Suns shine bright in Los Angeles system10/28/2005 9:04 PM ET
By Jason Ratliff / MLB.com
Before the 2005 season began, MLB.com took an in-depth look at every big league team's Minor League system. Now, it's time to recap all 30 organizations, from top prospects to the recent draft class.
If there's any question why the Dodgers Minor League system is widely regarded as one of the best in baseball, then look no further than the Double-A Jacksonville Suns. The Southern League champs' infield and pitching staff were composed of almost exclusively top-notch prospects -- James Loney, Tony Abreu, Joel Guzman and Andy LaRoche in the infield, and Russell Martin giving signals to Chad Billingsley, Justin Orenduff, Jonathan Broxton and Edwin Jackson. Not to mention the fact that two of the organization's most promising left-handed pitchers -- Greg Miller and Hong-Chih Kuo -- joined the team after making resoundingly successful returns from major injuries. And that's just one team.
The Class A Vero Beach Dodgers finished 21 games above .500 and made the playoffs in the Florida State League. And while the lower-level teams didn't fare as well in the standings, several of L.A.'s recent top picks -- Sergio Pedroza, Scott Elbert and Blake Dewitt, to name a few -- established themselves as some of the best prospects in their leagues.
Perhaps the only black eye in an otherwise spectacular season for the Dodgers farm system was the ugly situation that developed around the contract negotiations with first-round pick Luke Hochevar, who remains unsigned.
|2005 Organizational Record
|* Won the Southern League Championship
|2005 Organizational Leaders
|Complete MiLB statistics||
At the start of the season, MLB.com identified five prospects to keep an eye on. Here's how they fared in 2005:
Edwin Jackson, RHP
The outfielder-turned-pitcher's meteoric rise and equally precipitous fall through the Dodgers system has been well documented. The 2005 season proved to be a microcosm of Jackson's erratic career. After a rough 2004 campaign dropped the 6-foot-3 right-hander from No. 4 to No. 30 on Baseball America's list of top Minor League prospects, Jackson started the season with Triple-A, and things got ugly in a hurry. His first two starts left him with a near-10.00 ERA and it never really got much better from there, as he was demoted to Double-A Jacksonville with a 3-7 record, an 8.62 ERA and more walks (37) than strikeouts (33). Two months in the Southern League with Suns pitching coach Kenny Howell got the former phenom back on track, and he went 6-4 with a 3.48 ERA in 11 starts, improving his walk-to-strikeout ratio to 18-to-44. He was so good in his first three August starts (3-0, 0.86 ERA, 9 H, 21 IP) that the Dodgers gave him a shot when Odalis Perez went down with a strained oblique. Back in the bigs, however, Jackson lost command again, issuing 17 walks vs. just 13 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings while going 2-2 with a 6.28 ERA in seven outings.
Joel Guzman, SS
Former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar was known as "one tough Dominican." Los Angeles Dodgers star prospect, Joel Guzman, became one rich Dominican when he got a franchise-record $2.25 million signing bonus at the age of 16. Now 20, the 6-foot-6 behemoth of a shortstop is making the investment look worthwhile. Hitting primarily cleanup in the prospect-packed Jacksonville Suns lineup, Guzman hit .287 with 31 doubles, 16 home runs and 75 RBIs in 2005. By the end of May, he was hitting nearly .300 with 11 homers in his first 46 games, but he tapered a bit, batting .253 in July and .282 in August while only mustering five longballs in his final 76 games. He did have a good postseason, however, popping two doubles and a homer while driving in five runs and hitting a team-high .316 en route to the Southern League championship. Long predicted to physically outgrow his shortstop position, the Dodgers gave Guzman his first dose of third base, where he committed four errors in 36 chances over 21 games.
Joel hits a two-run homer in Game 3 of Southern League Finals
James Loney, 1B
The Dodgers' 2002 first-round pick had his best season since his rookie year, when he hit .371 with a .457 OBP and .624 SLG in the Pioneer League. After bumpy seasons at Class A Vero Beach and Double-A Jacksonville in '03 and '04, Loney returned to the Southern League and hit .284 with 31 doubles, 11 homers and 65 RBIs -- decent numbers, but far from spectacular, considering it was his second go-round and he was batting in a stacked lineup immediately behind Guzman. The 21-year-old Texan couldn't seem to put it all together. When he hit for average, the power disappeared (.300-3-24 in 84 games in May-July and September); when he muscled up, his average dipped (.260-8-41 in 54 games in April and August). Defensively, he led the league in fielding percentage among regular first baseman, making just seven errors in 1,047 total chances (.993).
James goes deep in Game 4 of the Southern League Finals
Chad Billingsley, RHP
Billingsley continued to progress nicely for the Dodgers, as the 2003 first-round pick returned to Jacksonville, where he made a big splash late in '04 with a 4-0 record and 2.98 ERA. In 2005, the 6-foot-2 right-hander again finished strong, winning each of his last five regular season starts in impressive fashion, allowing just three runs on 12 hits in 33 2/3 innings. He went on to set the tone for the Suns' title run by tossing the first seven innings of a combined no-hitter in Game 1 of the South Division Championship against Birmingham. One of the few knocks on Billingsley in 2004 was his high walk total (71 in 134 1/3 IP). He made some improvement there, walking 50 in 146 innings while ranking second in the league with 162 strikeouts.
