Back the The Future- Hu, Kershaw

Each year since 1986 our companion publication Dodger Dugout gives awards for outstanding achievements in the Dodger system. Of course, it's quite early to know who will be the 2007 winners as Player and Pitcher of the Year but if you'd say that the two who were named Thursday to play in the Futures Game deserve to be the favorites, you'd be on target.

Shortstop Chin-Lung Hu will play for the World team for the second straight year. Lefthander Clayton Kershaw was named to the pitching staff for Team USA, becoming the youngest player to be so honored this year. Both are having outstanding seasons or they wouldn't be considered.

It was one of the surprises of spring training that Hu wasn't promoted to Las Vegas but, rather, kept at Jacksonville for another season. For three years he and second baseman Tony Abreu had formed an adroit double play combination but that was ended when Tony went to Las Vegas (and, subsequently to L.A.) while Hu stayed behind.

The question mark raised over the kid from Taiwan was his hitting. No one quarreled with his glove work but when he managed only a .254 mark in 2006 and then, if anything, did worse in the Arizona Fall League, some heads were shaking.

He is, after all, only 5-11 and some thought his bat lacked sting. But don't be deceived. He's always been muscular and over the winter he solidified even more. The results have been evident thus far this season.

Currently he's hitting .326. While he'll never be a power plant, he can drive the ball. Right now he has three home runs but, more importantly, has collected 25 doubles and five triples. The ball might not soar out of the park with regularity but he hits the gaps often. He also is adept on the bases, stealing 10 of 14 to date.

Put that together with his always stellar glove work and you have a player of note.

At age 19, Kershaw is starting only his first full season as a pro and just like his first year (when Dodger Dugout named him the organization's Rookie of the Year) he's been been something special.

There's been only one occasion that he's faltered for Great Lakes as he 's run up a 7-2 mark with a 1.89 ERA, holding batters to a .178 average and striking out 82 in 62 innings. He does it with a fast ball that reaches 96 mph, a wicked curve and a strong demeanor on the mound. As Great Lakes pitching coach Glenn Dishman says, "When he's on his game, there's nobody in this league that can touch him."

The only question on him so far is how long he'll stay in the Midwest League. It isn't a stretch to think that he and Hu could be teammates at Jacksonville before the season ends.

He was the winning pitcher in the Midwest League All-Star game on Tuesday. Now, he'll be part of the Futures Game which is to be part of the All-Star festivities in San Francisco on Sunday, July 8.

And it may well be that next spring he and Hu are receiving plaques as the best and the brightest in the system. If this doesn't act like a Sports Illustrated cover story and jinx them.

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