The Los Angeles Dodgers have found a way to make the 2011 season less of a waste, for lack of a better word.
Between a messy ownership situation, a subpar team record, and a significant drop in attendance from years past, the 2011 Dodgers have had their share of obstacles to overcome.
This season, after the Dodgers got off to a slow start, the team decided that it had two options. One was to keep the roster relatively in check and continue to play all of their veterans, in hopes of turning things around and making a playoff push.
The other was to call up many of their top prospects now, in order to get them big league experience. The Dodgers chose the latter.
Although the season is still fairly young, the Dodgers realize that they might only be the third- or fourth-best team in their own division. The future appears much brighter than the present, particularly up until the ownership situation is dealt with.
While Jerry Sands, Josh Lindblom, Dee Gordon, Rubby De La Fosa and Javy Guerra may not yet be household names, there are several things to love about the Dodgers youth movement.
One obvious benefit of the Dodgers' youth movement is what it means from a financial standpoint.
The Dodgers don't have much spending money available.
Rather than putting themselves in further financial turmoil, the Dodgers can stay above water by home growing their talent.
In recent years, there have been far too many examples of the Dodgers spending too much money on high-profile veterans that were already past their prime. Excluding guys from the 1990s like Darryl Strawberry, Kevin Brown, and Shawn Green, the Dodgers vastly overpaid for these four guys:
Manny Ramirez (2 years, $45 million)
Jason Schmidt (3 years, $45 million)
Juan Pierre (5 years, $45 million)
Andruw Jones (2 years, $36.2 million)
By favoring young prospects over high-priced veterans, the Dodgers can avoid arbitration or free agency for at least three years. Only after three years would they be forced to decide whether they would like to resign each player.
From 1974-1981, the Dodgers had the same starting infield year after year; Steve Garvey (1B), Davey Lopes (2B), Bill Russell (SS) and Ron Cey (3B).
There was a special loyalty between Dodger fans and that famous Dodger infield that could not be undervalued.
This was perhaps the reason that the Dodgers consistently drew higher attendance at their home games than any other major league team. Fans knew what to expect on a nightly basis and were excited to go to Dodger Stadium and see the same group of guys represent their city.
Unfortunately, at some point between the late '80s and the early 2000s, the Dodgers seemingly neglected the loyalty and continuity that had been a constant of the franchise for so many years.
To give you an idea, there was actually a point in 2007 when the longest tenured Dodger was Olmedo Saenz, who had only been with the Dodgers for two and a half years.
For the Dodgers to win back their fan base, building from within may be their best option.
Midway through the 2006 season, the Dodgers realized that they needed more offense and young talent in order to make a serious playoff push.
They decided to call up prospects Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Russell Martin, Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton all within weeks of one another.
The Dodgers immediately started playing much better, closing out the season on a 41-19 run and entering the 2006 postseason as a Wild Card team.
Meanwhile, all those five rookies have done since is help lead the Dodgers to two more postseasons, including the first two playoff series win for the franchise since 1988.
As a collective unit, Kemp, Ethier, Loney, Martin, Billingsley and Broxton have already been named to six All-Star teams and many of them are expected to be All-Stars this season as well.
Only Martin has departed from the Dodgers, but he certainly made a strong impact with the club from 2006-2009.
After a successful run during the 1940s, the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated throughout the 1950s decade, winning 913 games, including five pennants and two World Series titles.
But after winning the 1959 World Series, it was clear that the Dodgers were aging quickly, in particular guys like Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and Norm Larker.
In 1960, the Dodgers took action by calling up minor league prospects Frank Howard, Charlie Smith, Willie Davis and Tommy Davis.
All four guys made a significant impact as the Dodgers went on to win 562 games and two World Series between 1961-1966, with a little help from Sandy Koufax along the way.
Since the Dodgers' 2006 youth movement, very few Dodger rookies made any kind of impact with the club. The one big exception was Clayton Kershaw back in 2008.
However, just in the past two months, the Dodgers have called up former Single-A Loons Jerry Sands, Javy Guerra, Rubby De La Rosa, Josh Lindblom and Dee Gordon.
Sands was called up on April 18 and stuck around until the first week of June. He struggled a bit at the major league level, hitting just .200 with two home runs in 41 games.
However, the Dodgers feel that he may be their left fielder or first baseman of the future. Prior to getting the call up, Sands was a legitimate power threat at every minor league level, hitting as many as 35 home runs in 2010 between Single-A and Double-A.
As great as Sands was, shortstop Dee Gordon was perhaps the most hyped prospect in the Dodgers' system.
An incredible athlete, Gordon is easily one of the fastest players in the game, in addition to being a great defensive player. He was called up during the first week of June and has already made several dazzling plays at shortstop.
As far as the Dodger rookie pitchers go, you have to begin with right-hander Rubby De La Rosa. The Dodgers organizational pitcher of the year in 2010, De La Rosa can consistently throw in the high-90s and has already gained a lot of notice around the league.
Although De La Rosa didn't make his major league debut until four weeks ago, he has quickly become the Dodgers No. 5 starter.
Meanwhile, with Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chi Kuo, Vicente Padilla and Kenley Jansen having all been placed on the DL, rookie pitcher Javy Guerra has suddenly become the Dodgers semi-closer.
Guerra never even pitched above the Double-A level until he was called up in May, but he has been excellent for the Dodgers. In 13.1 relief innings, Guerra has allowed just four earned runs and has two saves.
Finally, relief pitcher Josh Lindblom was called up on June 1 and is off to a hot start. A second-round pick of the Dodgers in 2008, Lindblom has allowed just two earned runs in 10.2 innings (1.69 ERA).