Ivan DeJesus, Jr.: How close is he?


The fifth in a series of at least five, on how close selected Dodger prospects are to the majors …

Ivan DeJesus, Jr.
Vitals:
SS-2B, 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, turns 24 on May Day.

Summary: For the first time in this series, we’re talking about a prospect who is trying to bounce back instead of one who is ascending. Two years ago, the son of 1970s Dodger Ivan DeJesus was coming off a year in which he delivered an impressive .419 on-base percentage to go with a .423 slugging percentage in the Double-A Southern League while still 21. To compare, Dee Gordon had an inferior .332/.355 in the same league at age 22.

But a broken leg suffered on an ill-fated slide in Spring Training wiped out DeJesus’ 2009 season. Then the Dodgers bumped him up to Triple-A as he started his comeback in 2010, and DeJesus only managed to go .335/.405 while in hitter-friendly Albuquerque of the Pacific Coast League. DeJesus still is on the young side, but his future is unclear.

For comparison’s sake: Chin-Lung Hu comes to mind, because Hu is the most recent Dodger middle infield prospect to excite with a strong Double-A season (.380/.508 in 2007), then disappoint in subsequent years. Spending the next three seasons in Triple-A, Hu couldn’t break .800 in OPS. (In 191 scattered major-league appearances, Hu’s OPS is .524.) Long after they had given up on him, the Dodgers finally dumped Hu this offseason for Mets minor-league journeyman pitcher Michael Antonini. So yes, Hu got promoted, but it didn’t mean a lot.

For a more off-the-wall comparison, how about James Loney?  Different position, but same track record of having but one minor-league season with an OPS over .800. In his final minor-league action, Loney was reduced to a .345 on-base percentage and .382 slugging percentage with Albuquerque in 261 plate appearances over the first half of the 2007 season. But then Loney was promoted to the majors anyway and produced at a .381/.538 clip the rest of 2007. Say what you will about Loney as a first baseman, but if DeJesus came in at those numbers as a second baseman, people would be quite satisfied.

But as you can gather, the comparisons don’t help much.

X factor: Tales of bad vibes emerged in early September when Ken Gurnick of MLB.com wrote a short piece about DeJesus failing to earn a callup when rosters expanded. “DeJesus was drafted in the second round in 2005 as a shortstop, but he played second base this year, and scouts say his range and footwork around the bag need improvement, perhaps the after-effects of the injury,” Gurnick said. “Sources also claim that DeJesus … is in the doghouse because he has yet to grasp some of the subtleties of teamwork and game approach.”

Gurnick found more positive words about DeJesus earlier this month from Don Mattingly, who managed DeJesus in the Arizona Fall League: “He swung the bat well,” Mattingly told Gurnick. “I know since the injury, they say he’s a step slower here or there, but he’s prepared to hit at the major-league level. He has a good feel for how pitchers try to handle him. I thought he was really good offensively. Defensively, I didn’t see him as much as I’d like to because of the restrictions on who plays where. Offensively, the kid is ready to hit and produce. Where he fits, who knows?”

How close is he? Keeping in mind the usual caveat that the Ned Colletti Dodgers almost never hand a rookie a starting job in April, there’s a job in Spring Training that can be won. The team has a roster opening for an infielder, and if DeJesus came out like gangbusters, the Dodgers might consider pushing Juan Uribe to third base and Casey Blake to the left field squad.  DeJesus could also contend for a backup infield role.

But much more likely is DeJesus returns to Albuquerque to play the keystone opposite Gordon and work on his game, with an eye toward a midseason promotion if he shows progress. With a year of Triple-A already behind him, DeJesus’ destiny is largely in his hands at this point. Whether he can become more than Hu is up to him.

Did you know? DeJesus’ dad led the National League in runs in 1978 with 104, one more than Pete Rose.

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Some links:

  • The Dodgers are staging a minicamp for pitchers in Arizona, from Clayton Kershaw to Luis Vasquez, writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Jerry Sands is interviewed by John Parker for MLB.com.
  • Scott Podsednik’s decision to decline his 2011 option with the Dodgers looks worse and worse, writes Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.
  • Former Dodger Andy LaRoche signed a minor-league contract with Oakland.
  • A list of remaining free agents is provided by Hardball Talk.
  • Update: Joe Posnanski has a column on Dodger national crosschecker John Green for SI.com, then discusses the column here. And Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports has a rich feature on the fate of the man who invented defense-independent pitching statistics, Voros McCracken.
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