07 September 2007

The Dreams of the Departed

by Joshua Worley

This is a special time to be a Dodger fan. The team is in contention in September, in the thick and thin of an exciting pennant scrap race. ( The way I see it, each of the four NL playoff teams gets a pennant scrap, and the NL winner gets to sew the scraps together into a pennant. ) It would be nicer, of course, if the Dodgers were 2.5 games in front of a playoff spot, rather than 2.5 games out, but it's still exciting, and hope is very real.

But being in the pennant scrap race isn't the primary reason this is a special time. In watching the Dodgers we are getting to see a group of promising young players at the very beginning of their careers. It's like being 20 again, and seeing all of one's adult life ahead, with possibilities that feel limitless. We can imagine greatness ahead for these players. MVP awards, hall of fame careers. None of it might ever happen, but it could happen.

The truly great thing about this time is that it's not just in dreams of the future that these players are stars --- they are the stars of the Dodgers right now! Yesterday, in perhaps their most joyous win of the season, Ethier, Kemp, and Loney were the stars. Martin has been a star all season. I could go on, but I don't think I need to.

Instead, I say this: cherish this time to watch these young players, because though the future is full of promise, it is not guaranteed. They could be traded, or falter from their sure paths to stardom.

Below is a look at some of the departed:

Irvin Joel Guzman

There was a time when for a lot of Dodger fans and outside experts he was the Dodger position prospect, the young player to be most excited about. And why not? He was a power hitting shortstop, a bit raw, but apparently with all the tools to become a star. In 2005 he was ranked the fifth best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America.

But it probably will never happen for him. I'm looking back at his numbers, wondering with the clarity of hindsight if his fall from the top of the prospect lists could have been better anticipated. They are good numbers, but not great numbers. He had an OPS of 0.899 one year in A+, but he was mostly around 0.800 or lower in other years. Of course, he was always very young for his league, and also a shortstop. So maybe they were great numbers, in those contexts. But he never walked very much, and struck out a lot. Some young players can learn and move past an early trend of striking out too much, while others can't. It appears, sadly, that Guzman will be the latter.

The numbers for Guzman have gone down since he was traded away, and the context of his numbers has changed for the worse. He's no longer extremely young for his league ( 22 in AAA ), and he's now an outfielder, not a shortstop. More importantly his OPS this year was below 0.700, mostly due to striking out a quarter of the time and almost never walking. He's getting a look with Tampa Bay this September, but it's hard to see him having much of a major league career based on what he's done this year. It would be rash to say he'll never make it, though.

Ned Colletti traded Guzman after his star had fallen quite a bit. Since the trade it's fallen even more. But his fall troubles me the least among any of the three on this list, because I never really knew him as a Dodger. His brief time with the big club was uninspiring and unmemorable.

Edwin Jackson Jr.

Chronologically I feel he doesn't quite belong with the rest of the prospects I'm mentioning, though it was as recently as 2004 that he was ranked the fourth best prospect in baseball by Baseball America, just a year prior to Guzman's chart peak.

I don't think anyone who saw Jackson pitch for the Dodgers in 2003 will ever forget him. Beating the Big Unit on his 20th birthday, being so good, so young --- we had a star, a pitching prodigy! In September of 2003, Jackson turned 20 and pitched 22 innings for the Dodgers with an ERA of 2.46. The possibilities for him seemed limitless.

I've always felt, emotionally, irrationally, that Jackson's fall came because the Dodgers wouldn't put him in the starting rotation at the beginning of 2004 after a shaky spring. This will always bother me. Lots of pitchers scuffle through spring training. Hadn't he earned his April 2004 shot in the rotation with his 2003 September? There's no evidence that things would have turned out better for him if the Dodgers had put him in the rotation in April. Probably he would have been as bad as he was in reality in July and September of 2004. But maybe his confidence was bruised. I don't know.

Jackson is still only 23, but his fall from potential Dodger stardom seems ages ago to me. He's been pitching with the Tampa Bay major league club for 1 and a half years now, ever since he was traded to them by Ned Colletti. His monthly ERAs as a starter go like this: 7.2, 7.6, 6.1, 8.1, 6.5, 5.7, 2.5.

That 2.5 ERA is this past August, compiled in 5 starts over 33 innings, including a complete game shutout of the Texas Rangers. ( The same Rangers who once scored 30 runs! ) So maybe there's hope for him. But in those 33 innings he had 19 strikeouts and 16 walks. I don't know, that's not too encouraging. Walks have been Jackson's downfall since 2003. Same as Guzman really. It's not fair that the most boring play in baseball can shatter dreams, is it?

Dioner Fabian Navarro

There was a time, in late 2005, when I thought Navarro was the Dodger catcher of the future. I was a big fan of his. I still remember his walk-off home run late that season fondly. With Navarro I thought the Dodger tradition of great catchers was going to continue.

But then I met someone new. At first I was a bit skeptical, but within a month I was won over completely. I'm sorry, Dioner. It's not you, it's me. Well, sadly, it kind of is you. That line of 0.222 -- 0.280 -- 0.343 you're putting up this year makes me wonder what I ever saw in you. But I wish you the best --- maybe you can turn it around next year, eh?

As it turned out, Russell Martin was everything I thought Dioner could be, and more. He better not be departing anytime soon!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post. I don't always agree with you but this time you have said everything I have thought. I hoped for Guzman to be everything he was advertised to be but when we all saw him last year I had to wonder what all the hype was about? With Navarro it was the same thing, now you know why the Yankees were eager to let him go. With the crop of young talent we have now they are actually producing, and maybe the scariest thing is Logan White (who recieves most of the credit for finding these guys) may end up the GM somewhere else soon. Lets hope we keep him and do not end up with future Guzmans and Jacksons etc.