Oct 30

Red-hot in Puerto Rico, Dee Gordon aims to improve on-base and defensive skills

Ben PlattDee Gordon with fellow Dodger minor leaguer Pedro Baez at this summer’s Futures Game.

Dee Gordon might make it to Los Angeles someday, but we’re going to have to get him out of Puerto Rico first.

Gordon was late for my phone interview with him Friday night – and greatly apologetic – but he had good reason. The Dodger minor-league shortstop, and by some accounts the top prospect in the organization, was busy going 4 for 5 in Gigantes de Carolina’s 11-10 marathon victory over Leones de Ponce in the Liga de Beisbol Profesional de Puerto Rico – a night that raised his Winter League batting average to .654, thanks to a sizzling 17-for-26 performance.

Gordon, 22, has eight hits in his past nine at-bats, 11 in his past 13 and six consecutive multihit games overall, so it’s safe to say he’s finding life in the territory to be pleasant. It’s the first time in his life that he’s been out of the continental U.S.

“I love it. I’m with some great teammates that are taking very good care of me,” Gordon said, citing Antoino Alfonseca and Valerio de los Santos (both 38) in particular. “They’re making my time here great. … They making everything easy, showing me the right thing to do, looking after me. It hasn’t been really difficult at all, because these two guys have helped so much.”

Gordon, of course, isn’t there for the sightseeing. Rated the No. 1 prospect in the Dodgers’ farm system by such sources as Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus last winter, and said to have Gold Glove potential by Keith Law of ESPN.com, Gordon was given a full season in Double-A with Chattanooga in 2010. In some ways it was a success – batting .277 in a Southern League known for its pitching, while leading the league in at-bats and steals, but he still showed the rough edges to his still-developing game. For comparison, he had almost as many errors (37) as walks (40).

Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles DodgersGordon has stolen 144 bases in 194 attempts in the minors (74.2 percent).

Not surprisingly, Gordon said that his on-base percentage – “trying to walk a bit more” – and his defense were among the principal areas he is focusing on improving in Puerto Rico, along with his “mental maturity.” Dodgers minor league hitting instructor Gene Clines has been working with Gordon on working the count, and though Gordon has walked only once in Puerto Rico, he said the lessons are taking hold.

“I’m definitely seeing way more pitches than I ever seen in my life,” said Gordon, whom the Dodgers took in the fourth round of the 2008 draft. “I’ve been working on that since the last bit of the AA year. That’s something I’ve been working really hard. … As a leadoff guy, you’ve got to (be able to) hit with two strikes, just not panic.

“I would hack at the first thing I saw and get myself out. I’m actually giving myself a better chance to hit. I may not be walking as much, but I’m actually seeing pitches that I can hit and drive.”

On defense, Gordon partly blamed a lack of concentration for his high error totals.

“Sometimes I feel if I get lackadaisical, sometimes that does (affect the defense),” Gordon said, “but I’m getting better in that. Not taking any pitches off, just locked in and ready to play.

“You should be focused every play of every game. … If your mind ain’t right, you won’t be able to catch the ball anyway.”

Though Gordon said he sometimes got down on himself in 2010 because he has high expectations, he subscribes to the belief that you need those struggles to learn the game.

“I still may swing at a bad pitch, still might make a bad decision on defense,” he said. “That all comes with learning. If you don’t mess up, you don’t learn.”

Gordon, who many are hoping also adds some mass to a slight frame (officially listed at 5-foot-11, 150 pounds), should likely begin 2011 with Triple-A Albuquerque, which happens to have a vacancy for a starting shortstop. There, he will probably play alongside second baseman Ivan De Jesus, first baseman/outfielder Jerry Sands and Gordon’s close friend, outfielder Trayvon Robinson. That would put Gordon within striking distance of the majors – and with injury-prone Dodger shortstop Rafael Furcal’s contract expiring at the end of 2011, the timing couldn’t be better – but Gordon said he can’t taste the show yet.

“There’s a lot of work (to do),” he said. “I can’t taste anything – I’m not there. There’s nothing I can taste. I haven’t played a day or an out or an inning in the majors. I’m a minor-league player, working to become a major-leaguer. That’s all I can do, and that’s all I can be.”

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Gordon has a Twitter account where he aims to interact with fans when he can: @deegordon.

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Giants at Rangers, 3:57 p.m.

Oct 29

Dare we think positively about Dodger minor leaguers?

Folks are starting to wonder – perhaps for lack of a better solution elsewhere – whether the Dodgers might be able to help themselves from within next season.