Chad combines with Jonathan Broxton on a no-hitter in Southern League playoffs
Chad talks to MiLB.com about the combined no-hitter
Greg Miller, LHP
In 2005, Miller was treated a lot like a midlife-crisis sports car that only gets taken out for joy rides under ideal circumstances. After missing the entire 2004 season with a shoulder injury, the 2002 first-round pick was handled with extreme caution. The 6-foot-5 southpaw didn't return to action until the last day of June, and in the Gulf Coast League, at that. After knocking the rust off in his first outing, Miller was dominant in his next three, allowing no earned runs and just four hits in 10 innings while striking out 13. His next stop, at Class A Vero Beach, resulted in more of the same -- one earned run on four hits in 9 2/3 innings with 10 strikeouts. Finally, on August 8, nearly two years to the day after he was originally shut down, Miller returned to Jacksonville, where he had posted a 1.01 ERA and an astonishing 40 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings as an 18-year-old in 2003. This time, he was a bit on the wild side (15 walks in 13 innings), but just as effective, boasting a 0.73 ERA and .222 opponents' average before getting roughed up in his last outing. Then it was off to the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost time. But the combination of a two-week layoff and then letting his fastball fly at 95 mph left Miller's shoulder aching, and the Dodgers shaking. But to their relief, the shoulder was examined and found to be structurally sound. So he'll be parked in the garage until next spring.
Greg closes out Game 3 of the Southern League Finals
Brian Myrow, 1B
The Dodgers received Myrow from the New York Yankees in exchange for Tanyon Sturtze in 2004. A career .302 hitter in the Minors, Myrow hit just .282 for Triple-A Las Vegas this year, but the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder also upped his power numbers, belting 28 doubles, five triples and a career-high 22 home runs for a .547 slugging percentage. All that earned him his first taste of the big leagues, where the 27-year-old first baseman got 20 at-bats over the course of a month, managing three singles and a double in primarily pinch-hitting duty.
Brian hits a lead-off double for Las Vegas
Andy LaRoche, 3B
Halfway through the season, LaRoche already had 21 home runs and 51 RBIs in the notoriously pitcher-friendly Florida State League. At 21, and just a season and a half into his professional career, the richly pedigreed infielder was promoted to Double-A Jacksonville, where he hit .273 with nine homers and 43 RBIs in 64 games in a star-studded lineup. All told, LaRoche hit .305 with 30 homers and 94 RBIs. The Dodgers figured he would hit, and hit for some power -- they did, after all, give him $1 million to dissuade him from going to Rice -- but even director of player development Terry Collins readily admitted that they didn't expect this much power, nor for it to come this soon.
Andy goes 2-for-2 at the Futures Game
Russell Martin, C
Have you heard about the Jacksonville Suns' lineup? Well, here's another cog in that machine. Canadian-born Russ Martin keeps looking better and better for the Dodgers, bumping his average 61 points from his 2004 mark to finish with the third-highest average (.311) in the Southern League. Add in 78 walks compared to 69 strikeouts and you could count on the 22-year-old backstop to be on base nearly every other time to the plate; his .430 OBP ranked second in the league. After turning heads in the AFL last year, Martin added a Futures Game appearance to his resume in '05, representing the World Team in Detroit. Though the Dodgers like his defense, he did commit 12 errors -- most among SL backstops -- and didn't have a great year throwing out runners (31%). But then again, it was only his second full season behind the plate since being converted from third base.
Russell strokes an RBI double in Game 4 of Southern League Finals
Russell talks to MiLB.com's Jonathan Mayo at the Southern League All-Star Game
Hong-Chih Kuo, LHP
Throwing 54 1/3 innings in a season may not seem like a lot, but for Hong-Chih Kuo and the Dodgers, it was huge. The career of the 24-year-old Taiwanese left-hander has been in limbo since his very first professional appearance, back in 2000, when he used near-100 mph fastballs to strike out seven of the 10 batters he faced for the Class A San Bernardino Stampede. But his elbow popped that night, resulting in his first of two "Tommy John" surgeries, and he was limited to just 39 1/3 innings over the next four years. Not only did Kuo surpass his career total in IP in '05, but he looked much like he did that night five years ago in San Bernardino, striking out 86 batters in just 54 1/3 innings. The 6-foot southpaw was 2-2 with a 1.99 ERA between Vero Beach and Jacksonville, holding hitters to a .206 average.
2005 draft recap
1. Luke Hochevar, RHP
Hochevar, the 2005 Roger Clemens Award winner, was considered worthy of the No. 1 overall selection but dropped all the way to the Dodgers at No. 40 because of perceived signability issues. And those issues came to fruition, to say the least. The attempted signing of Hochevar turned into not only the annual Scott Boras-scripted fiasco, but a veritable who-dunnit, resulting in the Tennessee Vols ace being one of just three unsigned first rounders. The 6-foot-5 right-hander had reportedly dumped Boras as his advisor and allowed another agency -- Sosnick-Cobbe -- to negotiate a nearly $3 million deal with the Dodgers. But Boras re-entered the picture and Hochevar changed his mind.
