Instructional League underway -- More than 50 Dodger Minor Leaguers are participating in the annual instructional league, which began yesterday and runs through Oct. 22. The Dodgers are holding their camp at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, FL, under the leadership of director of player development Terry Collins. The Dodgers will field two teams and play games against the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals' instructional league teams beginning Friday. Among the Dodger farmhands taking part will be six 2005 draft picks, including shortstop Ivan DeJesus (second round), outfielder Sergio Pedroza (third round), third baseman Josh Bell (fourth round) and right-handed pitcher John Meloan (fifth round), as well as left-hander Scott Elbert, the Dodgers' No. 1 draft pick in 2004. Others participating include right-hander José Diaz, right-hander Blake Johnson, left-hander Orlando Rodriguez, left-hander Chuck Tiffany, second baseman Travis Denker, third baseman Blake DeWitt, shortstop Chin-lung Hu, third baseman Russell Mitchell, second baseman Delwyn Young and outfielder Xavier Paul.
Suns rise to title-- During the 2005 season, Baseball America named the Dodgers' Double-A Jacksonville affiliate as the Most Talented Team in Minor League Baseball. The Suns proceeded to use that talent to capture the Southern League championship, which they claimed with a 3-1 victory over the host West Tenn Diamond Jaxx in Game 4 of the championship series last Saturday afternoon. After sweeping its South Division first-round best-of-five playoff series against Birmingham, first-half division champion Jacksonville lost the opening game of the finals, 7-4, but then won three in a row to win its first league crown since 2001, when the Suns shared the title with Huntsville. manager John Shoemaker, now in his 29th season in the Dodger organization, was at the helm of that 2001 Jacksonville team and he guided the 2005 Suns to a Southern League crown as well. In Saturday's title-clincher, right-hander Justin Orenduff gave up just one run in 5 1/3 innings, striking out seven batters. Catcher Russell Martin singled, doubled and knocked in two runs and first baseman James Loney homered, as he did in Game 1. In Friday's 8-1 Game 2 victory, center fielder Todd Donovan had a three-run triple, an RBI triple and run-scoring single to finish with five RBIs. Shortstop Joel Guzman added a two-run homer. Right-hander William Juarez hurled six innings, allowing just one run. Right-handers Eric Hull and Jonathan Broxton combined on a 1-0 shutout that evened the series at one game apiece last Wednesday. Hull went seven innings, yielding five hits and no walks with five strikeouts. Broxton, who pitched the final two innings, earned the win when second baseman Tony Abreu singled home right fielder Justin Ruggiano with the game's lone run in the bottom of the eighth inning. In the Suns' three triumphs in the finals, their pitchers combined to give up only two runs, 24 hits and one walk with 25 strikeouts in 27 innings. In its seven overall postseason contests, Jacksonville allowed just 11 earned runs in 63 innings (1.57 ERA), posting three shutout victories.
Broxton delivers in playoffs-- Right-hander Jonathan Broxton, whose nickname is "The Bull," was instrumental in Jacksonville's charge to the Southern League title. In four postseason contests, he was 1-0 with three saves while pitching seven scoreless innings out of the Suns' bullpen. Broxton started his stellar postseason on Sept. 8 by hurling the final two innings of a combined no-hitter with right-hander Chad Billingsley in Game 1 of the South Division finals vs. Birmingham. He ended it on Saturday by pitching the final two frames to record the save in the title-clinching game at West Tenn. In between, he notched a save in Game 2 of the first-round series and earned the win in Game 2 of the championship series by tossing the final two innings of a combined 1-0 shutout with Eric Hull. Broxton's playoff prowess continued a string of late-season success. In his final eight regular-season outings for the Suns, he was unscored upon in 9 2/3 innings, going 1-0 with three saves. Overall this season with Jacksonville, Broxton was 5-3 with five saves and a 3.17 ERA in 33 games, striking out 107 batters in 96 2/3 innings. Broxton, who was recalled by the Dodgers on July 29 and pitched in eight games before returning to Jacksonville on Aug. 22, rejoins the big league club tonight at Arizona.
Top honors-- Vice president and general manager Peter Bragan Jr. of league champion Jacksonville has been selected as co-recipient of the Jimmy Bragan Southern League Executive of the Year Award, sharing the honor with general manager Joe Kremer of Carolina. Bragan Jr. has held his current position for 20 years and has seen his club lead the league in attendance for the past three seasons.
A deal paying dividends -- In the Jan. 11 trade that sent outfielder Shawn Green to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Dodgers acquired catcher Dioner Navarro, who has made a huge impression with the Major League club, and three right-handed pitchers, William Juarez, Danny Muegge and Beltran Perez, who have displayed their talents at the Minor League level. Juarez was especially effective when the postseason spotlight shined on him. The Nicaragua native hurled a 6-0 shutout in the decisive Game 3 of Jacksonville's first-round playoff series against Birmingham and then gave up just one run in six innings to win Game 3 of the Southern League championship series. Muegge had a notable postseason as well as he gave up just one run and two hits in 6 2/3 innings of Class A Vero Beach's lone playoff triumph on Sept. 7 vs. Palm Beach. He had a no-hitter through 5 2/3 innings. During the regular season, he was 8-2 in 31 appearances, including 18 starts, with wins in his final five decisions. During July, he went 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA in six starts. Perez, the Diamondbacks' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2001, started the season with Vero Beach before being promoted to Jacksonville in late July. With the Suns, he tallied two wins and three saves while posting a 2.90 ERA in 17 outings. In the opening game of the Southern League finals, the Dominican Republic native hurled 4 1/3 shutout innings.