Jan 15

Rubby De La Rosa: How close is he?

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

Rubby De La Rosa
Vitals:
RHP, 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, turns 22 on March 4.

Summary: We’re talking about him because he leapfrogged other Dodger prospects to become the organization’s 2010 minor-league pitcher of the year. De La Rosa impressed in a short rookie-ball stint in 2008 (47 1/3 innings, 51 strikeouts, 1.71 ERA) before a lost 2009 in which he managed only 16 1/3 innings and allowed 11 runs (while still striking out 22).

*Correction: The Dodgers informed me that there was an error in their media guide, and that De La Rosa was never suspended for violating the minor league drug prevention and treatment program. This post has been amended to reflect that.

But the Rubby-bandwagon got rolling again last season. De La Rosa came back strong at the start of 2010 with a 3.19 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings, then shot himself into the stratosphere of Dodger pitching prospects when he moved up to Double-A Chattanooga and had a 1.41 ERA in eight starts covering 51 innings (though his strikeout ratio fell to 6.9 per nine innings). At the two levels combined in 2010, De La Rosa walked 3.1 batters per nine innings. (Note: According to Fangraphs, his Fielding-Independent ERA was virtually the same at both levels: 3.12 vs. 3.22.)

For comparison’s sake: The Dodgers have had no shortage of starting pitchers make a quick impression in Double-A in recent years. Scott Elbert reached it in his age-21 season, but didn’t get a taste of the majors until a brief shot in 2008 and is still looking to lock in even as a reliever. Clayton Kershaw got to Double-A in the middle of his age-19 year, began his age-20 year at the same level before getting promoted to the majors, and hasn’t been back in the minors since he hit drinking age. Age is not be a barrier to a midseason promotion for a Double-A pitcher, but sustained excellence must continue, and that’s easier said than done.

Track record: De La Rosa’s ceiling is high enough for you to stick a flagpole. But with only 180 official innings in his minor-league career, spread out since his mid-2007 pro debut, it’s hard to say with any confidence what De La Rosa can do over an extended period of time. Chattanooga Lookouts radio broadcaster Larry Ward told Brandon Lennox of True Blue L.A. in August that De La Rosa had a fastball that could smell 100 mph, plus a secondary change and slider, while Keith Law of ESPN.com praised his stuff before the 2009 season. The watchwords, it seems to me, are consistency and endurance.

How close is he? Without the sextet of veteran starting pitchers the Dodgers have, we might have seen De La Rosa by the summer solstice. But with the team’s newfound starting-pitching depth, not to mention alternatives like John Ely and Carlos Monasterios as temporary stopgaps, De La Rosa is probably on track for a mid-2012 arrival if he maintains his current pace. As always, extreme excellence or awfulness could alter that timetable, as could a decision to shift him to the bullpen should the need again arise in Los Angeles this year.

Did you know? De La Rosa did not allow his first professional home run until 2010, his fourth professional season.

Jan 15

Non-roster invitees to Spring Training

Here’s the up-to-date list of non-roster invitees to major-league Spring Training for the Dodgers … a mix of not-yets, has-beens and never-weres. It doesn’t mean that we won’t see other minor-leaguers in exhibition games for the Dodgers, but from a procedural standpoint, these are the players not on the 40-man roster who are next in line from the get-go:

Juan Castro
JD Closser
Roman Colon
Rubby De La Rosa
Wilkin De La Rosa
Damaso Espino
Dana Eveland
Dee Gordon
Jon Huber
Trent Oeltjen
Tim Redding
Jerry Sands
Justin Sellers
Eugenio Velez
Oscar Villareal

Jan 15

Dusk Dodgers in the 21st Century

The sun is shining bright through our home office window as I begin typing this. There’s a short but powerful time period in our house when, on a cloudless morning, the sun enters like a bullet through the half-circle opening above the drapes, and I almost have to duck for cover as I write. In those moments, the sun owns the room.

It makes me uncomfortable. I’m not a sun worshiper. I like what the sun can do, how the sun can augment a scene. On a cold day that cries for warmth, I’ll turn my face to it. Magic light near the end of any day brings my soul to its knees, no matter how many times I experience it. I pulled my phone out on the Arroyo Seco Parkway last night, recklessly risking life and limb of myself and everyone around me, just to snap the shot you see above of how the sun had transformed the sky.

