Wade Award Candidates Are Plentiful in 2005

The Ben Wade Award is given to the top pitcher in the Dodger farm system each year. Usually by this time, someone has established himself as a clear front runner for the honor. Not so this time around. There's more than a few who have made strong performances that indicate that he should be the winner. Yet, sometimes, the same individual has had moments when, maybe, he shouldn't.

Remember the award is based strictly on performance on the field, not on promise. Otherwise last year's winner, righthander Chad Billingsley would be just about in. After all, he was just voted the best pitching prospect in the Southern League by that circuit's managers. Not that Billingsley isn't in the running for a second award, anyway you like at it. After all, he leads the league in strikeouts with 134. But his record is a not-so-spectacular 8-6 with a 4.33 ERA.

Recently he went out and threw a one-hitter for eight innings. Now, that's the kind of dominance that wins games and awards. Yet, the next outing, he was ripped. Back he came his last time for five strong innings in which he yielded only two runs while fanning eight -- yet lost. And so it goes for most of the candidates.

Lefthander Chuck Tiffany started the season at Vero Beach like he could be a runaway winner. Then came an operation on his lower back to remove a mole. When he came back, he wasn't the same with a series of losses. He rebounded from that nicely only to be blasted for seven runs in two innings in his last start. He since has been backed off. His current record is 9-6, 3.56 with 107 K's. Opponents are hitting only .225 against him.

The biggest winner is righthander Justin Orenduff with 10, split evenly between Vero where he started the year and Jacksonville where he's stationed now. His ERA at the first stop was a neat 2.24. With the Suns, though, it's a humdrum 4.58. For instance, his last start saw him give up four runs in five innings, yet he racked up another victory.

Tiffanys teammate at Vero, righthander Julio Pimentel is in the running with an 8-6, 3.81 mark. He's fanned 104 in 94 innings of of work.

Columbus can offer three candidates -- Blake Johnson, Chris Malone, and Scott Elbert. Righthander Johnson has been held back more than once to rest his arm, yet has managed a sparkling 9-3, 3.09 record. Opponents are batting only .223 against him. On Saturday he yielded only two hits and a solitary run over five innings but wound up with a no-decision.

Malone, a righthander, has thrown a number of strong games for the Catfish in his rookie season. He's 9-5, 3.65 with the opponents batting just .228. Lefthander Elbert doesn't have a splashy record -- 6-5, 3.10 but he's held the enemy to a .223 average and has been strong of late. A finishing surge could factor him in.

There's only one closer who's a contender but he's a strong one. Righthander Mark Alexander at Vero is 4-2, 2.17 with 20 saves. They're just managing a .229 mark against him.

You want a dark horse? Try righthander Casey Hoorelbeke. He has the unglamorous role of a set-up man at Vero which usually draws little notice but pay attention -- he's doing it superbly. Right now, the sidewheeling righthander is 7-1, 1.80. They're only hitting .230 against him.

Those are the present leaders. There's four weeks to go in the minor league season so anyone who reels off a string of impressive outings in that period could well claim the crown.