Andy LaRoche is Cream of Rich 3B Crop

The Dodger minor league third base chart is topped by Andy LaRoche, who many seem to feel is the heir-apparent to the L.A. job. But he is not the only viable prospect. This is our third in the series and we now take a look at what was once called the hot corner -- third base.

LaRoche underwent surgery after the season to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder but is expected to be fully recovered by the start of spring training. He suffered the injury when he landed hard on the shoulder after diving for a ball hit to his left, but after sitting out a brief time, played the rest of the season at Las Vegas.

Dodgers officials seem split on his value but his numbers alone seem show he is a genuine prospect and one that we rank in fifth in the Dodger minor league system.

LaRoche received a $1 million bonus as the club's 39th-round pick out of Grayson County (Texas) Community College in the 2003 draft. He hit .326 in the Cape Cod League before breaking his leg. He was able to get into six games at Ogden that year, and serving as the designated hitter, could only manage a .211 (4-for-19) average.

He quickly improved on that in 2004, hitting .283-13-42 at Columbus and .2237-10-34 at Vero Beach. Combined, he played in 127 games and banged out 23 doubles 23 homers and knocked in 75.

In 2005 he played the first 63 games at Vero and banged out 12 homers and knocked in 51 runs while hitting .333. Whisked off to Jacksonville his average slipped to .272 but he had nine more homers and 43 ribbies.

After the season he was named to the Florida State League All-Star team rated the best and also named the league's best batting prospect and best power prospect.

Last season he was promoted to Las Vegas at midseason after hitting .309-.419-.483 at Double-A Jacksonville. He improved to .322-.400-.550 for the 51s and was named the fifth best prospect in both the Southern and Pacific Coast Leagues.

"He just maintained that high level and he is a quality hitter, and he did it at a higher level," scouting director Logan White told the Los Angeles Daily News. "That's just part of the normal progress he made from where he thought he would be. He looks like he has trimmed down a little. I know in spring training, (Dodgers manager) Grady (Little) had a talk with him about being more prepared, and I think that kind of sunk in.

"Andy is one of those guys who, when the lights go on, he is ready to play. But he might frustrate some people otherwise."

Perhaps that is one reason first-year general manager Ned Colletti has been luke-warm about the third baseman.

LaRoche is the son of former major league pitcher Dave LaRoche and the brother of Braves first baseman Adam.

"He is a really smart person," White said. "He was a 4.0 student in high school. With him, he gives a little bit of a different attitude because he has been around the major league level his whole life. Some people perceive that a certain way, that maybe Andy figures he has it made. I don't think that's Andy at all.

"I just think he's not as intimidated by the process, and maybe not as respectful of it sometimes as he should be."

Spring Training this year will give him a chance to demonstrate he is ready for The Show. Competition will be tough with Wilson Betemit and a possibility of a] Nomar Garciaparra moving to third to make room for James Loney at first or b] the re-acquisition of Adrian Beltré.

In any event, his actions this spring will be pivotal to his career, either with the Dodgers or with some other MLB club.

Russ Mitchell
Mitchell was signed in the 15th round of the 2003 draft out of Cartersville High School in Georgia and opened his professional career with a bang.

He hit .338 for the Gulf Coast Dodgers over 26 games and the lack of power (one home run) was overlooked. But when jumped to Columbus and Vero Beach in 2004 he didn't a dinger at all, batting .249 and .211.

The Dodgers told him he had to get stronger and he did but also gained weight and opened the 2005 season in extended camp working them off.

He finally was sent to Vero but with Andy LaRoche hitting homers almost nightly, he became a utility man, playing a little first and a little second.

He did that and was sent to Vero but that was when LaRoche was still there so he became something of a utility man, playing first and a little of second.

An emergency trip to Jacksonville preceded a move back to Ogden where he regained his eye and hit .289 with 13 homers and his 54 runs batted in led the league.

He was voted the team's Most Valuable Player and the Raptors were in the Pioneer League playoffs.

He played third base in the Instructional League but in the spring he was asked to work in the outfield and ended back fat third base in Columbus, where he hit only .239 but with 32 doubles, 15 homers and 75 RBI. but had a .273 average at Vero over 22 games and added another four homers and 16 runs batted in.

