Candidates Abound For Schweppe Award

Each year it is the custom of Baby Blue publication to hand out awards to Dodger minor league players for distinction in that season. It should be stressed that such awards are strictly for accomplishments on the field not for prospect status although the two often go hand in hand.

The Bill Schweppe award, named for the man who headed the farm system for many years, goes to the Player of the Year. This season, as is usual, there is no dearth of candidates. There is one factor that has made the race for the honor much more intriguing. That's because the brass is now in the habit of pushing players upward when they are performing particularly well at a level.

It was certainly true in the case of third baseman Andy LaRoche. Here's a guy that looked like a runaway for the plaque halfway through the season for he had socked 21 home runs while batting .333 for Vero Beach. Then he was whisked up to Jacksonville. He certainly has been more than respectable in the home run department for the Suns with seven. However, his average has fallen on some hard times, dwindling to .244 at the AA level.

That may have opened the door for other candidates; however, a number of them have been promoted as well like three second basemen of note, Delwyn Young, Tony Abreu and Travis Denker. Young was performing admirably for Jacksonville (.296-16-62) but is now with Las Vegas after the trade of Joe Thurston to the Yankees. His place in the Suns' lineup will be taken by Abreu, who was leading the Florida State League in batting (.330) and hits (129) plus having accumulated seven triples and 14 stolen bases.

Denker had rocked 21 homers while batting .310 (and drawing 68 walks) for Columbus. He's moved to Vero Beach just as did outfielder Jamie Hoffmann, who preceded him. Hofmann hit .308 with nine triples and 10 stolen bases for Columbus but has managed only a .244 mark at Vero.

There are those candidates who have stayed put - -thus far. Matt Kemp is .287-21-67 at Vero while Russell Martin is the quintessential combination of offensive and defensive skills while catching in stylish fashion for Jacksonville and batting .300 with a .417 on-base percentage. The same could be said for Vero shortstop Chin-lung Hu, who has compiled a .299 mark while performing extremely well at his position. Willie Aybar has had a solid year for Las Vegas, playing both second and third and compiling a .297 mark with 54 RBI and 26 doubles.

And don't forget the player who won the award in 2004. That would be Joel Guzman, who wasn't handicapped at all when he was promoted from Vero to Jacksonville. This time he's stayed with one team -- the Suns -- and is doing rather well: .288-14 -67 with 27 doubles.

In all, there's considerable competition among this group for the honor. Who keeps it up the best in the final month will no doubt capture the prize.