The MVPs

I have recently gone through two hurricanes, (Frances and Jeanne), which reminds me of the old joke, " Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?" The play ? Well. there wasn't a whole lot of winning among the Dodger minor league teams in the recently completed season. Of the eight clubs -- which includes two in the Dominican Summer League -- only one made the playoffs and only three had winning records. The prospect count was generally high, though.

Some made considerable strides forward like Joel Guzman and Chad Billingsley. A few were disappointments like James Loney and Joel Hanrahan.

Some notables spent the summer on the sidelines rehabbing, notably Greg Miller and Brian Pilkington.

Inevitably some were traded as in Felipe Gutierrez and Andrew Brown and some of the more promising were acquired in deals as in Cody Ross and Ryan Ketchner.

And another seemingly profitable draft produced some intriguing hopes for the future as in Scott Elbert and Blake DeWitt.

And now, to salute some for the more distinguished play during the course of the summer, herein are this publication's Most Valuable Players and Pitchers for each team.

LAS VEGAS--The 51's under Terry Kennedy were never really in the mix, trailing the pack for most of the season to finish with a 67-76 mark. You certainly can't fault the batters in that for collectively they averaged .289. Antonio Perez, who was picked up in a trade with Tampa Bay, did well but you can't ignore the performance of Luis Garcia.

The Mexican first baseman, who had been signed over the winter as a free agent, ripped 32 home runs, and the same number of doubles for a .584 slugging percentage. He drove in 95 runs while averaging .314. That might not be a monster year but it's close.

The pitching on the other hand. Well, does a team 5.44 earned run average give you an idea? There were a couple of veterans - Tanyon Sturtze and Rick White -- who had indicated at the beginning that they would do well but both were quickly traded. The others were woefully inconsistent.

However, through it all, Troy Brohawn was on call and was worked frequently for the bullpen; so much so, that his 72 appearances were tops in the league. His seven wins (he lost five ) tied for the club lead and while his 5.42 ERA is an indication that he, too, wasn't a model of consistency, he gave more noble efforts than any others and deserves the recognition.

JACKSONVILLE--Dino Ebel's team came out smoking but faltered thereafter to lose out in the first half and never contended at all in the second, winding up with a 66-71 overall record.

They were a curious team, very able at home, not at all strong on the road. The MVP choice comes down to whom do you like -the guy at the top of their order, Shane Victorino or the man in the middle, Willie Aybar?

The choice here is Aybar, in no small part because Victorino spent the first month at Vegas while Willie was here all year. Here doing quite well, in fact. His 77 RBI led the team while his 15 homers were one shy of Victorino's mark. He also clouted 27 doubles and, more than incidentally, made the switch from being an adept third baseman to being equally proficient at second.

Yhency Brazoban was a dominant closer in the first half, so much so that he was rapidly promoted to wind up in L.A.

That took him out of contention but there was a most worthy winner in the aforementioned Ryan Ketchner, who was obtained in a trade with Seattle. Ketchner, who is 95 percent deaf and who has to read lips to communicate, is determined to provide a role model for others with his handicap and here he succeeded admirably.

His ability to exploit batter's weaknesses saw him compile a league third-best 3.02 ERA while going 8-7. He struck out 98 batters in 119 innings.

VERO BEACH--The most successful of the lot, Scott Little's Dodgers started rather slowly, then began putting it together at the end of the first half, and continued on to coast to the second-half crown in the Florida State East.

A less than strong performance in the first round of the playoffs when they dropped two straight to the Daytona Cubs to be eliminated was understandable because Hurricane Frances cost them a week of practice.

In all, their play was reflected in their 79-57 record for they were strong in all areas of the game.

Shortstop Joel Guzman was on his way to an MVP season when he was whisked away to Jacksonville midway through the year. So, the choice comes down to either Delwyn Young, an offensive second baseman par excellence or catcher Russell Martin, whose strong arm tactics muffled would-be base stealers.

Young's rapid improvement as the year went on carried him to a season in which he slammed 22 homers along with 36 doubles while averaging .281. While he won't be confused with Bill Mazeroski in the field, he did improve there, too, so wins the award.

Vero not only gave up its top hitter to Jacksonville at mid-year but also its No. 1 pitcher in Chad Billingsley. In this case, though, Jonathan Broxton stepped up in a big way.

