this was Rex Barney's fastball. I woke up in the infirmary and had perfect imprints of a baseball on my chest."

Barney won 14 games and pitched a no-hitter against the Giants in 1948 .

But somewhere after that he could not locate home plate and was out of baseball by 1950 despite the work of a legion of pitching coaches who attempted to help him.

Nestor, a 26-year-old reliever, has struck out more than a batter per inning in his entire eight-year minor league career. Over his eight minor league career he has allowed only 7.8 hits per nine innings.

But the California native, who pitched for Giants affiliates last year after spending time in the Pirates, Phillies and Marlins organizations, has also walked 7.8 batters per nine innings.

LEACH SIGNS WITH JAPANESE CLUB
The only recent move for the Dodgers wasn't very significant. Left-handed reliever Brent Leach was designated for assignment and is expected to be sold to Yokohama of the Japan League. Leach reached the majors in April 2009, straight from Double-A, and departed with a 5.75 ERA in 20.1 innings of relief. Upon his return to the minors, he went to Triple-A and struggled.

Since the lefty's best pitch is a changeup, he didn't project as a left-on-left relief specialist, so he was moved back to starting and began the 2010 season at Double-A. He went 7-3 with a 4.57 ERA, was bumped back up to Triple-A and was used mostly as a reliever again, going 3-2 with a 6.35 ERA in 26 games (three starts).

Leach was never a top prospect and seemed to plateau last year. Having him go to Japan doesn't really hurt the Dodgers' depth.

What hurt the Dodgers' depth was the number of pitchers who didn't pan out as expected the last few years, and those minor league shortcomings prevented the Dodgers from obtaining elite players in trades.

It also has led to the Dodgers needing to shell out more money this winter for free agent pitching.

Last year, the Dodgers thought at least one, maybe two, and perhaps all three from a trio of Scott Elbert, Josh Lindblom and James McDonald would contribute in the majors. All three took steps backward, and McDonald was sent to the Pirates in the Octavio Dotel trade.

Kenley Jansen's debut last year was impressive, and he's a future closer. The rest of last year's rookie contributors -- Carlos Monasterios, John Ely, Jon Link and Travis Schlichting -- were more down than up.

Further down the minors, former first-round picks Chris Winthow (2006), Ethan Martin (2008) and Aaron Miller (2009) haven't been as consistent as needed. Plenty of time remains for all three, but they aren't seen as elite prospects anymore.

Rubby De La Rosa emerged in 2010 with his near-100 mph fastball as a potential difference-maker in the majors. Others in the minors who could contribute in the future are Javy Guerra, Nathan Eovaldi, Steven Ames and Luis Vasquez.

Zack Lee, the first-round pick in 2010 who received a record signing bonus to turn away from playing quarterback at LSU, is 2-3 years from the majors.

But overall, the quantity and quality of pitching in the Dodgers' farm system isn't viewed as special by some experts.

The number of moves this winter show that the Dodgers aren't counting on the minors to fill in gaps in their pitching staff. They're basically ignoring their pitching prospects, forcing them to wait for an opportunity after an injury to earn their way to the majors.

MCCOURT ASKS FOR NEW TRIAL
Frank McCourt asked a judge to consider reinstating the agreement that would have provided McCourt with sole ownership of the Dodgers. On Dec. 7, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon threw out the agreement on grounds it did not conform to California law. The objections McCourt filed are highly unlikely to persuade Gordon to change his mind, but they could be included among the grounds for a possible appeal.

McCourt also plans to ask for a new trial, this one to argue the Dodgers are his property because he bought them with a company formed before his marriage and because the team is held solely in his name.

McCourt's ex-wife, Jamie, argueD that the Dodgers should be considered community property. She is exploring whether to form an investment group and offer to buy out Frank's interest in the Dodgers. Frank has insisted he does not plan to sell all or part of the team.

NOTES, QUOTES
--RHP Zack Greinke, who was traded from the Royals to the Brewers on Dec. 19, was sought by the Dodgers. Even though they already have six starting pitchers, the Dodgers were in talks with the Royals regarding the former Cy Young winner. The Dodgers tried to get a third team involved, but ultimately they didn't match up with KC to pull off the trade.

--OF/INF Bill Hall, one of the players the Dodgers were pursuing to play left field, signed a one-year contract with the Astros instead for about $3 million. Hall, who hit 18 home runs in 382 at-bats, will play second base for the Astros.

--OF Marcus Thames is one of three players the Dodgers are considering for the outfield, along with Jerry Hairston and his brother Scott. Thames is the biggest power threat of the three, which is what the Dodgers need most. Thames hit 25 homers in 382 at-bats with the Tigers two years ago, 13 in 294 two years ago, and 12 in 237 for the Yankees last season.

--OF Jermaine Dye is another outfielder who's available, and he has the most impressive career statistics of anyone still on the market. Of course, Dye didn't play last year when he didn't receive a contract offer that suited him. If the Dodgers did sign the soon-to-be 37 year old, it would likely be a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Since Dye lives in Arizona, a West Coast team like the Dodgers might appeal to him.

--INF Chin-lung Hu is out of minor league options, which means the Dodgers must decide how badly they want him to remain in the organization this spring. The Dodgers know their Opening Day infield will have James Loney, Juan Uribe, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake and Jamey Carroll. Hu will get competition from Russ Mitchell and Ivan DeJesus for the sixth infield position.

BY THE NUMBERS: .299/.410/.494 -- Slash line for outfield/first base prospect Jerry Sands in the Arizona Fall League. The Dodgers aren't pursuing any major free agent outfielders because they hope, and strongly believe, Sands is the long-term answer in left field. Sands is expected to begin the season at Triple-A Albuquerque, where he could put up some monster numbers in the high altitude.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I wanted to find out how much the team really wanted me. If the Dodgers did want me, they would have tendered me a contract. I wanted to find out if they still believed in me and things of that order. By doing that (non-tender), they gave me the answer I wanted to find out about." -- Former Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, after signing with the New York Yankees.

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