March 2012

Troncoso Clears Waivers, Headed to ‘Topes

Relief pitcher, Ramon Troncoso, has cleared waivers and will be sent to Triple-A Albuquerque to begin the 2012 season. Troncoso was originally designated for assignment last Thursday to reinstate Ronald Belisario from the restricted list. The reliever was out of options on his minor-league contract and had to clear waivers in order to return to the Dodgers’ organization.

Troncoso got off to a shaky start in spring training, posting a 5.40 ERA through five innings pitched. He will likely continue his role of the previous few years, spending most of the season with the Isotopes while making a few, spot relief appearances with the Dodgers.

The left-hander looked like a promising reliever during the 2009-10 seasons under then-manager, Joe Torre. In a somewhat bittersweet situation, Torre relied heavily on the lefty’s arm throughout both campaigns, pitching Troncoso 73 times in 2009 and 15 times in a 21 game stretch during 2010. The heavy workload may have worn on the reliever’s arm as he hasn’t posted consistent numbers since the call-ups.

Following his big league stints of two seasons ago, Troncoso has pitched 79 innings in the hitter-friendly confines of Isotopes Park.  His 2011 highlights include tossing nine consecutive, scoreless innings during a six-game span last season, and earning 18 relief appearances with the Dodgers.

If Troncoso can return to “2009 form,” he could serve as a consistent reliever in both the ‘Topes’ and Dodgers’ bullpen.

Ramon Troncoso has cleared waivers and will start the season with the 'Topes (Photo: LA Times)

Former ‘Tope Not Ready to Hang Up Cleats

The former big league catcher wakes up in his house in small-town Garner, N.C., far removed from the ballpark lights of Colorado. It’s been nearly eight years since his first major-league hit with the Rockies, off four-time MLB all-star and Olympic gold medalist, Ben Sheets, none the less.

He rolls over and sees his nightstand lined with championship rings. Yep, still there.

All five of them.

But this life seems a thing of the past to the ex-MLB backstop. He now has a family, a wife, two kids, who, if he’s not out of bed soon, might not make it to school on time. Sighing and swinging his legs onto the floor, he puts on his regular clothes, no baseball uniform today. This morning, there’s no time to play catcher, it’s time to play dad.

“Class Act,” is how one of his former coaches describes him. “He cares, works hard, listens and tries to get better.”

But just because he’s out of the game, doesn’t mean he can’t stay in touch. Typing from his Twitter account he sends a message to current Dodgers’ prospect, Justin Sellers, who’ll be headed to spring training in just a few weeks.

“Things r good just enjoying the time with the family,” he tweets to Sellers. “Glad they (the team) r doing well tell them I say hello as well. Good luck this year.”

Those were the days.

The days when he was named “Mr. Baseball” in Indiana. The days when he was drafted in the fifth round directly out of high school. The days when he was on the fast-track to the Majors, set to be an everyday starter in 2005 by Baseball America.

Those were the days.

Before then, scouts weren’t drooling over his power at the plate. He wasn’t winning state championships in high school yet, much less showing up on anybody’s radar as a potential MLB star.

He was, however, known by his original name, Jeffrey Darrin.

Jeffrey Darrin Closser, or as of 1999, J.D. Closser, was tagged for baseball success. He led the minor leagues in various hitting categories his first three seasons as a professional and even hit over .300 in 36 games during his first MLB call-up — all by the age of 24. Closser collected Player of the Months and All-Star appearances like it was his job.

And until July 16 of last season, it was.

After 14 years as a professional baseball player, several stints in the Majors and various appearances in Triple-A ball, Closser got the news every big league athlete dreads; you’ve been cut.

The transaction came as a shock to both Closser and fans of Triple-A Albuquerque, as the catcher had been a critical part of the 2009 ‘Topes PCL Division Championship while continuing to hit .297 during the 2011 campaign. Closser’s release wasn’t necessarily on performance either, just a needed move to create roster space for A.J. Ellis.

Even Isotopes Manager, Lorenzo Bundy, admitted it was a hard decision to make.

“It was tough, it was really tough,” Bundy told the Albuquerque Examiner. “Obviously the best stretch of the year we had, he was a big part of it. He carried us for a couple weeks. He took it (being cut)  like an ultimate pro, disappointed at first.”

