Latin Pitchers Still Prospering

Miguel Sanfler sat in the Dodgers' Instructional League locker room, intent on watching television. It is, he says, one way to help in learning English. What he was watching, however, was professional wrestling so one wonders what language skills he'd gain from that. No matter, though, he's really here to pick up some more pitching knowledge, anyway.

Sanfler is one of eight Hispanic pitchers invited to the camp, a group that shares more than language and customs. All have abilities ranging from good to excellent or they wouldn't have been asked to participate in these doings to start with. That the number is quite large indicates that the scouts in the Caribbean are still coming up with more than their share of talent.

They're all in their early 20's and range in size from Ramon Troncoso, who's 6-7 to Orlando Rodriguez, who's 5-10. Rodriguez is also the most experienced, having started the year on the Dodger 40-man roster and has dipped his toes into AAA waters just before the season's end while the others are mostly culled from Ogden and the Gulf Coast entry. He's an exception since he's been spending the summer rehabbing from an arm operation and is continuing that type of work.

That all can throw with considerable heat is also the rule. Those who don't usually aren't part of this rather elite contingent. Consider righthander Mario Gracia, who in two seasons in the Dominican Summer League, was 13-0, with a 1.55 ERA. Yet he didn't even make it over here for spring training, being dispatched to his native Mexico instead. That's because he's considered a junkballer and there's considerable doubt that he can succeed in U.S. leagues.

On the other hand, there's optimism about most of this group. Sanfler was 5-3, 3.79 in the Gulf Coast League and his pitching coach with that team, George Culver, feels he has the ability to make it all the way up as a possible situational man.

Then there's Jumbo Diaz, who, like Rodriguez, rehabbed for a long time before finally pitching in games Of all the pitchers in the organization, only Jonathan Broxton can match him velocity-wise for Jumbo deals the ball in the upper 90's consistently. Alas, he's sadly overweight at 295 so is sweating it off down here.

Sanfler, Marion Arias and Rodriguez are the lefties in the group with righthanders Mario Arias, Diaz, Ramon Troncoso, Miguel Ramrez and Arismendy Castillo the others on hand. Ramirez, who was the closer for the Gulf Coast entry for most of the season, has thrown noticeably well. Coach Kenny Howell has been particularly impressed with him.

Troncoso showed so much promise in spring training he was sent to Columbus as a starter. He flopped at that assignment, then was dropped back to Ogden and made into a closer. He promptly flourished, racking up 13 saves. Both Arias and Alvarez have a lot of promise but just as much inconsistency, sometimes from game to game, sometimes even from batter to batter.

Although there are Mexicans and Venezuelans in this camp, all these pitchers hail from the Dominican. Not surprisingly, they tend to hang closely as a group, both on and off the field. That, of course, has to retard their grasp of our language, although all take required English lessons. As long as they make progress on the mound, the Dodgers will happily live with it.

Along the way some will fall by the wayside. However there's enough promise here to encourage the notion that the Dodger tradition of Dominican pitchers (like the Martinez brothers) will continue. Now, if they can just keep from trading the next Pedro Martinez away.