California Leaning Pays For Dodgers

Vero Beach has its Dodgertown still but San Bernardino is located in Dodger country, after all, so as part of the shift west the team took its high A affiliation from the Florida State to the California League. They profited attendance- wise, drawing 174,152 fans or almost three times as many fans as saw the Vero Beach Dodgers play in 2006.

Those who came saw not a champion but a contender. First-year manager Dave Collins' Inland Empire tied for first in the division for the first half,m only to lose a one game playoff for that title but then qualified for the post-season as a wild card entry. There they won the first game, only to lose the next two to be eliminated.

There were some prime prospects trotted out although, inevitably, some of the more promising, were moved up to Jacksonville, particularly righthander James McDonald and third baseman Blake DeWitt. McDonald started the year as just another hopeful, didn't do well in his first couple of outings , then became the best pitcher on the staff. He was 6-7, 3.95 and improving just about every time out when he left.

Likewise DeWitt seemed sluggish in the beginning, then caught fire and was hitting .298 with eight home runs when he went up. Righthander Cory Wade, who was 7-0, 2.45 while working the middle innings, is another whose loss was felt. Second baseman Travis Denker, who came in late because of a broken hand in spring training, did well- .294 with 10 homers, but went to the Giants as payment for Mark Sweeney.

There was more than a few, though, that stayed the course and picked up the slack. Lucas May, converted to catching, still has a lot to learn about playing that position but slammed 25 home runs, one shy of the league lead in that department. Jamie Hoffmann played a solid center field and hit 309.

Russell Mitchell was moved to first when DeWitt was around, then went back across the diamond to third when Blake departed. He compiled a .270 mark with 22 homers 32 doubles and 82 RBI. Ivan deJesus, Jr. was strong at short while turning in a .287 average.

Before the season, outfielder Ryan Rogowski stated his goal was 40 stolen bases. He missed that by just one- stealing 39. Another outfielder, Drew Locke, contributed a steady .280 and Shane Justis played all over the infield and hit .297.

Of those who were brought in from elsewhere, outfielder Bridger Hunt hit. 296 but third baseman Josh Bell never really got going, managing only a .173 mark with just two home runs.

Most of the Cal League parks favor the guys with the bats and a group of fairly strong-armed pitchers suffered accordingly. Both Jesus Castillo and Javy Guerra, coming back from arm surgery, were 6-9 with Castillo's ERA up at 4.78 and Guerra's even higher at 6.27 Guerra fanned 121 in 117 innings, though, to show his arm was coming back.

Alberto Bastardo was on and off the disabled list to wind up 6-5, 4.57. Marlon Arias threw a no-hitter and won 12 games but still had an unimpressive 5.32 ERA. Mario Alvarez was 7-10, 5.60. Lefthander Cody White came in from Great Lakes to throw some good innings. He was 2-3, 3.90.

Injuries and a call-up meant the 66ers went through a succession of closers, all of them very capable while able to go. Lefthander Brent Leach began quickly with four saves and an 0.45 ERA but a pulled muscle in his side sent him to rehab. Ramon Troncoso posted a 3-1, 1.04 mark with seven games which got him promoted. Kyle Wilson was another on-and-off the D,L. but was very effective when right as a 1-0, 1.09 mark with 14 saves shows.

The setup men didn't fare as well. Jordan Prat has a world of ability but still can't get outs consistently to finish 3-5, 6.72. Jacobo Meque, a minor league free agent pickup, was 5-2, 4.72 and Francisco Felix posted a 2-3, 5.51 mark.

The team's location on the shoulder of the sprawling Los Angeles metropolitan area also served another purpose as a place where big leaguers could rehab under the eyes of the team's brass. In the course of the year, Rafael Furcal, Randy Wolf, Jason Schmidt, and Yhency Brazoban all played here.

So, in essence, they're glad in L.A. that they made the move. Those left behind in Vero Beach to watch an uninteresting Tampa Bay farm team , aren't happy but it's all part of a grand scheme that was inevitable from the time the Dodgers left Brooklyn.

TEAM LEADERS

Batting
Average- Hoffmann .309
Home Runs- May 25
Runs Batted In- May 89
Stolen Bases- Rogowski 39

Pitching
Innings- Castillo, Arias 144 each
Wins- Arias 12
Strikeouts- Guerra 121
Saves- Wilson 14

Most Surprising- McDonald, who emerged from being one of several promising pitchers on the staff to become one of the most promising in the organization.

Most Disappointing- Catcher Anthony Harper, who at one time looked like he could become a solid -hitting receiver. He just didn't develop enough and was hitting only .245 without a home run when released.

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