Cuban Refugee Works On Solving The Mystery

Carlos Medero was born in Havana and came to this country at a young age but be advised at the outset that his is no Elian Gonzalez-like saga. No dash to an awaiting boat across a deserted beach at night, no harrowing ride on a storm-tossed sea, no shipwreck, no dramatic rescue and absolutely no aftermath full of political passion.

Actually, Carlos left Cuba with his family in rather mundane fashion, flying to the Dominican Republic, then after time there, being allowed to go to Puerto Rico. From there, they flew to Miami where they now live. Carlos was five at the time but he doesn't have to rely upon childhood memories to conjure up Cuba for the family makes annual visits there to see relatives.

However, if his Cuban odyssey has little mystique, his baseball career has developed something of a mystery. Carlos learned the game in South Florida, played at Goleman High in Miami Lakes and was drafted in the eighth round of the 2004 selection process. The scouting report on him said that he was an excellent receiver who handled himself well behind the plate and threw well but questioned him as a hitter.

That's pretty much the way things looked in his first year in the Gulf Coast League. He did well enough with the glove but was overmatched with a bat in his hand, winding up with a .195 average that included a solo home run. It was this year, though, that matters took a turn.

There was something of a name change, although that's not it. Previously he had been listed as Medero-Stullz for it is common among Hispanics to add the mother's family name to the father's. The -Stullz has been dropped for the most part if for no other reason than it's extremely unwieldy in box scores.

That's not the big switch. No, that came on the filed where for one thing he'd made mechanical adjustments at the plate to blossom as a hitter. Assigned again the Gulf Coast, he pushed his average up over 100 points to finish at .313 with two home runs. The line drives were coming and the Dodgers couldn't have been more pleased.

But wait a minute. Just as he developed offense, his defense seemed to depart. He sometimes had trouble handling pitchers and, what's more, began making erratic throws. The arm's still sound but his efforts were decidedly off target. It was as if Annie Oakley began hitting Sitting Bull instead of the bullseye.

"I don't know what happened," he says with a puzzled air. "In high school, I was noted for my defense. Now, I can hit but I'm having trouble with my catching."

Assigned to the Instructional League to work on matters, he fell into the same pattern. In one game, he rapped out a couple of hits yet lost balls in the dirt and misfired on three straight throws, one into center field, another into the dirt on steals and still another well over the first baseman's head after fielding a bunt. All in three innings.

Yet, the next day, he missled a throw to third to just narrowly miss picking a runner off. It displayed the arm strength that was there. Now, if he can only get a direction finder.

Part of the problem may be that the Dodgers discarded the notion of an organizational roving catching instructor when Jon Debus, who had formerly held the position, was promoted to the big club as a coach and was not replaced. Instruction in the receiving art was handed to Steve Yeager but he was stationed at Jacksonville during the season and thus wasn't available to the likes of Medero.

Travis Barbary, another former catcher who managed Columbus, was here in the Dodgertown fall camp to work with Medero and some others for young Dodger catchers tend to be better with a bat than behind it.

So, the 19-year-old Medero works on solving the puzzle. At 5-8, 190, he's really not suited for any other position. Hey, as Washington can tell you, solving the Cuban problem has never been easy.