Top Dodger Prospects #2 - Joel Guzman

As we climb toward the finish of our countdown among the top Dodger prospects, this week we have reached the top two.

#2

Name- IRVIN JOEL GUZMAN
Position- Shortstop
Residence San Pedro de Macoris, D.R.
DOB- Nov. 24, 1984
Height-6-6
Weight-225
B/T-R-R
04 Club(s) - Vero Beach (high A); Jacksonville (AA)

Until this past season, Joel Guzman often looked like a player in a league too far. Consider that he was signed for a record $2.25 million bonus at age 16, started in the Gulf Coast League in 2002, then was promoted to the Pioneer League after only 10 games although he was hitting only .212 at the time. He did up his average to .252 but with just three home runs. He started 2004 at South Georgia in the low A South Atlantic League fell off to .235 midway through the season, only to be pushed up again. At Vero Beach, he struggled through to a .246 mark with five homers after hitting eight in South Georgia. The raw talent was there, the plate discipline and pitch recognition obviously were not.

That changed dramatically in 2004, when for the first time he began at a level he had previously encountered. He started punishing breaking pitches as never before and sent fast balls into orbit often. At 6-6, with a tremendous arm span, he has a long swing but possesses such natural strength that even when he doesn't connect solidly a ball jumps off his bat and can travel a long distance.

By mid-season, he had clearly conquered the league, hitting .307-14-51. That earned him a trip up to Jacksonville where he was not at all fazed, finishing at .280-9-35. His maturation process also was demonstrated in his attitude for he overcame the mood swings that had marked his play previously to perform with aplomb. By the end of the year he had become not only the top position prospect in the organization but one of the elite minor leaguers.

He 's cut down on the strikeouts although he may always be something of a free swinger and he'll still get a lot of breaking pitches, having to prove he can punish them as well to pitchers at every level for he's just 20 years old and climbing the learning curve. But his offensive potential is huge, indeed.

It's in the field where questions arise. He's always been a shortstop although his size has suggested he'd be better suited elsewhere. He plays the position acceptably, going to his right very well but is somewhat weak to his left. He relies a lot on his long arms to reach balls and his superior throwing ability, often hanging back rather than charging slow rollers. He certainly has the arm to play third or right field, for that matter and the size for first if that's his ultimate destination.

For now the Dodgers don't seem inclined either to move him to another spot nor rush him along, as before. He isn't invited to the big club's camp as a non-roster player and may well open the year at Jacksonville. Then, if progress continues, he could move up to Las Vegas by the middle of the season with a call-up to L.A,. by September if not before.

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