But I’m comfortable in the clouds. Comforted by them. The clouds understand me. Clouds are the weather of modest expectations. Of empathy. The sun will insistently try to cheer you up, whether you want to be cheered or not. At the risk of allowing you to wallow, clouds tell you that you’re not alone.

For the same reason, I prefer winter to summer, earlier sunsets to later ones. Long days carry great expectations. Short days accept you for who you are.

The new year is two weeks old, and already I’ve felt like I need all the short, cloudy days I can get. My holidays were really enjoyable and relaxing, and returning to the demands and fears and frustrations and critical self-examinations of everyday life, along with a new set of challenges – a valued colleague gave notice while I was on vacation, my wife broke her foot the night before my first day back at work – has been a jolt. It’s been the sun blasting through the window that I want to run away from but can’t. I’m not feeling the dawn of a new day, but rather the intimidation of a tired one.

My To Do list should invigorate me, but it makes me sad.  It’s no time for the sun to be out.

So here’s the funny thing …

The 2011 Dodgers … a team for a cloudy day, right? The starting rotation is competitive, and Clayton Kershaw is his own shining light. There’s talent on this team. But the holes are unmistakable, and the work that needs to be done to make things right is prodigious. If Kershaw is a star, the McCourts are their own rainstorm. It’s easy to feel that this isn’t a team meant to be exposed to long, cloudless summer days.

Nevertheless, I find myself strangely eager to see what will happen this season. I feel confident that some of the disappointments from 2010 will bounce back, and I’m tantalized by the thought of it. As many misgivings as I have about them, on some days, I feel better thinking about them than thinking about myself.

I feel the 2011 Dodgers might surprise. I’m not saying they won’t fall to our lowered expectations – I unmistakably wish they inspired more confidence – but I’m intrigued by them, darkness and all. If they can bring some magic light to the universe, maybe I can too.

Jan 14

What was the deal with Pat Borders?

That little tidbit about the Dodgers releasing Pat Borders nearly five years after he last suited up for the organization piqued a good amount of interest here and elsewhere online. Dodgers communications veep Josh Rawitch explained what the deal was in an e-mail:

“He had voluntarily retired with us, so he was still in our organization,” Rawitch said. “He accepted a minor league coaching job in another organization, so we had to activate him and release him (per MLB) so he could sign his staff contract.”

The team for whom Borders will be coaching for has yet to be named publicly. Rawitch could not elaborate on how often this kind of situation comes up without us knowing about it.

Jan 14

Fried day

Thanks to everyone for their feedback Thursday ….

  • As I suggested a month ago, Tony Gwynn Jr. might end up being the best option for the current Dodger outfield. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com talked to Ned Colletti about it.
  • Joe Torre’s future employment with MLB could depend on his willingness to leave his newly adopted California home, writes Jackson. “Torre, who grew up in Brooklyn, moved his family to Los Angeles when he took over three years ago as manager of the Dodgers, and he seemed to hint to media members Wednesday that he would like to stay there even if he goes to work for the commissioner,” Jackson says. “But at least one source in the league office said earlier this week that the position of VP of operations probably can’t be done from outside the office.”
  • No expanded playoffs or instant replay will be coming in 2011, reports Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com (via Hardball Talk).
  • Kathryn Bertine writes at ESPNW about how Christina Taylor Green affected her.
  • Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports shares some chilling information about the gun culture among ballplayers in Latin America.
  • The Dodgers just released 47-year-old Pat Borders — who apparently has been on the team’s restricted list since 2006 — according to Matt Eddy of Baseball America.
  • In his discussion of the career accomplishments of Jamie Moyer, Rob Neyer of ESPN.com excerpts a piece of writing from Will Carroll talking about how legitimate it would be for the 47-year-old Moyer to use a banned substance to aid his recovery from Tommy John surgery:

    Moyer could, with a year out of baseball, take an intriguing step, one that seems out of character with his reputation on the one hand, but in line with his noted desire to return. What if Jamie Moyer started using HGH or other banned substances to return from his injury? At his age, getting prescriptions for HGH and testosterone would be easy. MLB had no problem allowing testosterone to be advertised during its playoffs last year, despite the fact that it was a substance that caused it no end of problems over the last two decades. There is a waiver policy that would allow for the use of banned substances, but as a free agent, Moyer would not need to have this waiver. Moyer is free to do anything his doctor prescribes. He might need a waiver when returning, if he’s taken any substance that would cause a positive test, but most of what is used medically has a fairly short detectable period.

