Notes and quotes from around camp
By Josh Jackson/MiLB.com
The Dodgers held their seventh annual Winter Development Camp this week. Below is an assortment of tidbits and quotes that didn’t make it into MiLB.com’s official story.
Among the topics discussed in a morning press conference with Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti were three pitchers who were added to the club’s 40-man roster after the season: Pedro Baez, Jarret Martin and Yimi Garcia.
“You add players to the 40-man for a variety of reasons. One is, you don’t want to lose them in the Rule 5, and the other is to come to Spring Training and have a real solid look in the spring and leave an impression,” Colletti said. “Many times when you get into a season and you have an injury in a game and you sit with Don [Mattingly] and you sit with Rick [Honeycutt] … you go through who your relative options are.
“I stay on top of these guys every day, the prospects, and so do our manager and coaches, probably to a touch lesser degree because they’ve got the big league club to really concentrate on, but the players leave an impression. The opportunity is there for these guys. Are they going to make the team out of Spring Training? Probably a long shot, but are they going to be here before the end of the season? I think they all have a chance to do that. They’ll leave an impression as we go through the season and we have different things that come our way as far as injuries go, or people that are slumping or whatever that you need to make an alteration on your roster, they should be candidates to be in that conversation.”
Colletti spoke more about Baez, a former third baseman who’s converting to pitcher and who throws in the 90s.
How’s his offspeed stuff coming along?
“It’s not bad. He’s following somewhat the path of Kenley [Jansen]. He was a position player —- he wasn’t a catcher, he was a third baseman. There’s still some things that he’s obviously got to learn, but he’s interesting. He’s a very interesting talent. He’s picked it up quick,” Colletti said. “He’s made a lot of adjustments and listened to coaching. It’s like any other sport where you change a position that’s somewhat of a drastic change. There’s a lot of nuances, and what people consider small things – I don’t consider them small things, but people say, ‘Can he hold the runner? Who cares?’ —- but things like that that he still has to work on. Great fielder. No surprise, but he’s a great fielder at his position.”
Miguel Rojas is known within the Dodgers system for his glove work, but the infielder has been working on improving his hitting, including with Omar Vizquel.
“I got the opportunity to share with him some practice and talk to him, because now he’s a coach with the Caracas team [in Venezuelan Winter Ball]. Around him, you can learn a lot, because he’s not just a great player, he’s a great person. I definitely want to be like him,” Rojas said. “He didn’t talk about that part of the game, defensive-wise. He just told me what helped him to be a better hitter and get almost 3,000 hits in the big leagues. That’s what I want to learn, because I know he’s already a great fielder, Gold Glover, so I want to be as good as him. He told me this story that he was just a right-handed hitter, and then he learned how to hit left-handed late, and then when he started hitting left-handed, he understood what kind of player he was, as an offensive part. That’s one of the big pieces of advice he gave to me: Learn who you are as a hitter. That’s an important thing in this part of your career.”
Hitting was Rojas’ main concentration in Winter Ball in Venezuela this year.
“Absolutely. My past three years, I’ve been playing in that league. I got the sense [of it] the first couple years, so that [brought] my confidence a little bit up. If I can hit in Venezuela during the winter, I think I can do it here in the States too,” he said. “That’s why every time I’m going there in the winter, because I want to be a better hitter and produce for my team. The bottom line is, in Venezuela, it’s all about winning, so when I’m thinking I’m putting all I’ve got [into] winning the games, I’m a better player.”
He had the pleasure of showing fellow Dodgers prospect Joc Pederson around his native country this winter.
“When he got the news he was going to play Winter Ball, he came to me and said, ‘Hey, [what] is Venezuela like? What do I have to bring?’” Rojas said. “He was talking always about how that experience was going to be, and I said, ‘Hey, it’s going to be it’s going to be the [most fun] thing you’re going to do in your life.’”
Pederson wasn’t let down.
“That just puts you in a whole different environment out there. The fans will get you. The culture, the baseball’s really good. It definitely throws you in something you’re not comfortable with. I assume that would be like coming up here, to a new team,” the outfielder said. “You don’t speak the language. Then it’s like, it’s your dream — there’s a bunch of emotions going. You have to slow the game down, trust what you’ve been taught, what you’re used to doing. I thought I played well in Venezuela. It was very beneficial.”
Zach Lee, the Dodgers’ top pitching prospect, has seen qualities in Rojas that make him a natural guide.
“Unbelievable defender. Some of the best hands that I’ve seen,” Lee said of Rojas. “Really great guy on and off the field, is able to really control some of the clubhouse things -– not necessarily the interactions between the Latin guys and the American guys, because he speaks really good English. He kind of took that role upon himself to be the mediator. If you needed to talk to a Spanish-speaking guy, he was the translator. He kind of took that role on himself, and he really kind of created himself as a leader as far as that aspect goes.”
But even with a guide, there was one aspect of being abroad with which Pederson struggled.
“The food, I actually liked the food a lot. You couldn’t eat anything grown from the ground because of the bacteria and what-not. But the chicken, the carne asada, all of it was pretty awesome,” he said. “It was good to branch out a little, try some new stuff, experience and see how fortunate we are over here. It’s crazy to see how much we take for granted, that for a lot of other people, they would die for. It was special outside of baseball too, I learned a lot.”
Colletti indicated Rojas has a legitimate shot to start the year as the team’s second baseman, but he’s going to have to earn it.
“If you’re going to put who’s leading the pack today, certainly [Cuban signee Alejandro Guerrero] is that player. But he hasn’t played a lot this winter,” he said. “He’s been down with some hamstring issues, which is kind of understandable because he hadn’t played baseball in a long time.
“Dee Gordon went back to Winter Ball two weeks ago, and he’s done really well playing second base, offensively, he’s playing really well. He’s going to get a look too. We’ll see. We’ll have to mix and match,” Colletti added. “Nobody would like to have a set team by the first day of Spring Training more than I would, but I also know that that’s not how it works. There’s always competition for spots, and there should always be competition for spots and opportunity. Every day you have a chance to adjust it, and every day, the game has a chance to make you adjust it.”
As for Pederson and Lee, they’ve each been making some adjustments of their own.
Pederson said he’d been thinking about “all aspects of the game … being in a different environment to where I need to control — not my mannerisms, but like in the batter’s box, to slow down; in the outfield, hitting the cutoff guy, how important it is to keep the guy on first base instead of second.
“I feel — obviously I didn’t do well against lefties [in 2013],” he added. “I’ve tried to work on that in the offseason, to clean that up so we don’t have those same issues. That’s part of the game and growing as a player. It’s fine.”
Lee, in the meantime, is all about consistency.
“As much as I got more consistent last year, I want to get [even] more consistent this year. If you consistently go out there and perform at your best, you’re obviously going to be better. As far as specific things go, I’d really like to improve on some of the offspeed stuff,” Lee said. “I threw some really good pitches at times, but at other times, they weren’t really that great. It was one of those things where, I’m striving to be here as quick as I can, and I feel like that is one area that I can really focus on -– the consistency of offspeed pitches … specifically, curveball and slider.
“My curveball, at times, was a really plus out-pitch. And then at times, it was a lollipop curveball that [members of the media] might be able to hit. If I can get that consistency with that pitch, it’s a really good plus out-pitch. As far as my slider goes, at times I would throw it hard with short kind of depth, and it was similar to my curveball but not as slow. If I get more consistent with a sharp, hard break, I’ll have a lot more success with it.”