Builders Aren't Working But Players Are

October was supposed to be the month in which earth was to be moved for the start of the new training base to be built for the Dodgers in Glendale, Arizona. But the month passed quietly without a shovelful being turned.

However, that's not to say that the Dodgers weren't active in the state doing some serious projects. One of the most important involved the players in the Instructional League camp there.

When the Instructional Leagues were first founded back in the 60's, they were, for sure, leagues with standings, stats, the whole works. Soon enough, though, they felt the need to emphasize the instructional part so the formal trappings were abandoned. Teams may well keep stats for their own individual evaluations but there's nothing official about them.

Nor are there no standings, for that matter,but at at the end of each game the players walk off the field knowing who won and who lost. And the Dodgers feel quite happy about that for thy were the team on top at the end of the day a lot more often than they were saddled in defeat.

Still, the best feelings came with the progress of those assembled. As always they use the younger prospects in the system in these games and this group seemed to be one with more than an abundance of talent. Some stood out more than the rest, though.

Chris Jacobs wound be hard to ignore in any crowd except in a a group of NFL linemen for he's 6-5, 260. He's also just 18 years old, a manchild, really. And he was drafted in the 17th round, which automatically makes him a suspect.

The Dodgers were able to get him there, they feel because he played in a relatively obscure corner of North Carolina, one that was usually ignored by the scouts. But when he gets into a ball in batting practice, jaws drop for he hits shots that seem to be taking off from Cape Canaveral, headed for a distant planet.

He's Schwartzenegger strong and anyone who's seen him has to be reminded of Ryan Howard, such is his physical appearance and strength. But when he first went to the plate in a Gulf Coast game, he was, frankly, clueless.

But he worked hard- very, very hard. His later plate appearances saw him try to just meet the ball rather than to pull everything out of sight. He got better at that but wound up with only two hone home runs and a .250 average, hardly impressive marks.

In Arizona, though, his improvement was marked. He's getting the nuances of what pitches to go after and what to avoid- and applying that power that at times can invoke a teenager's mantra of "awesome."

Jacobs' progress was perhaps the most notable among the players in camp but there were others who earned special praise as well. Preston Mattingly worked hard at learning second base and it seems to be coming along. The camp broke before the news of his dad's possible arrival; in LA but these have to be happy days for sure in the Mattingly household in Indiana for they may well envision a time in the future when Dad is the Dodger manager and Preston is one of his players.

Another son of a big leaguer who earned special praise was Scott Van Slyke. Like Jacobs, he's big and strong ((6-5, 214) and seems to be understanding his job more and more. He could become a formidable power hitter in the future as well.

Discussing the pitchers in camp, you could begin with Clayton Kershaw for the lefthander was- well, Clayton Kershaw- an extraordinary talent whose grasp of the art of throwing a ball with verve goes well beyond his years. There were a lot of outstanding arms in camp; none, better than his, though.

Still, Chris Withrow, this year's top draft choice very much showed why he was. He only pitched nine innings over the summer in the Gulf Coast League, barely giving a glimpse of what's possible.

In this camp he was able to work regularly and quickly demonstrated his ability- a smooth deliver and a mid to upper 90's fast ball with good location. He's another who could be special.

Justin Miller was one of the revelations of the Gulf Coast summer. He had arrived there with a sore arm but by the championship series was dominating. The sixth-round right-hander continued to do the same in this camp.

A lot of people got their first looks at some of those signed this year in the Dominican Republic and they had to be pleased. Left-handers Geison Aguasviva and Bolivar Medina came over along with right-hander Carlos Frias and one scout commented, " As good arms as anybody in camp. " Considering all the good arms here, that means a lot.

In all, then a productive time for many. Now, if they can just start constructing a training base for them to use beginning in 2009, all will be well in Arizona.

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