In addition to Jerry Sands, there are signs of life from second baseman Ivan De Jesus, writes Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness. De Jesus, trying to recover from a somewhat disappointing 2010 (that followed his broken leg from 2009), is at least putting his best foot forward in the Arizona Fall League. Another infielder, Dee Gordon, is on a similar path – tearing it up in winter ball in Puerto Rico to the tune of 13 for 21.

Then there’s outfielder Trayvon Robinson, who is turning heads in the AFL – most notably the head of Dodger manager Don Mattingly, writes Jason Grey of ESPN.com. Robinson is actually coming off a fairly productive season – .404 on-base percentage (73 walks) – in the Double-A Southern League, where pitching is known to dominate. Mattingly has been impressed by Robinson’s development, though not surprisingly, the manager is hesitant about the idea of jumping the player straight to the majors from AA.

I don’t know that the Dodgers would or even should assume any of these four could start for the team next season, so I’d expect the front office to operate during the offseason as if they won’t. But if even one of these guys can step up by midseason, it would provide a big boost.

Sep 29

Unscratch that: Kershaw to start Friday as Kuroda calls it a year

Is the opposite of being “shut down” being “shut up?” If so, the Dodgers shut up Clayton Kershaw.

Shut up …

Los Angeles shifted rotation gears again, deciding today that it would be Hiroki Kuroda taking the rest of the year off. Kershaw will now make a final start Friday, on six days’ rest, followed by Chad Billingsley on Saturday and Ted Lilly in the season finale Sunday.

I’m going to Friday’s game, so I’ll be happy to see Kershaw pitch in that sense. But I think the Dodgers were right with their initial instincts, and that they might as well throw John Ely out there Friday rather than make Kershaw get back on the horse.

  • Dee Gordon is so skinny — how skinny is he? — Dee Gordon is so skinny that Bryan Smith of Fangraphs has serious questions about how good the Dodger prospect can become, especially if he doesn’t walk as much as a Brett Butler, steal like Tim Raines or play defense like Ozzie Smith.
  • “Wilson Valdez grounds into double plays the way Weezer puts out new albums nowadays,” writes Michael Baumann of Phillies Nation, “often, indiscriminately, and sometimes with disastrous results.” Valdez is only the second player in the past 40 years or so to reach 20 GIDP in under 375 plate appearances. With a runner on first base and under two outs, Valdez has 20 GIDP and 18 hits.
  • John Lindsey’s callup made Jerry Crasnick’s ESPN.com list of top inspirational moments this season.
Apr 13

Kershaw LIII: Kershawme Opener

John Cordes/Icon SMI
Andre Ethier blasted two homers and drove in four runs in the Dodgers’ home opener a year ago today.

They were overshadowed by Orlando Hudson producing the first Dodger cycle in 39 years, but there were plenty of heroes that made last year’s Dodger opener a laugher in the best kind of way for the fans. Every Dodger starter had at least one hit, Andre Ethier homered twice, Chad Billingsley scattered four singles and a double over seven innings while striking out 11 – heck, even Will Ohman pitched a shutout inning. All against the Giants. The good times rolled on through April’s record streak of consecutive home victories to start a season.

Things are a bit cloudier a year later, with the Dodgers 3 1/2 games behind the Giants in the National League West before the home crowd has even seen a regular-season pitch. But Monday’s gray skies have cleared up, just as Albert Peterson predicted. Let’s go have some fun!

