Eric Stults -- A Prospect Again

VERO BEACH, Fla.- For Eric Stults, the off-season presented him with professional disappointment followed by personal joy. So far this spring has had its ups and downs as well. The disappointment came when not only was he not placed on the 40-man roster, he was passed over by every other club in the Rule 5 draft. The Dodgers had debated whether to bring him up and, when they decided not to, thought he was likely to be gone and were delighted when he wasn't.

As for Stults himself, "I thought I might be picked but, well, I wasn't," he allowed. Not that he's unhappy in the organization and wants out, you understand, but if he had been taken in the draft, it would have meant at a genuine shot at a big league job. Not getting it had to hurt.

The joy followed though when on Jan. 22, wife Stephanie gave birth to daughter, Madeline, their first child. The pleasures of parenthood can compensate for a lot in life and Eric is enjoying the moments.

Meanwhile, back in baseball, when L.A. learned they still had possession of his services, they wasted little time inviting the lefthander to the big camp as a non-roster. So, when he got his chance in an exhibition game, he responded nobly, pitching three sparkling innings. His reward ? Along with the proper praise for a job well-done, he was told to pack his gear to move across the camp to the minor league clubhouse.

Stults certainly has his backers and first-year Dodger pitching coach Rick Honeycutt heads the list. He well knows his subject for, as the minor league coordinator, he's worked with him and believes, "He knows how to pitch. He has good stuff, moves the ball around well, has command and hits his spots well."

But the reality is that there's so many good arms vying for so few open spots on the roster that there was no room at this time, either so it's back down where he can get needed work in. And Stults has been around enough to recognize the situation.

He certainly knows life as a pitcher will be like this. In 2002, he arrived as a virtual unknown 15th-round draft pick, then proceeded to make an impact as few selected that lowly or, even much higher do, shooting up the system from rookie ball through high A to AA in a matter of 18 games. Everybody was agreeing with Honeycutt's analysis of his talents.

In 2003, though, matters changed. His arm ached and he didn't look the same. Elbow surgery followed so he was thrust on the grueling rehab path in 2004. He made it through- so that last summer, he was back in Jacksonville throwing the ball well. So well that a mid-season promotion to Las Vegas followed.

Which next brought the adjustment to pitching in the House of Horrors that every member of the 51's staff must endure at Cashman Field.

"Everything bad you've heard is true, " Stults notes. "I finally got so I just had to tell myself to ignore the stats and just concentrate on the fact that I was throwing the ball well. Still, you make a good pitch and bad things happen, it's not always easy to take."

So, the 3.31 ERA he had posted at JJacksonvillebecame 6.58 at Vegas and that may have contributed to his being passed over up higher. He keeps the faith, though- the faith that led him to give up basketball, the sport he had been recruited for at Bethel College in Indiana to concentrate on his pitching.

He no doubt will be in Vegas again and while that can't fill him with rapture, he knows that he's pitching like he did when he first made that big impression which means that at age 26, he's a genuine prospect once more.