Dodgers award Minor Leaguers

Third baseman Andy LaRoche, who split his season between Class A Vero Beach and Double-A Jacksonville, and Jacksonville right-hander Chad Billingsley have been named as the organization's 2005 Branch Rickey Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively, according to Dodgers director, player development Terry Collins. Billingsley is a repeat winner as he was also chosen as the Dodgers Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2004.

The awards are named in honor of longtime baseball executive and one of the game's greatest innovators, former Brooklyn Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey, who is credited with inventing the Minor League system while with the St. Louis Cardinals in the early 1920s. Rickey was also instrumental in breaking baseball's color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson, who became Major League Baseball's first African-American player when he debuted with Brooklyn in 1947.

In a combined 127 games for Vero Beach and Jacksonville, the right-handed hitting LaRoche batted .305 (145-for-476) with 30 home runs, 26 doubles, 94 RBIs and 95 runs scored. With Vero Beach, he tore up the Florida State League, batting .333 and collecting 21 homers, 14 doubles, a triple, 51 RBIs and 54 runs in 63 games, 10 of which he had three or more hits. In 64 regular-season contests for eventual Southern League champion Jacksonville, he batted at a .273 clip, compiling nine home runs, 12 doubles, 43 RBIs and 41 runs scored.

Billingsley, the Dodgers' No. 1 pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of Defiance (OH) High School, made 26 starts and two relief appearances for Jacksonville in 2005 and was 13-6 with a 3.51 ERA. In 146 innings of work, he allowed 116 hits and 50 walks while recording 162 strikeouts, which ranked second in the Southern League. His 13 wins were third best in the league.

LaRoche, who turned 22 years old on Sept. 13, was honored as the Dodgers' Minor League Player of the Month for both April and May. During April, he hit .327 (32-for-98) with five homers, 18 RBIs and 17 runs scored in 23 games. Then his bat really exploded in May when he batted .357 (40-for-112), clubbed 14 home runs and added seven doubles, 25 RBIs and 30 runs scored. He also received Topps Florida State League Player of the Month accolades for May. In a five-game stretch from May 20-24, he socked seven homers and in a five-game span from May 19-23, he hit .591 (13-for-22).

On June 15, LaRoche celebrated with his Vero Beach teammates as they captured the Florida State League East Division first-half championship. Following the game, he was promoted to Jacksonville and the next night, he joined in on another celebration as the Suns clinched the Southern League South Division first-half crown. In his first 12 Double-A games, LaRoche batted .360 (18-for-50) with five homers, five doubles, 16 RBIs and 14 runs. In August, he hit .300 (24-for-80), driving in 18 runs and scoring 15 times in 24 games. Over seven games from Aug. 17-23, he piled up 13 RBIs.

LaRoche was selected to play in the Florida State League All-Star Game, but bowed out following his promotion to Jacksonville. He did play for the United States team in the July 10 XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game in Detroit, starting at third base and getting two hits in two at-bats.

Despite playing in just 63 games for Vero Beach, LaRoche made enough of a mark to be named to the Florida State League's season-end All-Star team. His 21 homers tied for fifth in the circuit.

Baseball America selected LaRoche to its overall 2005 Minor League All-Star first team as well as the High Class A All-Star team. The publication also named him as the No. 1 prospect in the Florida State League and the seventh-best prospect in the Southern League.

LaRoche, the son of former Major League pitcher Dave LaRoche and brother of Atlanta Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche, was selected by the Dodgers in the 39th round of the June 2003 draft. Last season, he split the season between Class A Columbus and Vero Beach and had a combined 23 home runs and 77 RBIs.

Billingsley, 21, finished strong in the 2005 regular season, winning his final five starts and eight of his last 10 decisions. In those five starts, he yielded just three earned runs in 33 2/3 innings (0.80 ERA), going seven shutout innings in three of those outings. After posting a 3-1 mark in July, he was chosen as the Dodgers' Minor League Pitcher of the Month for August after he went 4-1 with a 1.09 ERA in five starts. His last start of the month on Aug. 27 saw him hurl his second complete-game, seven-inning one-hitter of the campaign as he blanked Birmingham, 2-0, retiring 13 batters in a row during one stretch. On July 24 vs. Carolina, he tossed a one-hitter to win, 4-1.

The right-hander's late-season success carried into the playoffs. In Game 1 of the Southern League South Division finals, Billingsley ignited a three-game first-round Suns' sweep by tossing the first seven innings of a combined no-hitter with Jonathan Broxton in a 2-0 victory over Birmingham. Billingsley retired 10 consecutive batters at one point.

In 14 of his 26 starts, Billingsley pitched six or more innings, including a high of eight frames on July 25 vs. Tennessee, when he allowed no runs, two hits and a walk while striking out 10 batters in a 7-0 triumph. He tallied a season-high 12 strikeouts on June 2 against Mobile as he earned a 9-1 win, going seven innings and giving up just one run on three hits and no walks.

Billingsley, who was recognized by Baseball America as the Southern League's No. 5 prospect, was especially effective at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, where he was 7-2 with a 3.15 ERA in 13 starts, striking out 85 batters in 71 1/3 innings, while limiting opponents to a .181 batting average.

In being named the 2004 Dodgers Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Billingsley posted an 11-4 record and 2.55 ERA in a combined 28 starts for Vero Beach and Jacksonville. He recorded 158 strikeouts in 134 1/3 innings. In his first professional season, he was 5-4 with a 2.83 ERA in 11 starts for rookie-level Ogden in 2003. He is the first Dodger Minor Leaguer to be honored twice with a player or pitcher of the year award.

The Dodgers' Branch Rickey award winners are voted upon by the club's Minor League staff. Others receiving consideration for 2005 honors were: infielder Willy Aybar (Triple-A Las Vegas), second baseman Tony Abreu (Vero Beach/Jacksonville), third baseman Travis Denker (Columbus/Vero Beach), third baseman Blake DeWitt (Columbus/Vero Beach), shortstop Chin-lung Hu (Vero Beach), outfielder Matt Kemp (Vero Beach), catcher Russell Martin (Jacksonville), outfielder Justin Ruggiano (Vero Beach/Jacksonville), second baseman Delwyn Young (Jacksonville/Las Vegas) and pitchers, right-hander Mark Alexander (Vero Beach), right-hander Jonathan Broxton (Jacksonville), left-hander Scott Elbert (Columbus), left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo (Jacksonville), right-hander Chris Malone (Columbus), right-hander Danny Muegge (Vero Beach), right-hander Justin Orenduff (Vero Beach/Jacksonville) and left-hander Chuck Tiffany (Vero Beach).