Top Dodger Prospect - #1 - Chad Billingsley

Today we conclude the series on the leading prospects in the Dodger system with a look at the player we rate as the best of the best.


Position- Starting Pitcher
Residence- Vero Beach, Fla.
DOB- July 29, 1984
B/T- R-R
04 Club(s) - Vero Beach (high A); Jacksonville (AA)

The rise of Chad Billingsley through the system has been so rapid that some who had written that the Dodgers had made an unwise reach when they selected him No.1 in the 2003 draft had only time to glance at him again before they had to revise that, instead calling him one of three truly premier prospects in the game.

Billingsley had entered his senior year at Defiance, Ohio, High as a top prospect -- one who had thrown very well for Team USA Juniors in international competition. However, what some scouts saw as sub-par performances in that spring caused them to back away. But Dodger scouting director Logan White not only viewed what he knew to be superior stuff but also sat behind home plate and looked into Chad's eyes as he threw and knew here was a determined competitor. So L.A. made him their first selection (No. 24 overall) and has been overjoyed about it ever since.

Billingsley looked sharp in his pro debut at Ogden (5-4, 2.83 with 62 strikeouts in 54 innings ) but that was only a hint of what was to come. A splendid spring in 2004 allowed him to skip low A to begin the year at Vero Beach (Florida State). His first couple of turns were not effective but then he got into a groove that never really went down all season. He was 7-4, 2.35 with 111 strikeouts in 92 innings at Vero, then went up to Jacksonville at age 19, doing even better there (4-0, 2.98, 47 strikeouts in 42 innings). In a very real way it was eerily reminiscent of the type of season Greg Miller had the year before.

Miller, of course, wound up with shoulder problems because of his work load so the Dodgers were extremely cautious with Billingsley, backing him off toward the end and foregoing a planned sojourn in the Arizona Fall League. His success has been marked by a fast ball that runs in the mid-90's, a hard curve plus a sharp slider. He throws a changeup occasionally and will no doubt use it more as he climbs upward. His command is not always what it should be but it, too, is rapidly improving as he works corners much more effectively. Above all, he has a plan and works hard to carry it out.

This combination of physical ability, intelligence and dedication has carried him quickly forward. Another big spring may earn him a trip to AAA at the start but it is more likely that he'll begin the year at Jacksonville. A repeat of anything like 2004 may push him to the top before the season wanes.