Under the Radar #6- The Oft-Overlooked Stults

Each season there are players who slide in under the radar, performing far better than anticipated to eventually draw attention. For the past few days we've been looking at some of those in the Dodger system who did just that. Today we'll wind up the series with lefthander Eric Stults.

In late August there were several names mentioned when those likely to be promoted from the minors for the September stretch run. Several pitchers ' names were tossed out but Stults was mentioned by nobody (including me).

It may have been easy not to consider him for his record was hardly spectacular- 10-11 with a 4.23 ERA. Yet, this was on a team that lost 77 games in a league noted for inflated hitting marks. The fact is that he was the most dependable starter Las Vegas had for much of the season.

So, he was brought up and, what's more, contributed with two special games. In one, he foiled the Mets for an important win. And on the last day of the season when the Dodgers virtually conceded the West Division title since they had already made the playoffs, they sent out a no-name lineup against the Giants with Stults pitching.

If that was concession, he didn't agree, holding San Francisco down. The Dodgers went on to win, thus gaining half a pennant by tying the Padres for first place. As for Stults, well, he was left off the post-season roster.

Getting by-passed is nothing new for the 26-year-old lefthander. He was drafted well down in the 15th round in 2002. Yet, he quickly vaulted through the system, moving from rookie ball to AA in a matter of two months.

The next year, though, saw arm surgery and when he finally did get back he had to start over in low A. Again, he fought his way back, finishing 2005 with Vegas. But, again, he was passed over as the Dodgers declined to place him on the 40-man roster.

If they misjudged their man so did the other teams for they all passed him by in the draft, while two teams reached around him for two other lefthanders, Mike Megrew and Luis Gonzalez. Both failed to make it up, incidently. Stults ? He got an invitation to spring training as a non-roster man, made a token appearance, then was sent across Dodgertown to the minors.

Of course, it's because the Stults' fast ball is ,maybe, a tick above average. He doesn't blow people down; rather, he works an intelligent game, setting hitters up, then plying their weakness. Effective if not enthralling.

Now, they're discussing who might help the team in 2007 as a starter and they begin with Billingsley and Kuo. No mention of Stults again. But he's not one to throw T. O- type tirades over this. No, he's home in Indiana with his wife and baby daughter. (who was sitting on Mommie's lap that memorable night in Shea Stadium when Daddy won his first major league game).

Who knows? He might even get traded over the winter but, if not, he'll be around next spring, a lefthander you can depend on to throw quality innings. Here's a guy who is a far better pitcher than he's usually given credit for being.

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