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  • Joe Torre-managed teams have won 12 consecutive home openers, notes Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. Stephen has more Dodger home opener details here.
  • In the comments of that thread, BHSportsGuy lists the 15 Dodger pitchers credited with a win since Clayton Kershaw’s last on July 18.
  • Via Twitter, Stephen points to a nice feature by Tom Krasovic on Dick Enberg, reborn as a Padres play-by-play announcer. Related: Rob Neyer of ESPN.com heard Enberg say that he tried to write a screenplay about legendary spy/catcher Moe Berg.
  • Memories of Kevin Malone took a close look at the Dodger defense.
  • Padres pitcher Chris Young went on the disabled list, where he’ll find Arizona catcher Miguel Montero and might soon be joined by Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Juan Castro is the Phillies’ current replacement for Rollins.
  • Josh Wilker of Cardboard Gods gets some nice Huffington Post exposure in writing about the anniversary of Mark Fidrych’s death and the connection with his childhood.
  • Blue Heaven passes along a March 6, 1948 letter from Branch Rickey to Walter O’Malley (written from Spring Training at Ciudad Trujillo, Dominican Republic) calling for a trade of Eddie Stanky “even if we were getting nothing for him at all,” to create  an opening in the Brooklyn infield. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Stanky was traded within 24 hours with a player to be named later to the Boston Braves for a player to be named later, Bama Rowell, Ray Sanders and $40,000. (A month later, the Dodgers completed the trade by selling Sanders back to Boston for $60,000.)
  • Four-hit nights for Dodger minor leaguers on Monday: Xavier Paul had three singles and a homer for Albuquerque, Dee Gordon had three doubles, a single and an error for Chattanooga and Jerry Sands had two doubles and two singles for Great Lakes. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus writes that after an 0-for-6 start in AA, Gordon has six hits (including four doubles) in his past seven at-bats.
  • Isotopes reliever Brent Leach is having a Sherrill of a time in his first two games of the year.
  • Matt Hiserman, son of Times assistant sports editor Mike Hiserman and a college pitcher for the University of San Francisco, has come back inside of two months from a liner to the head that landed him in intensive care for four days, writes Eric Sondheimer of the Times.
  • The crackdown on Dodger Stadium pregame tailgating was scheduled to begin at dawn in Elysian Park, according to Zach Behrens of LAist (via L.A. Observed, which also points to a David Kipen piece talking about the origins of the Dodgers’ “LA” logo.).
  • How much of a difference does payroll make in baseball? Tom Tango writes at TMI: “If you spend at the league average (Payroll Index = 100 percent), your chance of making the playoffs is 27 percent. If you spend at double the league average (Payroll Index = 200 percent), your chances are 77 percent. And if you spend at half the league average, your chances dwindle to almost 0.”
  • Bob Timmermann wrote movingly about his grandmother, Ella Kimberling, for L.A. Observed’s Native Intelligence.
  • Quick entertainment notes from my day job: 1) Definitive details on Conan O’Brien’s move to TBS, 2) DirecTV will broadcast all five seasons of “The Wire” commercial-free, 3) Three major new hits (“The Good Wife,” “Modern Family” and “NCIS: Los Angeles” premiered within 25 hours of each other.
  • Leaving you with this: Brian Akin of Dear (Tommy) John Letters is thinking of hanging up his blog if he has to hang up his spikes. While I certainly hope he signs with another team, reading his latest post will serve as a reminder that no matter what, he should keep writing.
Mar 14

Age is just a number … that tells you how old you are

It wasn’t just Garret Anderson making his 2010 debut today.

This morning, I played my first game of softball in more than a year, and had a great time despite the realization that my Strat-o-Matic card has gone from a CF 1e2 (+2) to a CF 3e6 (+3). And don’t even ask about my baserunning rating.

I could really feel the passage of time, both in the physical limitations and the instinctive ones. Things normally intuitive – the way I’d close in on a ball, for example – I had to think about. And considering that almost all my exercise is fingers on a keyboard, it was inevitable that I would tweak something. Sure enough, the first time I raced for a ball to my left, I got a twinge in my right rear bumper, so I was towing that leg the rest of the game.

With more frequent play, I’d get a second wind, but infrequency is my sandlot in life.

Nevertheless, I went 2-for-6 with three hard-hit outs and made a few solid plays. And it was a great day to be out on the grass again.

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And now back to your regularly scheduled programming …

  • In the past 10 innings of Dodger baseball, I’ve had the unexpected TV pleasure of seeing prospects Trayvon Robinson and Brian Cavazos-Galvez hit towering homers. Oh, and Matt Kemp too.
  • Perhaps the top rising pitching prospect in the Dodger minor-league system, Chris Withrow, played his first Spring Training game with the big club today and struck out all three batters he faced. Details from Eric Stephen at True Blue L.A.
  • An error in the field and a pickoff on the bases today might have slowed the Blake DeWitt Starting Lineup Express just a tad, but even if it arrives, Dodger manager Joe Torre indicated he’s still inclined to give both Ronnie Belliard and Jamey Carroll some starts, according to this Ken Gurinck story at MLB.com. “Again, if it happens to be DeWitt, we’ll certainly make sure that Carroll and Belliard have to be part of the equation somewhat,” Torre said.
  • Dodger assistant general manager and director of player development De Jon Watson talked about Ivan DeJesus, Jr. and Dee Gordon with David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus.
  • To his credit, Dodger postgame radio host Ken Levine talked openly about a TV broadcast gone awry last week.
  • Don’t forget to join the Dodger Thoughts March Madness pool. Password is “Kershaw.”