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Ill-Considered Trades, Drafts and Injuries Have Undone a Once-Superlative System : Farm Aid--Dodgers Need Some Real Help

July 07, 1986|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

As bad as it is for the Dodgers, help is just:

a) Around the corner.

b) A phone call away.

c) Hidden in Tom Lasorda's next fortune cookie.

d) None of the above.

Help used to be just a phone call away. Now the answer is d.

Now it's almost impossible to gauge the status of a farm system once considered baseball's best.

The standings in the Pacific Coast, Texas, Florida State and California leagues indicate a collapse comparable to that suffered by the varsity, but a farm system can't be measured strictly on wins and losses.

The depth of the talent, the quality of the instruction and the consistency of the development are equally critical yardsticks. As applied to the Dodgers, there is a basic agreement: The system isn't what it once was. The difference of opinion develops over where it is, what it is and how far it is from being what it once was.

Some observers say there is a shocking disregard for fundamentals, a surprising absence of two Dodger trademarks: Pitching and depth, and an alarming tendency to trade some of the best prospects in impetuous and ill-conceived attempts to fill holes at the top.

Supporters, such as farm director Bill Schweppe and scouting director Ben Wade, say the amateur draft has created the parity it was designed for and made it impossible for any organization to dominate that market, particularly when a club is consistently drafting as low as the Dodgers do, a result of their consistent success.

They also say that the standings are something of an illusion, stemming, in part, from a myriad of injuries suffered by the Dodgers, which has created a domino effect throughout the system, forcing players to advance a year or two ahead of schedule.

Said executive vice president Fred Claire:

"We're not concerned in terms of the records because we've had enough continuity to recognize what's important in the way of development. We've really had to rush a lot of players through the system in the last year or two, forcing a lot of them to the top. Once we're able to stabilize at the major league level, it will give the minor league clubs a chance to stabilize, too. We still have tremendous confidence in the people concerned with scouting and development."

Here are the records:

The Albuquerque Dukes of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League were 28-43 in the first half, placing fifth and last in the Southern Division; the San Antonio Dodgers of the Double-A Texas League were 29-37 in the first half, finishing four in the four-team Western Division; the Bakersfield Dodgers of the Class-A California League were 20-51 in the first half, placing fifth and last in the Southern Division, and the Vero Beach Dodgers of the Class A Florida State League, which does not play a split season, were in third place at 44-37 through Saturday:

Moreover:

--The tendency to err, manifested with damaging frequency at the major league level, obviously starts young. Albuquerque had made 86 errors in 68 games; San Antonio 58 in 74; Vero Beach 77 in 75, and Bakersfield an almost unbelievable 133 in 73.

--This is not a one-year development. The four clubs were a combined 46 games under .500 in 1985 and 39 under in '84. None of the four completed a full season at .500 or better. And last year: Albuquerque was next to last in the PCL in total errors, next to last in fielding and seventh among 10 teams in pitching; San Antonio was next to last in fielding and pitching; Vero Beach was next to last in fielding, and Bakersfield was next to last in pitching and last in errors.

Said Dennis Latta, sports editor of the Albuquerque Journal: "The No. 1 problem is that the Dodgers just don't seem to care about defense. All they want is power. All they want is for (outfield prospect) Ralph Bryant to hit the ball five miles. The fact that every fly ball hit to him becomes a ballet dance doesn't matter--at least it doesn't seem to."

Said Jim Lefebvre, the ex-Dodger who manages the PCL's Phoenix Firebirds for the San Francisco Giants: "When I was in the Dodger system it seemed like everyone had to earn a promotion step by step. Now it seems like their players aren't staying in one place long enough to learn their trade. I don't pretend to know what the problem is, I'm only talking about what I see. I'm not being critical. I'm only trying to be objective.

"I mean, teams change drastically over the course of a season. You can't help that. But the one thing the Dodgers always had was tremendous depth. They'd call up one guy and replace him with someone just as good. Now you don't see that. The once fertile farm system isn't there, and that's kind of sad.

"We played in Albuquerque the other night and they had only eight position players and had to use three pitchers as pinch-hitters. They seemed to have a whole lineup of guys out of position, including Gil Reyes, who used to be their best catching prospect. Reyes played first and made a two-run error that cost them the game.

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