    Would anyone begrudge Moyer if he decided to use a legal, effective substance to help in his return? Each week, some pitcher or another takes an injection of cortisone. The injection, usually mixed with a painkiller, is a quick fix, but a dangerous one. Corticosteroids can have an almost acidic effect on structures, doing long-term damage while allowing a player to come back in the short term. Many of these pitchers make a choice: take the spike and pitch, or don’t and don’t. Finding someone who declines takes quite the search; if someone does, they’ll often end up with a reputation or that tag of “bad teammate” or worse, “soft.” Moyer’s never been those things, so given a chance, would taking another kind of injection be wrong? Moyer fought through multiple surgeries prior to the 2010 season, including a nasty infection that could have been deadly, so he’s a fighter, a struggler … but could he go this far?

  • Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News profiles ESPNLosAngeles’ very own Brian and Andrew Kamenetzky. Nice story!
Jan 13

And then there was … well, fewer than there used to be

After getting over my initial disappointment, I’ve mostly come to terms to the decline of participation in the comments. I have what I think are pretty sound theories about the reasons — including the rise of alternative communities, technical hurdles to commenting here, the commenting guidelines now seeming restrictive, and general feelings about ESPN.

As we move closer to another baseball season, I would love to see the Dodger Thoughts community revive, but I’m wondering if the moment has passed. If you’re of a mind, let me know if there’s anything specific that would encourage you to comment more here. If so, I would push for solutions where I can, but if folks are content to have moved on, I’ll understand.

Jan 13

Lederer and Blyleven meet

Rich Lederer and Bert Blyleven met in a surprise visit at a Minnesota Twins fantasy camp event Wednesday. David Dorsey of the Fort Meyers (Fla.) News-Press has the story:

… Rich Lederer, 55, had never played catch with Blyleven, had never been on a baseball field with him and so of course never had been subjected to the current Minnesota Twins broadcaster’s penchant for issuing friendly putdowns.

All of that changed Tuesday night and all day Wednesday.

“You’ve got an 18.00 ERA!” Blyleven shouted at Lederer on Wednesday morning at the Lee County Sports Complex, where Lederer got lit up while pitching in a fantasy camp game. “Hey Rich! Try to get an out, why don’t you!”

The two baseball fanatics met face-to-face for the first time in a surprise for Blyleven arranged by Minnesota Twins Fantasy Camp organizers Stan Dickman and Jay Harris.

Harris phoned Lederer last week and convinced him — an easy task — to visit Fort Myers in order to finally meet Blyleven.

The two had spoken on the phone over the years.

“It was a very nice surprise,” said Blyleven, 59, who was honored with a banquet Tuesday night at the Holiday Inn Express in south Fort Myers. That’s where Dickman asked Blyleven toward the end of the evening if he would like to meet Lederer, who then stood from the audience and approached Blyleven.

They embraced.

“There are very few times in your life when you get caught speechless,” said Dan Williams, 50, a fantasy camper from Minneapolis who witnessed their meeting. “Bert was caught speechless.” …

Technically, the two had met once before, when Lederer umpired a scout-league game that Blyleven pitched approximately 40 years ago. That doesn’t take away from what a great moment this was.

Jan 12

Winter wonderland

Baseball in January – I can always get behind that.

With the Dodgers opening their annual winter workout for minor leaguers to the press today, on the same day as baseball’s quarterly owner meetings in Arizona (with Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com giving us our Frank McCourt update) there’s plenty of linking to be done. Roberto Baly of Vin Scully is My Homeboy has not one but two posts (filled with photos and video), as does Phil Gurnee of True Blue L.A. You can also check out roundups from Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, Dylan Hernandez of the Times and Beth Harris of The Associated Press:

