Jacksonville -- Where The Prospects Are

A scout for a rival organization recently commented on the Dodger farm system, saying, "They're deep in prospects. Jacksonville is particularly loaded." Most everybody would agree, which is one reason why organizational pitching coordinator has selected that team as the best place to institute his latest innovation.

Honeycutt notes that most of the better minor league pitching prospects are, quite naturally, starters. They have been so for all their careers and that could put them at a handicap when called up for many will be used in relief in the majors -- at least, when they first arrive.

So, Honeycutt instructed Jacksonville pitching coach Kenny Howell, who pitched out if the bullpen during his big league career, to use some of the more likely of his starters as relief pitchers at least for a period of time. So, Jonathan Broxton is currently doing just that, Chad Billingsley did for awhile and Edwin Jackson may well be next in line.

As Howell explains, "They don't know anything about how to pitch out of the pen. They don't know when and how to warm up for example." At the same time, the Dodgers can test the resiliency of their arms. As Howell adds, "This way they'll have experience there so when they get to the big leagues, they won't be doing it for the first time. "

Some have felt it's where Broxton, the 6-4, 240-pound righthander, belongs anyway. He was recently clocked at 99 mph and is one who can come in and bury batters with his heat in the favored fashion. He's generally taken to the assignment although there was certainly nothing to be displeased about in his job rating as a starter, either. He's currently 4-3, 2.40, holding opposing hitters to a .223 average.

With Broxton in the bullpen, for however long, Billingsley, is joined in the Suns' rotation by Joel Hanrahan, Justin Orenduff, Jackson, Eric Hull and William Juarez, all righthanders. Although Billingsley had faltered a bit before his sojourn in relief, he came back with a one-hitter. His record is 6-4 with an unpreposing 4/48 ERA but he's holding hitters to a .237 average, has struck out 92 batters in 80.1 innings and possesses enough ability and know-how to be a front-line starter in the bigs.

Jackson was battered so badly by Pacific Coast League hitters that he was sent back to regroup. He seems to be doing that after a bad first outing. Now 1-2, 3.50, he has by no means lost his stuff so it would seem to be a matter of getting in the work and, mostly, learning how to get out of jams before he's buried for the big inning is what proved to be his downfall at Las Vegas.

Orenduff was very strong at Vero Beach before his recent promotion but hasn't fared as well since moving up a notch as his 1-1, 9.45 mark indicates. Still, he's a power pitcher of skill and is expected to contribute a lot down the stretch, keeping in mind that this is only his second pro year. Hull ( 5-4, 3.75), who became a closer when he was signed as a free agent, has experience in just about every phase of the pitchers' chores and has developed as a dependable starter.

Hanrahan is trying to regain the stature he attained when he was the Southern League Pitcher of the Year in 2003. It's been rocky at times for he often hasn't gone out with the fast ball he flashed then. He's had to overcome injuries, seems healthy enough now and appears to have more of the old flair recently. He's 4-4, 5.63. Juarez, a native of Nicaragua and one of the three hurlers obtained from the Diamondbacks in the Shawn Green deal, started the year in relief but has been rock solid since being placed in the rotation (4-1, 3.38).

Of those who've been relievers throughout, lefthander Luis Gonzalez has been by far the best. Last year he faltered (1-3, 4.75) but then was then. He's been not only consistent but often brilliant this time. He's 7-1, 1.62 with four saves. Jason Olson, who spent the last two years in rehab after two elbow operations, has been spotty, typical of the first year back. He's 0-3, 5.75 but has notched five saves.

Richard Bartlett, was a Rule 5 acquisition who became revitalized at Vero Beach in 2004 (4-3, 2.24, 7 saves). He hasn't done as well this year (1-1, 4.88, 1 save). Carlos Alvarez is a tiny (5-9, 160) lefty with a big strikeout pitch who was so successful at Columbus he was jumped up from low A. He's worked only 4.1 innings thus far but predictably has fanned seven of the 20 batters he's faced.

Then, there's the sad case of Hong-Chi Kuo, who seemed to have come back from the dumpster that two elbow operations and numerous other"cleaning out" procedures had cast him after his early promise. Promoted from Vero, he touched 98 on the gun only to feel a pop in his elbow in his second effort with the Suns. He was being examined today (Thursday) to determine the extent of his injury with the fate of his career in the balance.

Most of the above group performed in the expected manner during the first half when the Suns won their division. They seem well-positioned to make a strong run for a title sweep.