Checking the Dodger Minor League Pitchers

Seventh in a series on Dodger farm teams as we examine them by position.

There's no lack of good arms in the Dodger system. Consistency in using them? Ah, that's another thing, something that each will be seeking more and more as the year wears on.

The very best belongs to Chad Billingsley, now the No. 1 man at Las Vegas, getting ready for his L.A. debut. He's backed there by a man who's been there and done that- D. J. Houlton, who is now back down trying to work his curve into his arsenal more and more for it's clearly the pitch he relies on.

Then, there's Aaron Sele, who's decided to try at least one more time to make it back. He'll give it about a month, during which time, he hopes to be called up by the Dodgers or peddled to some team that can use him up on top. If not, he'll probably pack it in.

Lefthander Eric Stults is another on the staff with strong credentials backed by William Juarez, who performed better in the second half of last season as a starter for Jacksonville than he did the first half in relief. Eric Hull, who knows how to get outs despite sub-par velocity, can be utilized as a swing man.

At Jacksonville, there's Danny Muegge, who, like Hull, doesn't wow you with overwhelming stuff yet chalks up stroing performances by moving the ball around and hitting spots. Justin Orenduff, on the other hand, has one of the better arms, and is close to making it up on top. Joel Hanrahan seemed to getting back to the form that made him a top prospect a couple of seasons ago before he fell from grace. Heath Totten was crowded off the Las Vegas staff by numbers but is still capable. Spike Lundberg, a free agent signee who was dominent in Mexican winter ball, can either start or relieve. All are righthanders.

Vero Beach features some of the brightest in the second half coming up fast as they gain experience. That group is led by lefthander Scott Elbert, a first-round draft choice in 2004 who was brilliant in the second half for Columbus in 2005. Righthander Blake Johnson also features excellent stuff and Chris Malone, another righthander, did very well at Columbus in his rookie season (9-7, 3.88). Julio Pimentel, however, slumped badly here (8-10, 5.08) so remains for another season. He's still highly regarded, though for he's just 20 with a fine arm.

Righthander Jon Meloan, a fifth-round draft choice from the University of Arizona last year who pitched well for Ogden, was to have been the fifth starter here but is currently injured so lefthander Matt Merricks might pick up the slack. A Rule 5 draft choice by Colorado in 2005 who was returned midway in the season, he was little used after coming back. Adam Thomas, a pickup from independent ball, can also start if needed.

The Columbus staff is headed by Brent Leach, who led the Pioneer League in ERA (2.43) as a rookie. A pair of Dominicans, Mario Alvarez and Marlon Arias, throw hard but are erratic. They, too, were at Ogden last year. Lefthander Alberto Bastardo, a Rule 5 acquistion from the Baltimore organization, made an impressive debut while righthander Jesus Rodriguez, a Mexican, had a strong spring.

Most of those left in the extended camp will be tried in various roles throughout the spring although righthander Josh Wall, a second-round draft choice last June, is primarily a starter as is Steve Johnson, a 13th-rounder at that time but much more highly regarded than that would indicate. Jhonny Nunez, over from the Dominican, and Thomas Melgarejo, another of Mike Brito's Mexican finds, are promising. Righthander Chales Dasni and lefty Gary Parris both did some starting for the Gulf Coast team last year.

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