LOS ANGELES It wouldbe understandable if Shawn Tolleson felt a twinge of jealousy every time hewatched Clayton Kershaw pitch last season for the Dodgers. But he insists hedidnt, not one bit.
Kershaw and Tollesonhave been friends since they played on the same traveling squad as teenagers inTexas. They were also teammates on the 2005 USA Junior National team.
Then their careers tookopposite paths.
Kershaw was afirst-round draft pick by the Dodgers out of high school in Highland Park,Texas. Tolleson suffered a horrific elbow injury in the first start of hissenior season at Allen High School near Dallas.
Kershaw climbed theranks of minor league ball and reached the big leagues in his third year.Tolleson underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, took two years tofully recover and accepted a scholarship to pitch at Baylor University.
Kershaw won the Cy YoungAward last season after going 21-5. Tolleson spent his first full season in theminors last year, starting at low Class A ball.
Tolleson realizes hecould be where Kershaw and Los Angeles Angels reliever Jordan Walden, anotherformer traveling club teammate is now, but he has no regrets.
Theyre both goodfriends of mine, so Im obviously really excited for them, Tolleson said.Everyone takes different paths to get somewhere. I took a different path. Idont second-guess one time going to Baylor and getting an education. I learneda lot there.
Tolleson, 23, is in townthis week as part of the Dodgers winter development program for selected minorleague players. The program gives players a chance to work with coaches and geta taste of what the big leagues are all about from finding Dodger Stadium tonavigating the freeways and locating the team hotel.
Its huge, Tollesonsaid of the chance to spend a week in LA. If you get that chance to get calledup, its nice to know where you are and have a little bit of a comfort zoneabout where things are and where you need to be, that kind of thing.
Tolleson, the Dodgersminor league pitcher of the year last season, may need that knowledge at somepoint this season. Hes not on the clubs 40-man roster, but he was impressiveenough last season that team officials already have him on their radar.
A 30th-rounddraft pick by the Dodgers after playing four seasons at Baylor, Tolleson hasripped through the minors. He spent a half season at Rookie League Ogden in2010 and gave up just two earned runs in 28 23 innings, striking out 39.
Last year, he movedquickly from low Class A Great Lakes to high Class A Rancho Cucamonga toDouble-A Chattanooga. Each transition was seamless.
Consider his numbers ateach stop:
Great Lakes: 1-0 record,0.00 ERA, 10 saves, 33 strikeouts in 15 innings.
Rancho Cucamonga: 2-0,0.93 ERA, 3 saves, 17 strikeouts in 9 23 innings.
Chattanooga: 4-2, 1.62ERA, 12 saves, 55 strikeouts in 44 13 innings.
Together, Tolleson hadseven wins, a 1.17 ERA and 25 saves. He struck out an average of 13.7 battersper nine innings.
Ive had to makeadjustments as I go, he said. When I first got to Double A, it was a seriousjump in competition. Those players are really good, really talented, and thehitters have a better idea of what theyre doing. So I had to make a fewadjustments here and there. I had to be a little bit finer with where I placemy fastball, that kind of thing. Im working on developing a couple of otherpitches that I can throw to left-handers because theyre just going to getbetter and better as I keep going up.
Tolleson made the switchfrom starter to reliever after he was drafted, but the Dodgers arent currentlyin need of a closer. Javy Guerra produced 21 saves and a 2.31 ERA last seasonafter Jonathan Broxton went down with an injury, and Kenley Jansen proved tohave closer stuff, registering five saves and 96 strikeouts in 56 23 innings.
But they know Tollesonis there if they need him.
Obviously, were goingto see more of him, manager Don Mattingly said. Right now, weve got youngguys here that are pretty good that are scheduled to be in LA. But guys thatare coming up keep knocking on the door, and thats what you ask them to do,keep competing, keep pushing our hand, keep making us make tough decisions.Keep that guy in front of you working, and if he falters, theres a guy thatscoming.
Thats all Tolleson canhope for. If he performs well in spring training and continues his pace atChattanooga, his likely destination to start the season, he could be the firstname called if injury strikes.
My mindset is the sameas its always been, he said. Just go out and pitch as good as you can.Thats all I can do in the position Im in. Just go out and get as many outs aspossible. I dont make the decision, they do.
Tolleson throws a 95-mphfastball and a two-seam cutter that has the speed of a slider. But hes workingon a changeup to keep hitters off balance.
Had it not been for hiselbow injury, Tolleson knows he might be in the majors already. As Kershaw, whoremains his friend and offseason workout partner, told the LA Times last year,I have no doubt in my mind he would be in this clubhouse, if not another one.
But Tolleson figureshell get there soon enough. It just takes time.
Its always been mygoal to pitch in the big leagues, and it takes a lot of hard work to getthere, he said. Im not there yet so Im just doing everything I can to getthere as soon as possible.