Gulf Coast Had a Splendid Season

There was to be no championships for any Dodger farm team in 2006. The Gulf Coast Dodgers came the closest. They compiled a 32-22 record to win their division by 2 1/2 games, took the Tigers in the first round of the playoffs and won the opening game of the final series against the Red Sox before stalling. The Sox came on to capture the next two and the flag.

There were a couple of prime prospects on this team, several of the second- level and some others who meshed well under manager Juan Bustabad.

The strong point was the starting pitchers. Jhonny Nunez, who was traded to the Nationals for Marlon Anderson after the season, led the league with six victories and didn't lose a game. Top draft choice Clayton Kershaw (2-0, 1.95) was every bit as effective.

Mexican lefthander Thomas Melgarejo (3-1, 3.60) pitches well and two free agents, Michael Gardner and Wayne Renfrow joined the group to make a difference.

The backup pitching was somewhat erratic, having some noble efforts, then some shaky ones. Mexican Mario Gracia (3-2) was the best of the bunch although Wilfredo Diaz (3-2, 1.78) Jon Haldis (2-4, 3.09) and Jonathan Dutton (3-4, 3.77) all contributed.

Lack of a true closer hurt. Fifth-round draft choice Kyle Smit looked like he might be the one but back spasms forced his shutdown.

On offense, Elian Herrera (.327) was the get-on and score guy while Preston Mattingly was the RBI man. Mattingly, who drew attention because of his pedigree (he's Don's son) and his draft position (first round supplemental) hit .290 while driving in 29 runs. Francisco Lizarraga, still another Mexican import who shared shortstop with Mattingly, was strong both at the plate and in the field.

The outfield might have been the fastest in all the minors. The group of Trayvon Robinson, Lyndon Poole, Jovanny Rosario and Jason Schwab could form a relay team that could challenge in the Olympics Third baseman Brian Mathews and first baseman Jaime Ortiz showed some power potential.

In all, it was a very satisfying season.

Team Leaders:

Average- Herrera .327
Hits- Mattingly 54
HR- Mathews, Yossandy Garcia, 3 each
RBI- Mattingly 29
SB- Mattingly 12

Wins- Nunez 6
ERA- Nunez 1.58
Innings- Nunez 57
SO- Nunez 56
Saves- Eduardo Quintana 4

Biggest surprise- Gardner, completely unheralded who parlayed a nasty splitter to a 4-1, 2.08 record.

Biggest disappointment- Jimmy Gilbert, who had Tommy John surgery after signing last year then came on to throw 97-97 mph on the sidelines. His debut, however, lasted only 2/3 of an inning before pain forced him out once more.

Best prospect- Kershaw, who was everything he was expected to be and more. Mattingly hit as well or better than had even been hoped.

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