He May Be Goofy But Not When He Hits

Baseball nicknames have settled into a rather mundane sameness these days. When once there was a Babe or a Duke, now players are almost universally tagged with shortened versions of their last name. So, to teammates, both Adrian Beltré and Edwin Bellorin are known as "Belly." Belly -- now there's a scroll down the anatomy from The Lip.

There is one Dodger farmhand who defies the trend, though. David Sutherland is called "Goofy." That's right, just like the Walt Disney character. Sutherland is a gangling 6-6 first baseman from Australia and you'd think that handle would be one he'd chuck into the depths of the Pacific on the plane flight over. No, he doesn't mind it at all.

Certainly one of the most likeable players in the organization, the Aussie merely grins when you ask him how he got tagged with the name. "I do goofy things, I guess," he replies. Well, maybe, off the field but put a bat in his hands and there's nothing goofy about the way he swings it. Not these days.

Signed by Pat Kelly, the Pacific Rim scout for the Dodgers, Sutherland arrived in this country in 2003 with only 175 pounds spread on that huge frame. His arms looked like twigs awaiiting a strong wind to be snapped and his long swing generated only a .236 average for the Gulf Coast Dodgers with nary a ball out of the yard.

Last summer, consigned to the GCL for another season, he started getting with it. True, he still had those spindly arms but his hands are strong, his bat speed improved and so did his average to .301. Still, no home runs, though.

Back he came this year to not only endure another extended spring but to prosper for his average led all hitters in the camp -- .413. Okay, it was unofficial but it was definitely a mark of his growing prowess.

Right now, he's at Ogden. How's he hitting? Glad you asked. He's currently at .429, that's how. What's more, finally the first home run of his career was deposited outside the yard.

What caused the surge forward? "I haven't changed anything much," he maintains. "I guess it's just the result of seeing the pitches better when they come up and trying to be quicker through the zone." Well, those arms are getting stronger and that helps a lot, too.

He just became 20 years old on May 2 so he's still young enough to move into the prospect's column. Of course, nobody expects this .400 business to keep up but his confidence in his ability now makes him a genuine player to be watched.

When the news of his initial pro homer was circulated among the present Gulf Coast club, many of whom being his old teammates, there was universal gladness. Like I said, everybody likes this kid who has just the right amount of goofiness. And the right amount of ability, too.

Who knows? Some day he may have his picture taken at Disney World with that other character who goes by the same name. You'll recognize the Dodgers' Goofy. He's the one swinging the big bat.