Didn’t someone say “class act?”

Faced with a decision to hang up the cleats or leave his family behind in a few months for winter baseball in the Dominican Republic, Closser had to weigh out his options. The catcher was 31 years old, still had a love for baseball, but hadn’t stepped foot on a Major League diamond in five years. Should he forget the elusive dream of becoming a big league star?

This time, it wasn’t a tweet that kept Closser in touch with baseball.

A text from the North American Baseball League’s (NABL) Edmonton Capitals offered one last chance for the backstop. The team’s Manager, Orv Franchuk, reached out to add Closser to a team in the heat of a championship race. This championship, however, was for a team in Canada that belonged to a developing league in its first ever season as the NABL.

“Orv texted me the day I got released,” Closser told the Edmonton Sun. “I wasn’t quite sure if this is where I wanted to come right away. But Orv kept coming after me and nothing was coming up, so I decided to come to Edmonton, stay in shape and see how things go.”

Canada Independent League baseball is a long way from the lights of The Show, but staying in baseball ultimately overruled the downgrade from an MLB stage. Closser stayed true to form to humbly approach this new chance in a non-affiliated league.

“I’m here to do pretty much whatever’s needed,” Closser said after joining the Capitals with only 30 games remaining in the regular season. “I just want to be out here, I just want to be in the lineup as much as I can.”

The Capitals had no problem penciling Closser into the lineup on a nightly basis. He became an overnight sensation, batting .333 during the regular season and an unmatched .421 during the playoffs.  Closser’s consistent swing propelled Edmonton to the Championship series against the Rio Grande Valley Wings.

Only two months removed from unemployment, and he’s stepping back into the box for a championship ring.

Edmonton, on the back of former MLB catcher Closser, took the inaugural NABL championship in five games, scoring seven or more runs in each of their victories. Closser sparked the offensive success by slapping a .522 average for the series, including a four-for-five performance in the series-clinching game.

Chance to gloat after dominating Rio Grande’s pitching?

“It’s really cold!” Closser said after being showered with Champagne in the post-game interview.

Unfortunately, the celebrations didn’t last long for Edmonton and the NABL. On Feb. 21, 2012, the Capitals officially announced the team would suspend operations for the 2012 season, citing a drop in registered teams in the North American League. The club has released a number of its players, including J.D. Closser.

“We would love to have him back,” Capitals Manager Orv Franchuk said. “I think he could be a backup catcher for at least 15 big league clubs — he’s that good.”

As for Closser, Edmonton was just another stop on his roller coaster ride back to the big leagues. The MLB, MilB and NALB veteran isn’t ready to call it quits just yet, and continues to look for the right opportunity.

Responding to a question from his Twitter account about “hanging up the cleats” Closser said, “No don’t want to, just don’t have a job offer as of now –

Waiting for the call.”

A text or tweet will also suffice.

J.D. Closser was instrumental in the 'Topes 2009 PCL Division Championship

Sands (Out) Of Time

We thought it might be enough to hang on.

When Jerry Sands stepped into the box Monday afternoon, facing a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the ninth, he had the chance to leave the stadium as a hero.

And he did. (http://atmlb.com/GUPoXc)

Sands ripped a walk-off single to send the White Sox packing in a not-so-important spring training game. To the Dodgers, a walk-off hit is nice. To Sands, a walk-off hit can be the difference between Prime Rib in Los Angeles and Green Chile in Albuquerque.

The game-winner also came in the wake of Sands’ nine consecutive hitless at-bats. The hit had the potential to give the infielder some of his confidence back, which up until Monday, came at a premium. Without putting the former Isotope to too much shame, Sands was hitting only roughly better than I am while I sit at my desk.

“I have been feeling pretty brutal,” Sands told ESPN. “I’m just trying to work on some things. I have made some adjustments here and there, and I’m trying to get comfortable with some of the changes that I have made.”

You have to feel for the guy who showed such great flashes of potential last season when he hit .342 in 20 games during September for the Dodgers. Sands had tinkered with his swing a few times before posting those numbers, a sort of foreshadow to spring training.

