Five Top Prospects Promoted to Parent Roster

When it comes to discussions about the burgeoning crop of prospects in the Dodger farm system, besides the obvious question of "How good are they, really?" is another query, "How soon will they be ready?"The first won't be answered until they actually perform at the major league level. Part of the answer to the second was supplied with the announcement that five of the very best have been promoted to the 40-man roster.

First baseman James Loney, shortstop Joel Guzman, third baseman Andy LaRoche and pitchers Greg Miller and Jose "Jumbo" Diaz will be trying to make the team in spring training although most if not all may not be quite ready. However, they needed to be protected from the Rule 5 draft so have been brought up.

Loney, the first -round draft choice in 2002, had his first injury-free season and proceeded to hit .284-11-65 for Jacksonville while playing almost every day. He then participated in the Arizona Fall League where he showed the hoped-for power he needs to play his position at the big league level, hitting five home runs in limited play while batting .322.

When it comes to power, LaRoche is the top prospect in the organization. In the first half of the season, he ripped 21 homers while batting .333 and driving in 51 runs for Vero Beach. Promoted to Jacksonville, he drove nine more out of the park while batting .273 with 43 RBI. He, too, played in the Arizona Fall League where obviously tired, he didn't homer until the championship game but he did hit .352 for that season.

The arrival of the 6-6, 225-pound Guzman has long been anticipated ever since he signed for $2.5 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2001. He had a satisfying campaign this past summer, hitting .287-16-75 for Jacksonville, making the Southern League All-Star team in the process. Although he still strikes out too much and may well have grown too big to play short on the highest level, he'll only turn 21 on Nov. 24 and has unlimited physical capabilities.

Miller, a lefthander who was taken after Loney as a supplemental first-round pick in 2002, came back this summer after being sidelined for over a year with a shoulder injury that had to be surgically repaired. The 2003 Pitcher of the Year in the system, he started on the road back in the Gulf Coast League (0-0, 2.25) went up to Vero (1-0, 0.93) and wound up at Jacksonville (0-0, 2.77). During that time, he showed a mid-90's fast ball and a power curve. Sent to the AFL, he suffered some soreness in his shoulder so was quickly shut down although the problem is not considered serious.

Diaz, too, came back after arm surgery (in his case, on his elbow) and threw a fast ball clocked at 99 mph. as he didn't allow an earned run in 15.2 innings for Vero Beach, striking out 13 and holding opposing hitters to a .118 average. He's big (6-4) and is listed at 230 pounds although he weighs around 290 and has been ordered to diet.

Although the team had seven roster spots available, they have decided to leave the other two open to allow maneuverability in going after free agents and making trades. This means such likelies as pitchers Luis Gonzalez, Eric Hull, William Juarez and Eric Stults will be subject to the Rule 5 draft in December.

Other top prospects as Chad Billingsley, Tony Abreu and Matt Kemp are not draft eligible.