2. Ivan DeJesus, SS
After taking a risk with their first-round pick, the Dodgers played it safe by taking DeJesus. The 5-foot-11 teen from Puerto Rico has the same name and position (shortstop) as his former Major League father, but is considered to have much more offensive upside than pops ever did. And the Dodgers should hope so, considering Ivan Sr. was a lifetime .254 hitter with career highs of five homers and 59 RBIs in 15 big league seasons. Junior didn't show much pop in his rookie campaign, but he did get off to a blistering start in the Gulf Coast League, where he hit .339 with five doubles, 11 RBIs and eight steals in 33 games before being promoted to Ogden in the Pioneer League. There, DeJesus hit just .208 with one double and three RBIs in 72 at-bats.
3. Joshua Wall, RHP
With its second pick of the second round, Los Angeles went with high schooler Josh Wall and signed the Louisiana two-way star to a deal with a $480,000 bonus. The Dodgers opted to try the 6-foot-6 right-hander as a pitcher, despite the fact that he had lost a lot of velocity on his fastball during his senior year at Central Private High School. Wall went 1-3 with a 3.86 ERA in limited action with Ogden, allowing 13 hits and eight walks in 14 innings while striking out five.
4. Sergio Pedroza, OF
Nobody in baseball had a faster start to the 2005 season than L.A.'s third-round pick. The Cal State Fullerton product reached base in each of his first 11 professional at-bats and was 8-for-8 before he was finally retired. He lasted just a dozen games in the Pioneer League, hitting .500 with four homers and 18 RBI at Ogden. His average dropped off dramatically at Low-A Columbus, but he showed surprising pop, piling up 11 doubles and 12 homers in 49 games.
Sergio slams a two-run homer for the Catfish
5. Joshua Bell, 3B
The third of three high school players taken with the Dodgers' first five picks, Bell had as good a season as any of them, hitting .318 in 45 Gulf Coast League games. The 18-year-old switch-hitter looked especially good from the right side of the plate, hitting .542, compared to .278 from the left. He also showed a good eye at the plate, drawing 20 walks vs. 33 strikeouts. He only went deep once in 157 at-bats, but he's already 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, and the power figures to follow as he adds to an already sturdy frame. Defensively, he switched from his high school position (shortstop) to third base and made four errors in 27 attempts.
2004 draft recap
How the top three from 2004 fared in their first full season of pro ball.
1. Scott Elbert, LHP
The first of two consecutive Missouri high schoolers taken by the Dodgers to start their 2004 draft, Elbert had an outstanding first full season at Low-A Columbus in the South Atlantic League. The 6-foot-2 southpaw went 8-5 with a 2.66 ERA, holding opponents to a .200 batting average while striking out 128. His walks were down from a year ago, when he issued free passes to 30 batters in 49 2/3 innings, but he still lacked command, walking 57 in 115 innings. Lefties managed just four extra-base hits off Elbert all year, hitting .144. The 20-year-old seemed to struggle with the top and heart of the order the second time through the lineup, as evidenced by a .315 opponents average in the fourth inning compared to just .167 in all other innings combined. Scouts and Sally managers rated him the top prospect in the league after the '05 season.
2. Blake DeWitt, 3B
Considered the best high school hitter in the 2004 draft, Dewitt has done nothing to sully his reputation in his first two pro seasons. After hitting .284 with 12 homers and 47 RBIs in 70 games with Ogden in his rookie campaign, the 5-foot-11 third baseman got better and better as the '05 season wore on, culminating in an eight-game stint at Vero Beach, in which he hit .419 with three doubles, a homer and seven RBIs. Though praised for his consistency throughout the Sally League season -- he didn't go consecutive games without a hit after June 26 -- Dewitt also showed a flair for the dramatic during the playoffs with Vero Beach. He launched a walk-off, three-run homer to even the East Division Championship Series against the eventual champions, Palm Beach. Combined, the 20-year-old with the sweet left-handed swing hit .291 with 34 doubles, 12 roundtrippers and 72 RBIs.
Blake lifts Vero Beach with a three-run walk-off homer
3. Justin Orenduff, RHP
The real Justin Orenduff stood up in 2005, after a rookie campaign that was typically lackluster for a college pitcher coming off a full season's workload. Florida State League hitters were no match for the 6-foot-4 Virginia Commonwealth product, as he went just 5-3 but posted a 2.24 ERA while holding opponents to a minuscule .167 average. His record was a little better (5-2) after a bump up to Double-A Jacksonville -- thanks in part to the high-octane offense supporting him there -- but otherwise his number dropped off a bit (4.07 ERA, .241 opponents average). Between the two levels, Orenduff struck out 146 batters in 126 2/3 innings while walking 50.
Justin previews his Game 4 start in Southern League Finals with MiLB.com
Justin fans seven in Game 4 of the Southern League Finals
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.