The bulky righthander from Georgia dominated hitters throughout the latter part of the season, finishing with an 11-6 mark and a 3.23 ERA. A power pitcher deluxe, he whiffed 144 batters in 128 innings.

COLUMBUSIn a season which saw five key offensive players and six pitchers of like status sent up to Vero, manager Dann Bilardello had to do a lot of lineup reshuffling.

Contenders in the first half, the Catfish were another team that didn't hit their stride in the second to end all even at 69-69.

There were several players who had applaudable seasons like Tony Abreau, Matt Kemp and Luis Jimenez. The honors, though, go to shortstop Chin-lung Hu for his exceptional play both with the glove and bat.

He was the league manager's choice as the best fielder at his position and was capable at the plate with a .298 average. He stole 17 bases and, it should be noted, is the best bunter in the organization as the native of Taiwan laid down 11 sacrifices. He was one of those promoted to Vero but did more than enough to become the club's only South Atlantic League all-star.

The pitching, too, showcased some strong arms. Jumbo Diaz, who saved 14 games in his 28 appearances, could well have won but was up with Vero for the second half. Chuck Tiffany was a sensation with 141 K's in 100 innings.

The best season, though, was that posted by 18-year-old righthander Julio Pimentel from the Dominican Republic. He was 10-8 with a 3.48 ERA and was no slouch in the strikeout department, too, with 102 in 111 innings .He made the big leap from the Dominican League and made it well.

OGDEN--It's easy to see why Travis Barbary's club was a strong force in the Pioneer League for they averaged .303 at the plate. It's also just as apparent why they didn't win for the pitchers posted a 6.00 ERA as a unit.

First-round draft choice Blake DeWitt was among those who prospered at the bat. The best, though, was first baseman Cory Dunlap, a third-round selection in June. Dunlap hit .351 with gap power (seven HR) and demonstrated a remarkable batting eye, with 68 walks as opposed to 40 strikeouts, putting that with his team-best 86 hits for a .492 on -base percentage.

The potential was a lot better than the results in the pitching department. Still, you can't fault the year righthander Mark Alexander had as the team's closer. Chosen down in the 20th round from the University of Missouri, Alexander handled his role with aplomb, going 4-1 with a 2.65 ERA and the third-best save total in the league with nine.

GULF COAST DODGERS--Luis Salazar had a team of battlers, who began well, slumped, then came on to stay in contention until the final week, finishing at 31-29.

Best with a bat, by far, was third baseman Jamie Hoffman, who had been drafted by the NHL Carolina club but not in baseball. He led the league in RBI (36), hits (71), triples (7) and runs scored (40) while averaging .310.

Tops among the pitchers was Howar Zuleta, a right-hander from Venezuela, who may be last on the list alphabetically but not in ability. Used mainly as a closer, he tied for the most saves in the league with seven as well as appearances with 23. His 2.34 ERA belied his 1-3 won-loss mark.

SANTO DOMINGO #1- The lesser of the two entries in the Dominican League, it had season-long woes to finish well back at 22-44.

Infielder Eduardo Rivas, another native of Venezuela, did well, though, as he compiled a 361 on-base percentage plus 20 stolen bases to showcase his top-of-the-order skills.

Righthander Eduardo Quintana also came over from Venezuela to pitch impressively. His record was 2-3 but he held opposing hitters to a 1.85 on-base percentage and a 2.52 ERA. Possessed of a power arm, he K'd 56 batters in 60 innings.

SANTO DOMINGO #2. By far the stronger of the two Dominican entries, it was 47-23 to finish only 2 1/2 behind Seattle in the North Division.

Infielder Adolfo Gonzalez was major reason for this success. And guess what? He 's another one of Camilo Pascual's finds from Venezuela. He made his third year his best yet by batting .325 with a .409 on-base mark. More than incidentally he was tops on the team in RBI (36) and hits (67).

There were three standout pitching performances by Marlon Arias, Mario Alvarez and Mario Gracia. The first two named have superior arms which bodes well for the future while Gracia is more of a finesse pitcher. It was his perfect 6-0 record with a 1.52 ERA that was too much to ignore, however.

He's a Mexican who, in two years in the league, has now won 13 games without ever having taken a loss.

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