At camp, Dodgers’ hitting coaches (that’s plural, coaches — all three of them) each offered their own insight to perfect Sands’ swing. And Sands, a teacher himself, knows three different voices telling you three different things can lead to trouble.

“You like to get help, and a lot of different people were trying to help,” Sands said.”But everybody is different as a hitter. I appreciate the help, and I love to listen, because I know I don’t know all of it. But I was up there thinking so many things at the plate, thinking about my swing and all that, and it’s tough enough already when you have that pitcher throwing 95 (mph).

A classic case of over-thinking.

Sands had initially entered camp with a legitimate, if not almost certain, shot at making the Opening Day 25-man roster. He has the ability to serve as a power-hitter for the Dodgers against lefties, but was never able to perform quite up to par in Glendale, Arizona.

“Even with the hit yesterday, he doesn’t feel good, he doesn’t feel right,” Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said. “It’s been a rough camp for Jerry, and obviously, Jerry knows it.”

With those final words to seal Sands’ fate, Mattingly today announced he had optioned Sands to minor-league camp, most likely placing him in Albuquerque for the start of the 2012 season. From there, Sands has been told he may still figure into the Dodgers’ game plan at some point later this season.

“Right now, I’m just trying to see some pitches and get good swings on them,” Sands said. “I’m taking it at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch.”

May I suggest walk-off to walk-off?

Jerry Sands has been optioned to minor-league camp (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Potential ‘Tope, Griff Erickson: “Any Chance is a Good Chance”

For Dodgers catching prospect, Gorman Erickson, spring training isn’t as much about honing his skills as it is just figuring out how the whole process actually works.

Gorman, or Griff, as he’s known around Dodger Town, is wrapping up his first stint at a big league spring training after playing as a professional since the 2007 season. The catcher has already been reassigned to minor-league camp, where his eventual landing spot is still unknown.

Luckily, finding an opening on the Dodgers starting roster takes a back seat to simply finding out where the camp-rookie is supposed to be on a day-to-day basis.

“I haven’t seen the way (camp) is perceived when you’re a player,” Erickson told Dodgers Independent Blogger Kenny Shulsen. “The little things you have to do – how to get to the clubhouse, how to deal with people, where you’re staying – the team has done a really good job helping us out with all the small things you need to know when you get to the big leagues.”

Like how to approach your first at-bat when you hit the diamond in Glendale, Arizona?

“The first at-bat didn’t go so well,” Erickson laughed. “It was all just a blur that first time. I then settled in and got a few knocks in there.”

Griff didn’t get a chance to settle in for too long before the Dodgers gave him the expected news of playing in the minors. Erickson originally survived the first round on of cuts on March 15, but faced the inevitable reassignment almost halfway through spring training on March 18.

“It’s like everyone always says, you just have to keep working hard,” Erickson said. “Every day is a competition. You have to go out there and leave it all on the field and try as hard as you possibly can.”

That’s the kind of refreshing attitude found only in a player who’s happy just to be at spring training.

Still, even after adjusting to the workout’s daily grind, Griff admitted the Major League learning curve is an eye-opening experience.

“You  don’t know what it’s like until you actually get here and get to talk to all the guys,” Erickson said. “You realize just how much information and how many little things you can pick up… if you’re willing to. It’s unbelievable”

After being drafted in 2006, Griff signed with the Dodgers organization at the start of the ’07 season. He’s suited up for parts of three seasons in Rookie ball, two in Single-A, one in Double-A and a few games at the Triple-A level. This year’s spring training may serve as the eventual launching pad for Erickson’s MLB debut.

“It’s a great introduction to what life would be like when you get called up,” Erickson told MiLB.com. “Coming to your first big league camp it’s all about soaking up all the information you can. Just being here for the short amount of time I have, I still feel like I’ve added a lot of things to my game.

His question now becomes not IF he will be a part of the Dodgers organization, but WHERE in the minors he’ll actually end up.

But to Erickson, that’s not really an issue.

“Any chance is a good chance,” he said. “It’s another opportunity for me to be a part of something bigger.”

