The Catching Department Cupboard is Full

Usually, any discussion of Dodger prospects comes with the caveat that, while they're certainly down there, they're young and you have to be patient. That doesn't appear to be the case with catchers, though. There are two extremely viable candidates and both are up high in the minors. It's very likely that either or both will be in L.A. before the season wends its course.

Dioner Navarro is the player that Paul DePodesta coveted so much that, when a trade with the Yankees in which he figured collapsed, the Dodger general manager insisted on his being included in the deal that ultimately saw Arizona acquire him, then whisk him off to the Dodgers as the prime part of a package for Shawn Green. Frankly, duuring spring training, he hardly seemed worth all that excitement and when the season began he was sharing time in Las Vegas with Mike Rose.

When Paul Bako was injured and Rose became his replacement as Jason Phillip's backup, Navarro began his move. Hitting was the questionable phase of his game but he's provided some answers by going on a tear. He stands at .298-5-20 as of today, showing signs that he can hit with adequate power. His receving skills still are lacking in some areas though he has a strong arm. Right now, they seem content to let Rose fill the reserve role so that Navarro gets the necessary playing time in AAA.

Meanwhile, Russell Martin, a onetime 19th round draft choice as an infielder, has progressed steadily. Moving up to AA, he's shown far more plate awareness as 45 walks thus far would attest. He's hitting .309-5-39. While his power numbers have regressed, everything else is up, so much so that he's been chosen to catch for the World team in the Future Games. (He's a Canadian.) He is quick and moves well behind the plate, has a power arm and just keeps getting better.

Navarro's backup at Vegas is Mike Nixon, which represents somewhat of a change in thinking. When he signed for $1 million in 2001, he was touted as the catcher of the future ; however, with the aquisition of Navarro and Martin's progress, he had been moved to the outfield early in the season at Vero. That seemed to be his future and probably still is. Eric Langill, a career role player, plays behind Martin at Jacksonville.

When Martin was moved up to Jacksonville, the incumbent there, Edwin Bellorin was sent back to Vero Beach since he's still regarded so much that the Dodgers want him playing. He's done well enough (.279-1-18)that he was chosen for the Florida State all-star game. He's a competent receiver, has an above-average arm and hits adequately though not with power. He's just not in the class of the two ahead of him. A.J. Ellis who backs him might be a regular on some teams but not here.

Columbus has finally gotten the man it was supposed to have with Chris Westervelt getting over arm and ankle injuries to join the Catfish. He 's an offensive type (.341 at Ogden last year) who's below average on defense. While he was rehabbing, both Gabriel Gutierrez and Juan Apodaca were promoted from the Dominican Summer League to share duties with the Fish. Gutierrez, a Mexican who's hitting .242-3-11 but who's smoother defensively, has been retained there with Apodaca, who has some pop, being sent back to Ogden.

Kengshil Pujols, who has the athletic ability to play the position but who's crude behind the plate, and Rotsen Gil, who hit .304 in the Gulf Coast League in 2004, were to be the receivers at Ogden before Apodaca's arrival. Carlos Medero, an eighth-round draft pick last year who mostly sat while others played for the GCL team and who hit only .195, made impressive strides this spring and should play a lot this year in that same league. He has arm strength and drove the ball well in the extended camp.

His reserves are two beginners, Mitch Ayres from Australia and Kenley Jansen from Curacao. Both are athletic and strong with a lot to learn.

So far, though five catchers were selected in the 2005 draft, none has signed. That's probably by design since right now, the cupboard is full with really no place to put them. A nice situation to be in, really.