Abreu's On His Way To The Top

VERO BEACH, Fla- When it comes to discussion of the Dodger sure-pop position prospects, there are always three names that are thrust out there- James Loney, Andy La Roche and Matt Kemp. Mabe it's time that a fourth to be thrown into the mix- Tony Abreu.

Not that Abreu hasn't been considered a likely big leaguer, you understand. He's been one to observe carefully for several seasons. But going into this spring, he hasn't even been thought of as the No. 1 prospect in the organization at his position- second base. No, that's been Blake DeWitt ever since he was moved over from third early in 2006.

DeWitt hasn't lost his luster, particularly. It's too soon for that but just that Abreu has been playing such eye-catching ball all spring that people are starting to talk about him as an eventual successor when Jeff Kent has decided he's had enough and retired to prepare his eventual Hall of Fame acceptance speech.

There's been several rookie types who've been very impressive this spring. Loney, of course. The resurange of Greg Miller has been noteworthy and Jon Meloan looks very much like a future bullpen fixture. Of all, it's hard to find any other that has pushed forward with more authority that Abreu.

He's always been regarded as a slick fielder who might- just might- be a worthwhile hitter. The way he's been swinging a bat, though, makes him look like an offensive performer with all kinds of possibilities.

It's not just this spring, either. He hit .365 in the Dominican Winter League and there were scouts who viewed the playoffs there who said he was absolutely the best-looking player in a league that is always loaded with experienced, capable talent.

A look at the record suggests that Tony's always been able to hit. In four years on minor league play, he's averaged .301. Last year he hit. 287 at Jacksonville which is the lowest mark he's compiled yet. At that, he led the team, though.

However, his home run totals have been what you'd expect out a slight kid from the Dominican with eight at Columbus in 2004 huis best. But the guy who's playing now is all grown up and suddenly there's power there.

When Abreu first reported in 2003, he weighed 150 pounds. Now he's 190. That's 40 pounds of bulk that appears to be solid muscle. Now, ball fly from the bat into the further reaches of the park. No, he's not going to be Sammy Sosa but he'll take them deep often enough to gain attention.

He might even get so much that we can get this name business straight. His first name is actually "Estanislao" but he goes by his middle name, thankfully. However, that's correctly spelled "Toni" with an "I" instead of a "Y". He's never complained, though.

Tony or Toni, if he prefers, will by any name be sent to Las Vegas to team with Chin-lung Hu for the fourth season as one of the best double play combos in the minors. And, if the now muscular Abreu keeps wielding a bat like he has been lately, he'll crowd his way up to Dodger Stadium in a relatively short period.

They've never mentioned him as one of those minor leaguers that the club absolutely has to keep. That might well change. This 22-year-old has the look of someone who could be very special.