  • Dodger manager Don Mattingly (funny, I’m still getting used to saying that, but it kind of looks smooth right now) sent out a lot of positive energy in his meeting with reporters today, preaching resiliency and believing that players who had bad second halves can bounce back. He also didn’t pass the buck on some of what went awry last year. “Things went wrong and as a staff we might not have handled those issues. I want a positive environment. This game should be played with the excitement of a little kid. I want to create an environment where guys have a chance to play their best baseball.”
  • There was much talk about the Dodger outfield, where there don’t seem to be any more additions coming. That means, if Tony Gwynn can’t steal the center-field job, that Jay Gibbons and Xavier Paul would enter the season as the primary left fielders.  Mattingly mentioned that Casey Blake could see some left-field time, but unless the Dodgers fortify third base, I can only see that happening against some lefthanded pitchers, with someone like Jamey Carroll playing third.
  • Jay Gibbons had surgery this offseason to improve his eyesight, but recently experienced blurry vision while playing winter ball in Venezuela. Dodger head trainer Stan Conte tells Jackson he isn’t worried (yet).
  • Speculation continues that Joe Torre might end up working in the commissioner’s office. Jackson has the latest.
  • Fodder pitcher Roman Colon was signed for the minors, according to Matt Eddy of Baseball America.
Jan 11

Memorials for Christina Taylor Green

The Dodgers have created a memorial fund for 9-year-old Arizona shooting victim Christina-Taylor Green and provided addresses where people can send condolences.

Green, the daughter of Dodgers national crosschecker scout John Green and granddaughter of former major league manager Dallas Green, was killed Saturday in a mass shooting at a Tucson, Ariz., mall that claimed five other lives and injured 12 more, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Condolences can be sent to greenfamily@dodgers.com or to Dodger Stadium, c/o the Green Family, 1000 Elysian Park Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90090.

Donations can be sent to a memorial fund created by John Green and his family at the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, which can be accessed at www.cfsoaz.org. Donations can also be sent by mail to The Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, In Memory of Christina-Taylor Green, 2250 E. Broadway Blvd., Tucson, AZ 85719. More information can be acquired by e-mailing christinataylorgreenmemorial@cfsoaz.org or by calling (520) 545-0313.

“Our family has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love for our sweet Christina,” John Green said. “This memorial fund will ensure her legacy for the children in our community.”

A public memorial service for Christina is scheduled for Thursday at 1 p.m.

Jan 10

Dee Gordon: How close is he?

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

Dee Gordon
Vitals:
SS, bats left, throws right, 5-foot-11, 150 pounds, turns 23 on April 22.

Summary: In 2010, Gordon’s numbers suffered as he moved into Double-A – something that isn’t uncommon among Dodger prospects, as the Southern League represses offense relative to its Single-A counterparts. Gordon’s .332 on-base percentage and .355 slugging percentage were career lows, as was his 72.6 stolen-base percentage (53 of 73). He was also charged with a career-high 37 errors, albeit in a career-high 133 games.

For comparison’s sake: Good luck finding one in recent times.  The last homegrown product considered to be a blue-chip prospect at shortstop for the Dodgers was … Jose Offerman. And Offerman made his major-league debut at age 21, despite concerns about his fielding, thanks to an OBP at Double-A and Triple-A of nearly .400. Alex Cora, a fringier prospect, reached Double-A in 1997 at age 21, OPSed .596, and reached the majors a year later in 1998, staying for good in 2000.

Mystery train: Gordon invites divided opinion, because his strengths and his flaws are so glaring. The guy can flat out run, as evidenced by his stolen base and triples totals, and there’s batting potential in the Juan Pierre sense. And though his 95 minor-league errors in 319 games are shocking, scouting reports indicate that they are the kinds of miscues can be ironed out over time; meanwhile, his range and arm are highly praised. Although his father Tom played 21 seasons in the majors, Gordon came to the game relatively late in school, encouraging some to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Others don’t see how he’ll grow into a front-line player.

How close is he? In different circumstances, 2012 might seem to be the earliest Gordon would reach the majors, with a starting job not in sight for at least another year after that. However, 2011 likely marks the end of the six-year Rafael Furcal era, and by now it’s safe to expect that that era will include at least one more trip to the disabled list for the otherwise talented Dodger shortstop. While Jamey Carroll has shown he can fill in for Furcal, a prolonged absence conceivably could compel the Dodgers to accelerate Gordon’s timetable, allowing him to reach the majors this summer.

But barring a massive developmental leap, Gordon has at least a solid year in the minors left, save a potential September callup. The Dodgers could be faced with an interesting decision a year from now. Gordon strikes me as someone whose maturation date could be July 2012 – if so, what do the Dodgers do for the first three months of next year? Rush him or find a stopgap?

