When It Comes to Third the Dodgers Are Loaded

You can't blame the Dodgers from feeling smug about their farm system. In the main, that's because the drafts have been good enough that they believe they have depth at every position. Nowhere is that more evident than third base.

From Las Vegas to the Dominican Republic, it would seem that L.A. has a prime prospect at third stashed away. You can begin at the top with Andy LaRoche, who, when he isn't getting hurt, seems more than ready to take that final step upward.

True, LaRoche has spent a lot of time on the disabled list last season and again in 2007. He's just emerged from his latest sojourn there, this time caused by a balky back. In and around those, though, he's shown once more that he has power to all fields. He has range at the position, good hand-eye coordination and an excellent arm. What he doesn't have is Dodger manager Grady Little's confidence- yet.

At Jacksonville, there's Blake DeWitt, who has matured as a hitter this year. DeWitt used to get himself out at times by hacking impatiently at dubious pitches. Now, he seems to be learning to lay off such offerings and his batting average has profited, both at Inland Empire where he had been consigned and after his promotion to AA.

He has a natural lefthanded swing that also generates power; maybe not as much as LaRoche but more than enough for a position that demands it. He's capable in the field. They tried him at second last summer but that never really took so he seems back at third to stay.

At Inland Empire, Russ Mitchell has spent his time moving across the diamond from first to third. There are doubts that he'll be a consistent enough hitter when he gets higher but he's hit for distance enough that he deserves a chance. The 66ers recently added Josh Bell who showed considerable pop at Great Lakes but who hasn't really gotten started since being moved up. He would certainly seem to have the ability to get untracked.

By contrast, Brian Mathews, who was promoted from Ogden to replace Bell, has been a revelation for the Loons, hitting very consistently. He's another who has the ability to hit for distance and has shown a lot of skill in the field doing far better than he did in the Pioneer League. The Dodgers hope he's coming of age.

Mathews had to spend some time in left field while at Ogden because of the presence of Austin Gallagher, the third-round pick in June's draft. There was considerable doubt that a kid straight from high school in Pennsylvania, would be able to cope in a league loaded with pitchers of college and professional experience but he's more than held his own. His power hasn't really shown but he has it.

There's some thought, though, that he's better suited at first than third as far as fielding goes.

There's no question about the fielding ability of Pedro Baez, a n 18-year-old beginner for the Gulf Coast Dodgers. He's made strong plays there consistently. His hitting has tailed off some but he's excelled with men on base. He has the talent to do it all except for swiftness for he's a heavy-legged runner and has to watch his weight.

Down the Dominican, there's Pedro Guerrero, easily the best hitter on his team. He hasn't produced the long ball but when he fills out his 6-3 frame, that could come. He's alternated between third and shortstop with Ramon Jean, who has shown flashes of ability.

In all a talent group. Make that very talented.

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