Guzman Seeking A Home on the Field

VERO BEACH, Fla.- This is the week Joel Guzman starts breaking in some new gloves. After four seasons as a shortstop and working exclusively at that spot in the first week of camp, the long-anticipated move to another home on the field will be instituted. But where?

The plan is to have Guzman work at first , third and right field and there are adherents for each one of those positions as a permanent location. Not that he's unacquainted with them all. He played 21 games at third last year for Jacksonville plus, in winter ball in his native Dominican Republic he says he was used at "third, short, first and D.H."

Those moves were not at the request of the Dodgers. Rather, his club had an established shortstop and asked and received permission from L.A. to try him elsewhere in order to get both in the lineup.

As for the subject himself, he's always had the feeling that he's been more than acceptable at his accustomed spot but he knows few are in agreement with him. He doesn't much care where he winds up, expressing no preference in the matter. Understand, though, he's no Alfonso Soriano who told his new team, the Washington Senators, "it's second base or the highway" when they announced plans to move him to the outfield.

No, Guzman is quite willing to make whatever move is deemed advisable. They'll try all the suggested locations to find out where he seems best suited .

It's mostly a matter of where he seems to be most comfortable but you can't ignore the fact that others available at certain spots will enter into the thinking as well. There's Andy LaRoche at third and James Loney at first so how they fit into long-range planning certainly is in the equation. Thus right field seems the most open territory.

Matt Kemp, among the other highly touted prospects, can play right more than adequately but he also does well in center. Andre Ethier can play right as well but he seems most suited for left. So, there's more than a few among the brass who push for right as the ideal location to station Guzman. He has the arm for the position for rocket-launcher throws have been his best weapon on defense wherever he's been.

And while all this is going on, he has been impressing with batting practice displays, regularly hitting monster shots into the great beyond. He's also been demonstrating that he's grown up a lot personally.

In the past, he was known to sulk when matters didn't go the way he wanted but that seems behind him now. "I was 16-17 and I had to grow up," he relates. "Now that I'm older (He's 21) , I know that baseball is my job and I have to stay calmer."

In that regard, he's become very much a leader among the Latin players. "A lot of them come over here without knowing much English and they can get confused and not understand things," he says. "If I can help them out in any way, I feel I should so I do that where I can."

Guzman was one of the very few who was fluent in English when he came over as a teen-ager for he was never a street kid like so many of the others, having professionals (a teacher and lawyer) as parents.

As he's matrued, he may have finally stopped growing physically. He's "about 6-5 and 1/2 and 230," now, he says. And he has pecs and abs and every other muscle that Arnold Scwarzenegger used to display when he was The Terminator before becoming the somewhat flabby governor. In all, he's a very, very strong young man. He looks it and the way the ball jumps off his bat and soars into the great beyond demonstrates it.

Oh, there are still holes in his swing (he struck out 128 times last year) so more work to be done but hes very close to arrival at Dodger Stadium. Now he has to find out where he'll be headed when he first runs onto that field.