Bad Times In Vero Beach

Those around Vero Beach couldn't really expect the kind of season they had in 2005. You don't graduate players like Andy LaRoche, Matt Kemp, Chin-Lung Hu, Tony Abreu, Justin Orenduff and Mark Alexander plus others and not feel their loss. So, something of a downer was anticipated. But this- 80 losses! Man, that's a hurt, one that makes for a long, long season for all concerned.

One thing that had been hoped for was first-rate starting pitching for the anticipated staff of Scott Elbert, Blake Johnson, Chris Malone, Julio Pimentel and Jon Meloan all had imposing credentials. Yet, of that group, only Elbert truly came through.

Meloan went down in spring training with arm soreness so was left behind. He finally arrived near mid-season but was limited to relief. Malone never did seem right and finally went out for surgery. Johnson began well, then slumped badly and was traded to Tampa Bay. Pimentel never did cope and was included in that trade.

Elbert certainly looked the part of a coming star, pitching effectively on every occasion, so much so, that he was promoted to Jacksonville at mid-year. He held opposing batters to a miniscule .193 average, posted a 2.37 ERA but was able to split only 10 decisions despite all that.

That's because they didn't score many runs for him and that was one of the main problems this year. They could get men on but didn't drive too many of them home. Of the hitters, Blake DeWitt, as expected, was the leader although he proved streaky. He posted a .268 mark while leading the team in home runs (18) and RBI (61). In the field he was mostly stationed at a new position- second base- while occasionally going back to his old spot at third. Then he, too, was moved up to AA.

After two sub-par seasons, outfielder Xavier Paul revived his game, hitting .285. First baseman Cory Dunlap reported sadly overweight, was banished to the extended camp as a result, then was reprieved. He hit for distance better than before (14 home runs) but didn't deliver nearly as often as expected, hitting .261.

Jamie Hoffman played very well in center field but was inconsistent at the plate (.252). Travis Denker began the year at third but never did deliver (.220) so was sent back to Columbus. Russ Mitchell came up from that team toward the end and hit well (.277).

David Nicholson filled a hole at short quite capably while there was a parade of players through left field until Drew Locke came up from Columbus to solve that problem, hitting .286. None of the catchers stood out particularly. Adolfo Gonzalez played just about everywhere including a pitching turn.

With the starting pitching faltering the way it did, there was a succession of hopefuls arriving from Columbus with regularity. Brent Leach was used in relief with not all that much success, Alberto Bastardo (5-5, 4.53_) was off and on as a starter while Cory Wade (2-4, 8.24) wasn't the answer. Marlon Arias, who arrived late, was the best of the bunch (0-1, 2.63).

Adam Thomas, a refugee from independent ball, did well (3-4, 2.30) and spent considerable time up in Jacksonville as a result. So did diminutive lefthander Wesley Wright (3-3, 1.49). Brian Akin (3-3, 1.80) was another to earn a promotion.

Zach Hammes was in Vero throughout and generally performed capably as a middle reliever (6-3, 4.32) Kyle Wilson was the most effective of several used as closers. Two lefthanders Mike Megrew (2-3, 3.52) and Ryan Ketchner (2-1, 1.45) came back from rehabbing and usually looked good. However, Jumbo Diaz (0-1, 5.27) still had all that weight, around 285 pounds worth, but his fast ball disappeared because of an aching elbow.

Before it was all done, 52 players were utilized, and a few showed promise despite the bad times. As solace goes, that's not to be dismissed.

Team Leaders:

Average- Nicholson, Paul, both .285
Hits- Paul 134
Home Runs- DeWitt 18
RBI- DeWitt 61
SB- Nicholson 23

Wins- Hammes 6
ERA- Elbert 2.37
Innings- Johnson 106
SO- Bastardo 105
Saves- Wilson 9

Most Surprising- Nicholson. Never truly a regular anywhere before, he delivered a steady short and hit well.

Biggest Disappointment- You can count 'em. Probably Pimentel, once a budding prospect who went from bad to worse (3-8, 5.69) and was traded.

Best Prospect- Without a doubt, Elbert, who is in the Chad Billingsley mold, he's that good. DeWitt among the position players .