Kershaw has stuff to make team

Kershaw has stuff to make team

FT. MYERS, Fla. -- The Dodgers don't want to rush Clayton Kershaw. But their fifth-starter job is up for grabs and left-handers with 97-mph fastballs don't grow on trees.

For now, Kershaw remains in Minor League camp. But his debut with the big leaguers earlier this week was eye-catching. It's now assumed he will be a Major Leaguer this year, the only question is when.

Could it be by Opening Day?

"I wouldn't be surprised," said Russell Martin, who caught Kershaw's inning against Washington on Tuesday night.

"For the first time in a big league game -- wow. He's got just a heavy, heavy fastball and an easy delivery. He's very deceptive. His curveball, it just drops off the table. I think it's the best curveball I've ever caught, to be honest. He keeps the ball down. You can see he's a tremendous competitor, giving up a home run to the first batter, getting into a bases-loaded jam and bearing down to strike out two guys to get out of it.

"It's just how easy he throws. He's mechanically sound. I don't think he needs to learn anything mechanically. He looks polished. He wasn't holding anything back, he was just going after it. He's only 19. Man, that's impressive."

Martin said even with the hype that has accompanied Kershaw, he saw things he didn't expect.

"A left-hander throwing 97 with a power curve, that's pretty unique," Martin said. "And he's got a changeup, but he only used it once. He didn't really need it. They couldn't get the bat head out, so why help them? I heard a lot of things about the guy, but I like to make my own opinion. A lot of young guys get called up early and have done well. Hopefully, he can be one of those guys."

Kershaw, a first-round Draft pick in 2006, will turn 20 on March 19. Fernando Valenzuela was still 19 when he debuted as a Dodgers reliever and 20 when he backed into an Opening Day start in 1981. The next thing the Dodgers knew, it was Fernandomania.

The Fernandos come along about once a generation. The Dodgers thought they might have had another one in Edwin Jackson, who debuted on his 20th birthday in 2003 and beat Randy Johnson. But a quick flameout (he's trying to rebound after a trade to Tampa Bay) makes Jackson the poster child for rushed talent wasted.

If the Jackson debacle isn't enough to make management cautious, there also are the cases of high school left-handers Greg Miller and Scott Elbert, whose promising careers have been slowed by injuries.

So management must weigh whether Kershaw is one of the five best starting pitchers in the organization on Opening Day, against whether his career is best served with more seasoning. It's entirely likely that both are true.

Jason Schmidt won't be ready the first time the fifth-starter spot comes up April 8. Esteban Loaiza is the leading candidate, with Hong-Chih Kuo, Eric Stults and Jason Johnson in the mix. But none of them can make scouts row buzz like Kershaw.

"I wouldn't be shocked," pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said of Kershaw opening the season in his rotation. "The stuff is there -- it's electric. His poise is uncanny for his age. But is all the other stuff there? Is it a complete package? You can go back to Edwin Jackson, but this guy is primarily a pitcher, whereas Edwin was a converted position player -- an athlete.

"I've only seen Clayton pitch one inning of a Minor League game and one inning of our game. You look at his stats and see he had more walks than you want to see for the level (67 in 122 innings last year). So you just want to be sure he's fully equipped before you throw him into the situation. It's only a matter of time. But when's the right time for the young man?"

Honeycutt said there are no specific plans for Kershaw to pitch in another Major League exhibition game, as the current pitchers in camp need their innings, but he hoped to see Kershaw in one or two games before the club leaves Florida for Arizona on March 17.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.