The Dodgers consider Mitchell as a third baseman and are pleased with the increase in power he has shown. Then, after the 2006 season ended, he was given special work behind the plate so a position change is not out of the question.

Carlos Santana
Santana may not stay a third baseman, although he filled in quite satisfactorily at Vero Beach when Cory Dunlap went on the DL and the infield was rearranged.

But one thing is certain, he is a hitter.

Signed at age 19 in the Dominican, he banged out a .295 average in his first pro season and added an on-base percentage of .412.

He moved to the mainland and settled into the extended spring training mode when the teams left Vero Beach for their various clubs around the country.

When Cory Dunlap went on the disabled list at Vero, Santana, who had been hitting in the area of .600 at the time, was called to fill in for him. And after only 32 professional games under his belt he hit .268 with 15 extra-base hits and 18 RBI over 54 games.

Sent down to Ogden when the infield stabilized, he crafted a .303 average for the Raptors, whacked seven home runs and knocked in 38 in his 65 games but operated mostly in the outfield.

"He could be a special player," Vero manager Luis Salazar told LADuout's Bill Shelley. But Salazar found himself with three third basemen, all showing offensive prowess. So, while Josh Bell played third, Eduardo Perez played a lot of first while Santana played just about everywhere- some first, some outfield, some second.

A broken finger ended that experiment and Carlos' season. But the 20-year-old opened a number of eyes with his remarkable bat and he will have no trouble finding a spot when the 2007 season opens.

Josh Bell
Bell was the four round selection in the 2005 draft out of Santaluces high school in Florida. The 6-5, 203-pounder had little trouble in his first season with the Gulf Coast League Dodgers, hitting .318 (sixth in the league) with a .399 on base percentage.

But last season he got caught in the logjam of third base talent and it looked for a time as if he would open the year as a Coastie again, but at the last minute he was sent to Ogden.

He proved the decision was the right one, hitting .308 with a .544 slugging average. The 19-year-old had 17 doubles, three triples and an even dozen home runs while knocking in 53 runs in only 64 games.

He was twice honored as 'Player of the Week' in the Pioneer League and was names the second best player in the league when the season closed.

He's a switch-hitter with strength from both sides. He has a swing from either side that can send the ball flying deep to any field. He has a more than adequate arm and made 17 errors, most of them on strong, but off-target, throws.

He has a bright future, although at 6-3 it may not be at third base. But we'll be hearing much more about him from now on.

Sergio Garcia and Blake DeWitt, who were covered with the second basemen in a previous report, may or may not open the 2007 season at third base.

Brian Mathews opened the season in the Gulf Coast League and got a brief shot at Vero Beach but he didn't exactly light up the night. Eduardo Perez, GCL batting champion, regressed a bit from his 2005 performance (.352-6-37) with the Gulf Coast Dodgers. dropping to .249-4-73, and was pushed off third at Ogden by Josh Bell's strong effort. Chris Truby was released early in the season.

The Third basemen in the 2006 system:
             tm   ave  gm  ab  r   h 2b 3 hr bi sb 
Andy LaRoche LV  .322  55 202 35  65 14 1 10 35  3
Chris Truby LV   .215  42 130 12  28  7 0  2 41  0
Andy LaRoche Jx  .327  62 230 42  71 13 0  9 46  6
Sergio Garcia Jx .217  45 138 18  30 10 0  0 40  0
Blake DeWitt Jx  .183  26 104  6  19  1 0  1 23  0
Russ Mitchell VB .277  22  83 12  23  8 0  4 43  1
Carlos Santana VB.268  54 198 16  53 10 2  3 76  0
Brian Mathews VB .167   2   6  2   1  1 0  0  2  0
Ed. Perez Col    .249  51 185 24  46 13 1  4 73  3
Russ Mitchell Co .239 105 435 71 104 32 2 15 75  3
Josh Bell Og     .308  64 250 45  77 17 3 12 53  4
Brian Mathews G  .250  44 156 26  39 11 1  3 26  2
Julio Cedeno DR  .218  43 142 14  31  3 0  0 15  3

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