GCL Dodgers Have That Glamorous Look

This year -- which might well be the last of its existence -- the Dodgers have added a touch of glamour to a league that has been notoriously short on that commodity as the Gulf Coast opened play on June 20.

Major League Baseball, which foots the bills for the circuit, threatened to abolish the GCL a year ago and may well do so after this season is complete. In the meantime, though, it's business as usual which means games played on spring training practice fields in front of about four or five fans a game.

However, there may be some more curiosity seekers out when the Dodgers play because they've assigned their top draft pick, seventh overall and the Gatorade High School Player of the Year, all in the person of lefthander Clayton Kershaw, who'll make his professional debut here. What's more, Preston Mattingly, the son of famed Yankee Don, will also be breaking in for the GCL Dodgers.

The professional baptism of both will be a bit delayed, however, as the pair was invited to Dodger Stadium to take some bows before returning to their new jobs. Although Mattingly has been variously rumored as winding up at third, second, first or the outfield, Director of Player Personnel Terry Collins says he'll play shortstop for the present because, "That's the position he knows so we want to see him there."

Thus year's Gulf Coast entry is managed by Juan Bustabad, who led Ogden into the playoffs a year ago. Busty has two men over from the Dominican Summer League, Hector Eduardo and Antonio Bautista as coaches with Eduardo handling the pitchers and Bautista instructing hitters. Mac Singleton is also on hand as a batting coach.

The Dodgers compete in the tidy four-team Eastern Division along with the defending champion Mets, Marlins and Nationals. Since most of the squad competed with all of those teams except the Marlins, they're already quite familiar with each other.

There was even a familial face on the mound for L.A.'s entry in its opener, righthander Jumbo Diaz, who threw two innings in a rehab assignment. Jumbo has had elbow pains most of the spring and , while he threw capably in this game, his velocity has dropped about 10 mph from the 100 he could previously hit.

Kershaw is reported to be able to hit 96 on the gun when he's ready to go. Righthander Kyle Smit, drafted in the fifth round and who throws in the low 90's, also is reporting here this week.

Bustabad also has several vets from last year's club who are strong of arm including righthanders Jon Haldis, Eduardo Quintana and Gary Parris plus lefthander Wilfredo Diaz. Righthander Mario Gracia and lefthander Thomas Melgarejo both pitched in Mexico last year. Also on the mound staff are Jonathan Dutton, the 24th round draft pick in 2005 who signed late last summer, and righthander Kengshil Pujols, converting from catcher.

Lefthander Jhonny Nunez is over from the Dominican Summer League while another lefthander, Skylar Tripp, is a recently signed draft-and-follow.

Another draft-and-follow, Brian Mathews, is the third baseman while Jamie Ortiz, the seventh-round choice in the 2006 draft, is holding down first. Francisco Lizarraga, who played in the Mexican minor leagues last year, is a slick shortstop while Yossandy Garcia who hit only .175 in his rookie year in this league, is vastly improved and can play a number of positions. The second baseman is Elian Herrera, another over from the Dominican League.

When they finally assemble the outfield, it should be one of the swiftest in all organized ball because it includes Jovanny Rosario, another over from the DSL who won the camptown races this spring plus Trayon Robinson, who was second in the finals. Robinson is learning to switch hit to take advantage of that speed, a process that often seems painful.

The third outfielder will be another swiftie, Mexican Eloy Gutierrez but right now he's filing in with Vero Beach. In the meantime, ninth-round draft choice Bridger Hunt fills his slot but Hunt will move on to Columbus in a couple of days. Jesus Mora, who's starting his third year in this league, is also on hand.

Kenley Jansen, a native of Curacao, who hit .308 as a part-time catcher here a year ago, now assumes fulltime duty. He's polished up his receiving skills considerably. He's backed by Esteban Lopez, the 25th round draft pick who's regarded as an excellent receiver.

The bulk of this group did quite well in the extended spring games and with that highly publicized help coming in from the draft, the Dodgers confidently expect a contender.