A look at the Dodger Farm System

At the beginning of spring training there were quite a few rookies who could feel they had a realistic chance of making it to the Dodger opening day roster. One had been anointed, one looked like a perfect fit for a vacancy and others had their hopes. At the end of spring training the total number of those that made it up, though, was zero as in zip, nada. Oh, some rookies are on the team, four, depending on how you count. But not a one was a member of the Dodger system last year.

Edwin Jackson was the heir apparent for the fifth spot in the rotation, so ordained by Jim Tracy. But it turned out that Tracy was a mite premature for Jackson had a drab spring, so much so that he's in the Las Vegas rotation, not L.A. Steve Colyer had seemed to be ready to move in as a lefthanded member of the bullpen but for him the strike zone became as elusive as the Northwest Passage did for a 17th century explorer. He at least remained in the big leagues if playing for Detroit, a team that lost 119 games in 2003 still qualifies in that regard.

It was a year ago that Joe Thurston had been promised the second base job but his lack of production in the exhibition games negated that. This time around he performed in a manner that would have made him a regular if he had done it last spring but obviously then was then. Joe, too, is back in Vegas. Chin Feng Chen had visa problems that delayed his arrival and never got more than a cursory glance after that. He, too, is a Vegas 51 as is Koyie Hill, who could have been kept only if three catchers were retained, a notion considered, then discarded. Wilkin Ruan , who might have made it as a fourth or fifth outfielder, disappointed so was designated for assignment.

There's no question that the best performance among the new guys was by James Loney but he won't be 20 until May and Tracy wasn't about to entrust first base to someone who hadn't played above A ball. So, those that were still there at the start of the season were Duaner Sanchez, who had 17 games between the Diamondbacks and Pirates and, in a manner of speaking, Brian Falkenborg, who pitched in two games for the Orioles in 1999 who was placed on the disabled list.

A flurry of trades brought in outfielder Jayson Werth who's played in 41 big league games for the Blue Jays and Jason Grabowski with 16 at-bats for Oakland. The additions from the non-roster candidates wound up being Olmedo Saenz, Jose Lima and Jose Hernandez, who all came from the factory outlet part of free agency.

All this means that Terry Kennedy, the new manager of the 51's of Las Vegas, has an extremely presentable lineup, particularly in the outfield where Chen, who led the organization with 26 home runs last season , is joined by Shane Victorino, John Barnes and Cody Ross. Victorino is being groomed as a Dave Roberts clone, a leadoff man who can provide sizzle with his speed. Barnes would seem like a solid minor league free agent pickup for he hit .323 at Nashville last year.

Cody Ross, the player Colyer was traded for, was the Detroit minor league Player of the Year but that doesn't mean he was considered their best prospect. No, Baseball America, rated him 14th. Some scouts have always regarded him with suspicion because of his size (5-11, 180) but he's a tough guy who can drive the ball and Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta thinks he can be a major league regular in the not-too-distant future.

Jason Romano, who played better than anybody else in the spring doings, was sent to Tampa Bay for infielder Antonio Perez, who promptly was dispatched to Vegas. Perez came up in the middle of last season to become the Devil Rays' shortstop, but he's from the Adrian Beltré school of hitting which means that he never met a pitch that he didn't like so wound up groping for those well away from hitting land as his average plummeted. Most feel he's more at home at second base but Thurston's back there again so Kennedy may play Perez at short to get both into the lineup. Eric Riggs is also available at short while Rick Bell returns as the third baseman. Hill will catch a pitching staff that would seem to begin with Jackson. Not to put a spin on Edwin's assignment but it's still a promotion for he was at Jacksonville last year. Kennedy and pitching coach Roger McDowell also have the veterans Troy Brohawn, Rod Myers and Rick White, though the latter has a clause in his contract that calls for his release if a big league club beckons. Joel Hanrahan, the 2003 Southern League pitcher of the year, spent most of the spring nursing a sore arm back to health and should be a vital component. Tom Farmer and Heath Totten are other starters up from Jacksonville.

Though there's no designated closer, the bullpen can count on Augustin Montero, who hopefully has added command to his upper- 90's pitches plus Aaron Looper, Bradon's cousin, who came from Seattle in a trade for Jolbert Cabrera.

One moment Jacksonville manager Dino Ebel was envisioning having Franklin Gutierrez and Loney providing a menacing middle of his batting order when Gutierrez, the organization's player of the year and a genuine platinum prospect, was sent away to Cleveland in order to obtain Milton Bradley. Now, Dino already knew that he won't have Reggie Abercrombie, recuperating from a knee operation, until May at least, but he took the latest blow bravely. "It's the nature of the business we're in," said he.

For the time being he's winging it a bit in the outfield with either Derek Michaelis or Jesse Hoorelbeke playing right. Both are normally first basemen by trade but don't figure to get much playing time there as long as Loney's around. They'll join returnees Nick Alvarez and Jason Repko.

The most interesting position switch of the spring sent Willie Aybar from third to second where he'll work with shortstop Nelson Castro, who's in his 11th minor league season. Brennan King once more is the Suns third baseman. Edwin Bellorin, very able defensively but whose bat has lagged behind, is the catcher.

Most all of the glittering pitching staff headed by Hanrahan and Jackson has moved on. Pitching coach Marty Reed does have Andrew Brown, who managed only one inning last season before an elbow injury required surgery but who has looked sharp so far. Two newcomers who should figure prominently are Ryan Ketchner, who came along with Looper from Seattle in the Cabrera trade and Yhency Brazoban, who was part of the Kevin Brown deal with the Yankees. Ketchner is a lefthander who won 14 games to become a California League all-star in '03 while Brazoban, a converted infielder who throws blast-furnace heat, will be used out of the bullpen.

Eric Hull and T. J. Nall who pitched better than their losing records would indicate, are up from Vero Beach as is Franquelis Osoria, who throws a wicked sinker. Elvin Nina, rescued from independent ball last season, returns while Randy Leek, a soft-tossing lefthander who was nonetheless effective in 2002, is coming back from arm surgery that caused him to miss all of 2003.

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