There’s been some talk that Gordon might eventually move to center field because of his error-filled ways, but with his good buddy Trayvon Robinson looking like a contender, I don’t really see it happening. You just kind of have to hope that Gordon irons out his fielding woes – and if he can, the Dodgers could have their first homegrown shortstop in ages.

Did you know? The Dodgers haven’t had a homegrown five-year starter in the middle infield since Steve Sax.

Jan 09

Arizona shooting victim was daughter of Dodger scout

One of the victims of the tragic shooting in Arizona on Saturday was the daughter of Dodger scout John Green and granddaughter of former Phillies manager Dallas Green.

Nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green was among six people killed, including U.S. District Judge John Roll, and 12 others wounded, including Arizona congressperson Gabrielle Giffords, on Saturday in a mass shooting in a Tucson mall.

“We lost a member of the Dodgers family today,” Dodger owner Frank McCourt said late last night in a statement. “The entire Dodgers organization is mourning the death of John’s daughter Christina, and will do everything we can to support John, his wife Roxana and their son Dallas in the aftermath of this senseless tragedy.  I spoke with John earlier today and expressed condolences on behalf of the entire Dodgers organization.”

Christina Taylor Green was born the day of the September 11 tragedy in 2001 and was featured in a book, “Faces of Hope,” on children who shared that birthday. According to reports, she had just been elected to the student council in her elementary school and had been invited to meet Giffords’ at her community gathering as a result. Her father told the Arizona Daily Star that she had become interested in politics from a young age. She also played second base on her Little League baseball team, the paper said.

John Green is the Dodgers’ East Coast supervisor of amateur scouting. Dallas Green pitched for eight seasons in the majors in the 1960s, then managed the Phillies to their first World Series title in 1980. He later managed the Phillies and Mets.

Dodger general manager Ned Colletti’s first job in baseball, as assistant to chief publicist Bob Ibach of the Chicago Cubs, came at the same time as Dallas Green was hired as general manager of the Cubs.

Jan 08

After the milestones

In recent days, more than eight years after our first child was born and more than two years after our third, we’ve retired the stroller and the Pack ‘n Play. Tonight, it appears, we’re done with the crib. The final moments in the high chair are nigh, leaving us only with diapers as the last vestige of little children of a certain age.

Clinging to the memories of their youngest days, clinging to our babies in a capricious world.

Jan 08

New Campy bio due out in spring

A new book on Roy Campanella is coming out in March (link via Carson Cistulli of Notgraphs). Sounds like it won’t be pure hagiography, according to the press release:

Neil Lanctot’s biography of Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella—filled with surprises—is the first life of the Dodger great in decades and the most authoritative ever published.

Born to a father of Italian descent and an African- American mother, Campanella wanted to be a ballplayer from childhood but was barred by color from the major leagues. He dropped out of school to play professional ball with the Negro Leagues’ Washington (later Baltimore) Elite Giants, where he honed his skills under Hall of Fame catcher Biz Mackey. Campy played eight years in the Negro Leagues until the major leagues integrated. Ironically, he and not Jackie Robinson might have been the player to integrate baseball, as Lanctot reveals. An early recruit to Branch Rickey’s “Great Experiment” with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Campy became the first African-American catcher in the twentieth century in the major leagues. As Lanctot discloses, Campanella and Robinson, pioneers of integration, had a contentious relationship, largely as a result of a dispute over postseason barnstorming.

Campanella was a mainstay of the great Dodger teams that consistently contended for pennants in the late 1940s and 1950s. He was a three-time MVP, an outstanding defensive catcher, and a powerful offensive threat. But on a rainy January night in 1958, all that changed. On his way home from his liquor store in Harlem, Campy lost control of his car, hit a utility pole, and was paralyzed below the neck. Lanctot reveals how Campanella’s complicated personal life (he would marry three times) played a role in the accident. Campanella would now become another sort of pioneer, learning new techniques of physical therapy under the celebrated Dr. Howard Rusk at his Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. As he gradually recovered some limited motion, Campanella inspired other athletes and physically handicapped people everywhere.

Based on interviews with dozens of people who knew Roy Campanella and diligent research into contemporary sources, Campy offers a three-dimensional portrait of this gifted athlete and remarkable man whose second life after baseball would prove as illustrious and courageous as his first.

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