On Second Thought, How Long Will Kent Hang On

When it comes to second base, there are two questions for the Dodgers - (1) How long will Jeff Kent go on and (2) who's going to replace him when he does decide to call it over? When Kent does decide he's through, he'll have credentials enough for Hall of Fame consideration.

Most of those were compiled for teams other than the Dodgers, of course, but what he's done for LA will enhance his chances not impair them. And a player of that caliber is hardly somebody who is easily replaceable.

If such a person is to come from within the system,the most likely is not down in the minors at all but, rather, on the present Los Angeles squad- occupying another position when he plays. That would be Tony Abreu, who got off to such a splendid start for Las Vegas that he was called up to hopefully fill a void at third.

That he did for a time but when he slumped a bit was sent to the bench, then to the sidelines with an injury. He may well go back to the minors if they decide an extra pitcher is called for.

Abreu plays an adequate third and can do the same at short. But second is the position at which he's most gifted and with Kent in his declining years the one he may very well return to because there's nobody else down there who looms as a strong possilibity. Oh, there's some potential but not anybody they're breathlessly awaiting.

The high minors are filled with players culled from other systems and independent ball. At Las Vegas, Luis Maza was the replacement for Abreu when he was called up. But with Chin-lung Hu's promotion to that team, Wilson Valdez was moved over from short to make room for him. Valdez is having nother good year but he's not viewed as an everyday big league possibility. And Maza at 27 is a journeyman minor leaguer.

The same sort of situation occurs at Jacksonville. When Maza moved up, another minor league free agent, Juan Gonzalez played most of the time at second. Now, though, with Blake DeWitt's arrival from Inland Empire, he's to play third and Kevin Howard was moved to second. Gonzalez was hitting well enough but Howard, a fairly recent acqusition from independent ball, is doing even better.

Again, however, these are men who've been kicking around awhile without attracting too much attention. Hardly longterm solutions.

But at Inland Empire, there's Travis Denker, who's revived his career after a couple of seasons of struggles. He's adequate in the field and hits with power. He's a possibility and there's another one they like even better at Great Lakes.

That would be Preston Mattingly, the heralded son of Don, who was a supplemental first-round draft choice in 2006. He obviously wouldn't do at short so mercifully was moved over and has performed much better. But he's reltively inexperienced and a player who has to be in there to work on his game. He's pulled his average up to around .240 and there it hovers. He has some tools to be a hitter and runs very well but it will clearly take time.

Ogden seems to have settled on Elian Herrera. He was a surprise last year when he came off the bench for the Gulf Coast Dodgers to take over at second and wind up as their leading hitter. He flopped earlier this year both at Inland Empire and Great Lakes and started slowly here. Lately, though, he's been much sharper.

In the Gulf Coast League, Gabe Casanova debuted well and looks like he can hit. Right now, though, he has an injured hand. Yossandy Garcia is in his third year and in that time filled out and developed some pop. He currently leads the league in home runs which, of course, is highly encouraging. How often he'll hit is the question.

There's another Garcia with this team, too- Johan who looks competent enough without being a standout.

Down the Dominican, Rafael Ynoa, in his second year, handles the position. He's a leadoff type who isn't all that bad but not a glittering prospect at this stage.

There's some talent there but if you want the truly hot prospect, aside from Abreu (and the possibility that one day things will come together for Mattingly) you'll have to go elsewhere.

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