Dodger Babies Playing Like Big Boys—The Future Is Bright

Bob RainesContributor ISeptember 23, 2008

Things got back to normal tonight, for this year anyway, in Dodger world. With six runs in the first, the Dodgers got out ahead of the Padres for good. The Cardinals did in the Diamondbacks, too.

Our magic number took that double drop that makes the winners happy in September, and breaks the hearts of fans of second place teams. I can say that because I’ve been there too many times to want to recall.

I don’t want to wax nostalgic, though, about past close finishes. Tonight, I’m thinking about the upside of this year’s Dodgers, and feeling pretty good about the future. We’ve got so many great young players, and the future is looking pretty bright.

Take the young man on the mound for tonight’s game. Chad Billingsley is working his way into the “ace” role on the LA pitching staff. His 15 wins and 194 strikeouts (before tonight’s game) lead the team, and his 3.22 ERA is best among the regular starters. He’s second to Derek Lowe in innings pitched, as well.

When he first came up, too often he’d be afraid to challenge hitters, leading to a lot of walks and fat pitches when he’d get behind in the count. Now he comes right at batters, and I like his results.

Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Russell Martin, the Fab Four, have been delivering on their promise in a big way. Everyone knows about Russell Martin. Two-time all-star, great hitter, base stealer, and a glove and a half.

He handles pitchers well and can play third base, or even short in a pinch. He’s had a rough time around the plate this past month, but the fact that he’s out there every day, strapping on the “tools of ignorance” for the Blue Boys, speaks volumes of his grit and determination.

Andre Ethier has been on fire all September, no news to any Dodger fan. His hot stick nearly netted a “cycle” earlier this month. He hits for power and average, runs well enough to beat out an infield hit, and has a fine glove and arm in right. He plays steady, which will pay off in the long run. Can you believe we got him for Milton Bradley?

James Loney was one of those names reporters keep mentioning, “top prospect, James Loney,” or “future Dodger first baseman.” However, it looked at one time like the Dodger front office gave up on him, sending him back to Las Vegas after a promising spring training. He was sent back to the same league where he had won the MVP a year earlier.

Later that year, last year, he was up to stay. His press tag, now, is “future gold glove” and “future all star.”

I saved Matt Kemp for the last of the Fab Four because he’s the most interesting. He has the highest ceiling by far, if you listen to all the press wags. Then you watch him, day to day, and he’s apt to make a base running error as easily as steal a base.

Often his spectacular plays in the field cover up a bad jump or an errant first step. The key, though, is that he’s gotten better by the day this year. And the kid can rake it. He’s going to be a 30-30 player real soon.

He’s no secret around the league, either. Over the past few years his name was brought up by every GM the Dodgers engaged in trade talks. Colletti never bit and I’m a happy guy.

Beyond the Fab Four there’s Blake Dewitt, the “Blake who?” from April, who has returned to the majors as a second baseman and firmed up the Dodger infield. Tonight he hammered a long ball into the right field bleachers, scored three runs, driving in three.

Even beyond Billingsley, the future on the mound looks bright. Clayton Kershaw is the real deal. The comparisons to Sandy Koufax might be a bit premature, but his fastball crackles and the curve is a buckler.

Quietly, Cory Wade has become a solid, reliable, arm in the bullpen. Hong-Chih Kou, when he’s been healthy, is just nasty. And Jonathon Broxton. What a job the kid has done since Takashi Saito went on the disabled list. The future closer became the present day closer and did a fine job.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Manny, and Casey Blake is solid. Nomar and Jeff Kent, Chan Ho Park and Hiroki Kuroda all have come up big enough this year to put us right on the cusp of the playoffs. But with all those youngsters in Dodger Blue, the future is looking very exciting in Chavez Ravine.