Guzman Reaching Expectations at Age 20

The expectations for Joel Guzman have been so high ever since his breakout in 2004 that anything less than smoking a pitch every time up would seem a comedown to some. So, how goes it with him, anyway?

The answer is, "Quite well." True, he may have abdicated the top position prospect label he earned last year but that's not because he's failing. Rather you can attribute that to the swift rise of Andy LaRoche. No, Guzman isn't falling down at all.

Playing at Jacksonville, his numbers reflect the solid season he's enjoying -- .290-13-58. He did suffer a bit for a brief time after incurring a leg injury only to come back strongly. He was doing his best hitting so far when the team was idled by the considerable rain the South has endured followed by the Southern League's All-Star break.

In 2004, starting at Vero Beach, then moving up to Jacksonville, he combined for a .293-23-86 season. You can see he's just about there this time. In addition, he's ripped 24 doubles and has a .503 slugging percentage. Oh, he still strikes out too much -- 96 and counting now. That will probably always be the case for at 6-6, he has a long swing that generates plenty of power but is also subject to K's.

As July winds down, the two questions that have followed him are there still. How fast will he move up and what position will he wind up playing? You won't get answers to either anytime soon.

In his three previous seasons in the minors since signing a $2.5 million contract, he's been promoted midway through each year. That's not the plan, now, though. "No, he has all he can handle at this level, " says Terry Collins, director of player development, when asked if there are any notions about Las Vegas any time soon.

There have been questions that he'll eventually have to move from shortstop because of his size. He was playing some at third but that ended when LaRoche was promoted from Vero. Collins says that's still in the thinking. "We'll keep him at short. He'll get some time in at third when we D. H. Andy."

One school of though argues that he could wind up either at first or right field. Right now, though, they won't be making any such changes.

Guzman himself has matured in his approach. Only last year's promotion was made because he was dominating the league; the others, often because he lobbied for them. Now, he says, "I have a lot to learn and I know it. I'm getting a lot of valuable experience here."

It's best to remember that although he's in his fourth year, he's still only 20 playing Double A ball and that's younger than those coming out of college to play rookie ball. Considering it all, he's every bit one of the more intriguing players in all the minors, just as he became in 2004. And ,depending perhaps on where the Dodgers are in September, he's likely to achieve his ultimate goal of being brought up to the big club.

Injury Updates-- Lefthander Greg Miller had perhaps his strongest outing yet for the Gulf Coast Dodgers Saturday night and will be moving across Dodgertown as a result. Miller threw three hitless innings against the Mets, striking out six. "He threw his curve a lot more and every pitch had great movement," reported Logan White, the director of amateur scouting, who was on hand along with Collins and orientational pitching coordinator Rick Honeycutt. "Those kids couldn't do anything with it but I don't know anybody at any level that could, the way the ball was moving. He looked as good as I've ever seen him."

Miller will make his next start in the middle of the week for the Vero Beach Dodgers of the Florida State League.

He was followed to the mound at St. Lucie by another rehabber, righthander Jose "Jumbo" Diaz, who touched 98 on the speed gun in his one inning of work.