A Look at the Gulf Coast Dodgers

As the Dodgers entry in the Gulf Coast League becomes the last of its farm teams to see action, one thing seems certain- however far they move, it will be to a Latin beat, be it salsa, meringue or whatever. Of the 33 players currently listed on the roster, 21 come from Spanish-speaking lands. There are 10 Americans and one of those was actually born in Havana and came here as a child of refugees.

These Dodgers are managed for the third season by Luis Salazar, himself a native of Venezuela and fluent in the two languages necessary to communicate with his players. He's aided by pitching coach George Culver in his fourth year with this team and batting coaches Mac Singleton, who was with Ogden last year, and Ramon Ortiz, formerly in the Tampa Bay organization.

A lot of their players are not only new to organized ball but new to this country. Thirteen played in the Dominican Summer League in 2004, 10 have no pro experience at all including seven taken in the recent amateur draft and one draft-and-follow from 2004.

The pitching staff will be on relatively short counts in the beginning which will give Culver a chance to work with all. It includes Howar Zuleta, a righthander who both started and releived for this team last year with a 1-3, 2.14 record and seven saves. Kalen Gearheart, who pitched effectively in relief (3-0, 1.89) then, will probably do so again. Pedro Lorenzo, who pitched both here (0-1, 6.84 and in the Dominican (2-6, 5.30) and Miguel Ramirez (1-5, 5.44) are the only other vets on the staff. All are righthanders.

Arismendy Castillo, a Dominican righthander who sat out last year with an injury, threw so well in the extended spring camp that he drew the opening day assignment. Chales Dasni is another Dominican coming back from an arm operation while Juan Flores, a Mexican lefthander who was 6-0, 2.63, Gary Paris-Sosa (0-3, 7.05), Ramon Peredes (1-3, 2.21), Eduardo Quintana (2-3, 2.52) and Miguel Sanfler (2-0, 2.31) are others over from the DSL. Of those only Quintana throws from the right side.

Kelvin Dominguez is a Dominican lefthanded rookie while added from the draft are righthanders Chris Hobdy, a 6-4, 210-pound righthander from Lubbock, Tex. (seventh round), Steve Johnson, a righthander from Brooklandvile, Md., whose dad Dave pitched in the big leagues and who was chosen in the 13th round but who had to be paid a lot more than slot money to lure him away from a Boston College scholarship, and Puerto Rican lefthander Wilfredo Diaz (15th round).

The Dominican Summer Leaguers in the infield are first baseman Jose Nunez (.267-6-28) who has power possibilities, second baseman Adolfo Gonzalez (.325-1-36), and third baseman Eduardo Perez (.383-6-37). With Perez, the very promising Dominican rookie Carlos Santana and draftee Josh Bell (fourth round) , a switch-hitter with promising power from Lantana, Fla., the team has a solid surplus at third. It also has two rookie shortstops of note, second-rounder Ivan DeJesus, Jr. and Dominican Yossandy Garcia.

Matt Paul, the older brother of Vero Beach outfielder Xavier who split last season between this team and Columbus and free agent signee Parker Brooks from Georgetown University are other infielders.

Steve Sapp, who's in his third year with this team with a .255-0-6 record last year and Jesus Mora (.277-3-15 ) return in the outfield bolstered by Eloy Gutierrez, a fleet Mexican (.384-3-18) and the unpolished but powerful Amaury Guzman (.197-1-16) from the DSL and the exceedingly swift Tayvon Robinson, a product of the RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inter City) program in Los Angeles, a 10th round draftee, and the very athletic Jeremy Brown, a draft-and -follow from Pratt, Kan. Junior College.

The catching will be handled by an international grouping of Carlos Medero, the Cuban-born Miami resident who hit only .196-1-9 in his debut here last year but who was much improved this spring, and rookies Mitch Ayres from Australia and Kenley Jansen from Curacao, the Dutch-owned island in the Caribbean.

As usual in the cost-cutting league which plays on training base practice fields where admission is free, each team plays only in its division during the season. That puts the Dodgers in the East again, this time against the Mets (managed by Hall-of Famer Gary Carter), Marlins, and now the Nationals.

Crowds at the games usually number about five or six. That gives those who do wander by a chance to get to know the players. In case you do, the ability to speak Spanish will be a definite plus.