Checking Out the Outfielders

When Jason Repko takes the field for the Los Angeles Dodgers, he represents what has become a vanishing breed -- players who have spent their entire careers in the Dodger system. Just about everybody else in the lineup has come from elsewhere.

That's also pretty much the case with the outfielders on the top two teams in the minors. Oh, there is Chin-Feng Chen with Las Vegas (who's currently sidelined with a hand injury) but that's about it. Before being hurt, Chen was once again demonstrating that he can hit (.281) and hit with power (seven home runs, a team-leading 34 RBI) and wondering if anybody really cares.

Cody Ross, who came from the Tigers, has been flashing some pop (11 home runs) but not much consistency (.251). Henri Stanley, ex-Red Sox, is doing about what was hoped for (.305-5-25). Both could be back-ups with the big club, if needed. Derek Michaelis has been called up from Jacksonville as a reserve but the 6-7 former Rice University basketball star, is still a misplaced first baseman with occasional power.

Jacksonville's outfielders are also those culled from beyond- Jon Weber, Ty Meadows and Todd Donovan. Weber, a free agent pickup over the winter, has been assaulting the ball lately (.327-7-39); Meadows showed he has pop in spring training and hasn't disappointed there (.290-10-47). Donovan was obtained from the Indians for his speed and that's exactly what he's provided. He's stolen 33 bases, by far the best in the organization, plus slapping eight triples, another speed indicator. He's hitting a respectable .283 although his .358 on-base percentage is not that exciting for a leadoff man.

The fourth Suns outfielder is Nick Alvarez, a reliable Double-A lifer who's hitting .316-2-14.

To find some true prospects, you have to drop down to high A Vero Beach, particularly Matt Kemp. Kemp started the season on the disabled list with a sprained wrist, then came back with a rush to blast some prodigious shots. He has 11 homers but Florida State League pitchers have been exploiting the holes in his swing lately so he's slumped to .241. However, he's a 20-year-old just beginning to learn the game with considerable promise. By the way, he plays a first-rate center field, getting an excellent jump on fly balls.

Justin Ruggiano is a 25th-round draft choice out of Texas A & M who continues to surprise (.313-7-23). He also runs well (15 stolen bases). Anthony Raglani (.284-4-21) is doing quite nicely for someone who only played in six games as a pro last year because of a broken bone in his hand. The disappointment has been Xavier Paul (.227-1-14), who has plummeted downward since a solid rookie year in 2003. He has brief spurts but for the most part has not made good contact.

At Columbus, Jamie Hoffman, a converted third baseman, has been playing well in center and serving as a capable leadoff man. His .288 mark leads the team. He hasn't displayed the power he did with the Gulf Coast team last year and has yet to drive one out of the park although he does have five triples. He has surprising speed.. Ryan Russ, signed as a free agent from the University of Texas last year, had a hot streak but has cooled off since to .257-3-19. Sam Steidl, hurt most of last year, really hasn't gotten it going (.244-0-12).

It had been hoped that James Peterson would provide some power. When he didn't, he was demoted, whereupon he returned home. Ryan Carter, who was sidelined all last season because of shoulder surgery after hitting .313 for Ogden in 2003, hit well for both average and power in the extended spring camp and has been assigned to Columbus.

In that extended camp, James McDonald and Derry Jackson showed improvement and will open the season at Ogden. Eloy Gutierrez, a Mexican who played in the Dominican Summer League, has considerable speed, something the organization looked to acquire in the draft from Trayvon Robinson and Adam Godwin. Third-round pick Sergio Pedroza may add some juice to the lineup, probably at Ogden, when he signs.

In all, the outfield is an area of some hope but it's not particularly deep so that trend of bringing in outside help might continue for awhile.