Suns Trying to Keep the Good Times Flowing 

   As the Dodgers begin the shift westward with two farm teams moving in that direction this year they are retaining one East Coast bastion - Jacksonville. Why not? There they have a first-class facility and are supported by fans that turn out in record numbers.

    As the Dodgers begin the shift westward with two farm teams moving in that direction this year they are retaining one East Coast bastion - Jacksonville. Why not? There they have a first-class facility and are supported by fans that turn out in record numbers.    They've supplied them with something to cheer about with two championship teams in the past plus other playoff clubs including last year. They figure to have a strong entry this time around, too.

    John Shoemaker, who's been around the organization longer than anybody but Tommy Lasorda, is back as manager. Luis Salazar, who managed Vero Beach a year ago, will serve as hitting coach while Danny Darwin returns for his second year as pitching coach. For the most part,they have a veteran team to work with.

   There will probably be only two rookies in the starting lineup on a regular basis. One will be Cory Dunlap, stationed at first. Dunlap spent an extra year at Vero Beach when he reported looking more like Oliver Hardy than Joe Hardy so did extra time working the weight down. He's still not svelte but he's not at the 205 pounds they charitably list him at in the media guide, either.

He hasn't hit for average like he did in his rookie year(2004) but he did double his home run production to 14 in 2006 so they still hope he's a  reasonable prospect. John Lindsey from independent ball will back him up.

   At second, Luis Maza, who hit only .207 at Rochester, has been picked up to replace Tony Abreu, promoted to Las Vegas. Chin-lung Hu didn't get a similar promotion so is back at short. He's stronger so the thinking is he'll hit better than the .254 he managed last year when he still played so well he made the Southern League All-Star team.

    Third base is occupied by another free agent acquisition, Marshall McDougall, who has brief big league experience with the Rangers. He's a former Florida State star so should prove popular with the fans who love the Seminoles in these parts. Also available are still another newly-signed free agent, Juan Gonzalez plus returnee Jimmy Rohan, who's very versatile.

   Two-thirds of last year's outfield is back in the persons of Wilkin Ruan and Anthony Raglani. Ruan was very dependable in center while hitting .260 last year. Raglani was a batting disappointment with a .244 mark.

   Luke Allen, who made it up to the Dodgers for six games in 2002 before moving on, has come back to the organization. He's always hit well and has an excellent arm. The rookie in the mix is Xavier Paul, who revived his career by hitting .285 with 13 homers at Vero. He, too, has a wow of an arm.

    A. J. Ellis, who hit .250 with solid defense is back to catch. Here, they've added Albero Concepcion, the former USC standout who was previously in the Red Sox chain.

   The  Southern League is generally regarded as one where pitchers thrive and this team possesses a number who should do very well. You can start with Scott Elbert, who is one of the premier lefties in all the minors. He was 6-4, 2.61 here after moving up from Vero Beach in mid-season 2006.

  Justin Orenduff, who was pitching quite nicely before shoulder surgery, is healthy once more. Before the injury he was one of the organization's top pitching prospects. There's plenty of others who can start including William Juarez, who was in the Las Vegas rotation last summer before having to return home to Nicaragua because of family concerns. Both he and Orenduff are righthanders.

    Lefthander Eric Cyr made it up to the Padres in 2002  while another lefty, Matt Riley put in time with the Orioles and Rangers before having surgery that cost him all of last season. Righthander Miguel Pinango won 10 games in AA for the Mets last year.

   Lefthander Mike Megrew came back from elbow surgery to post a 2-3, 3.52 mark for Vero Beach. He's well recovered now and is a heady pitcher. Righthander B. J. LaMura was solid here  with a 1.96 ERA after being obtained from the White Sox for Sandy Alomar last year.

   Although top closer Mark Alexander, who piled up 26 saves, has moved on to Vegas, the Suns can choose between a twosome that they feel have  what it takes to excel  in this area, Jon Meloan and Zach Hammes, both righthanders. Meloan moved rapidly through the system in 2006, finishing with a flourish here with a 1.54 ERA. He then got closing experience in the Arizona Fall League  and produced at a high level again.

   Hammes was a second-round draft pick in 2002 who never seemed to quite get with it until last year at Vero Beach where he wound up leading the team with six wins, all in relief. He became a closer in the Hawaii Winter League where he threw 98 mph 

.    Both lefty Carlos Alvarez (4-1, 2.93) and righthander Alvis Ojeda (7-3, 2.95) were strong for the Suns  last summer  while lefty Wesley Wright, a little man who pitches big, has considerable promise. Righthander Brian Akin is another who climbed from Vero to Jacksonville last year with success.  They hope that the strong showing lefthander Jonathan Figueroa made in Venezuelan Winter Ball is more indicative of his ability than his 1-7, 7.29 at Vero was.

   With this pitching staff and solid defense combined with the ability to score runs despite the absence of a true power guy, the Suns resemble the parent Dodgers. And like the big club they believe they'll be in contention all the way.  

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