Gorman Erickson is still adjusting to big league camp

Josh Fields and “The Curse of the Tattler”

I’m scared to write this blog. I’ll admit it. I seem to have brought bad luck, bad at-bats and a bad spring training in general to anyone I spotlight in the ‘Topes Tattler. I’m sincerely sorry Jerry Sands (now batting .174), Justin Sellers (injured on March 19, and going 3-for-his-last-13 before) and Scott Van Slyke (hitless in 5 of 10 exhibition games). Please don’t hold it against me.

So, to at least make myself feel better about all of this, I’ll blame the recent streak of terrible luck on the ‘Topes Tattler, and not myself.

We’ll call it “The Curse Of The Tattler.”

Fingers crossed, knocking on wood, rabbit foot in my other hand, witchcraft book open to any page but 13 — deep breath — here we go: Hello, Josh Fields.

Anyone who is anyone knows about the final roster battle waging between former ‘Topes Jerry Sands and Justin Sellers, now also features another PCL player from 2011, Josh Fields. The trio is in a daily competition against each other, where every at-bat weighs as much, if not more, than all previous playing time in each prospect’s career. The winner to the Pro’s, the losers (though not really “losers” in our book) to the Isotopes.

No pressure or anything.

Even at the very top the situation is as unclear today as it was before spring training started. Dodgers General Manager, Ned Colletti, recently told Dodgers Radio that the ever-changing shape of the Opening Day roster is “fluid.”

“We’ll see what the situation is day-by-day and do what’s best for everybody,” Colletti said.

Given the nature of this year’s spring training, day-to-day is about as fair as any player can ask. This also means the last reserve, bench spot on the Dodgers 25-man will likely be decided within the next nine spring training games.

Three players. Two at-bats a game. One roster spot.

And one Curse of the Tattler.

But as of recent, nonroster invitee Josh Fields has slowly begun to emerge as the likely candidate, hitting .385, second on the team to only Andre Ethier (.440). In fact, Fields credits much of his success at the plate to the point that he WASN’T a roster invitee this spring.

“It gives you a little bit more to strive for, a little bit more drive to come in,” Fields told the LA Daily News. “I’m going to earn every single bit of it. I’m past the point of having things handed out and given (to me).”

Fields’ lack of notice from other teams may come from his decision to split from Triple-A Colorado Springs last season, to finish out 2011 overseas for Yomiuri in the Japan Central League.  Playing the corners of the infield for the Giants, Fields appeared in 50 games while hitting a lack-luster .202.

That’s the kind of numbers that cause coaches to hesitate when offering a new contract, especially when they’re unsure of a player’s loyalty to staying in Major League Baseball.

However, Fields was eventually offered, and signed, a contract to play in the Dodgers system, most likely beginning the season in Albuquerque. Now that overseas ball is a thing of the past, Fields insists he’s here for the long-run.

“I had an offer to go back to Japan, but I chose not to,” he told ESPN. “My focus is here. This is where I want to be… But I know I’m going to have to hit my way back to the big leagues.”

Hitting .385 in 15 games (tied for most on the team) is a good start for Fields. As is playing enough positions around the diamond you’d think the Dodgers had six guys named Josh Fields.

“He’s been pretty good,” Manager Don Mattingly said. “We’ve been trying different things — first, third, left (last Monday) — and you can’t complain about any of his at-bats.”

An all-around utility fielder seems to be the go-to route for this final roster position.  Between Fields, Sellers and Sands, the nonroster invitee is beginning to stake out a small advantage with his versatility. He’ll be able to fill-in across the field, which in-turn will likely create a few more at-bat opportunities as spring training comes to its conclusion.

And although his recent tagline may read “Made in Japan,” Fields assured the entire organization that he wants to be here, battling it out for the last roster opening.

“I’m a Dodger,” Fields said. “I just want to stay healthy and show them what I can do.”

I just hope for curses’ sake, he doesn’t read this.

Josh Fields looks to avoid "The Curse of the Tattler" and earn a final roster spot with the LAD (Photo courtesy of Lasorda's Lair)

Dodgers Make Second Round of Cuts, DeJesus to Have MRI

The Dodgers made further progress towards setting their opening-day 25-man roster with a second round of cuts on Sunday.

Eight players in total will put their Major League dreams on hold for now, seven being assigned to minor league camp and one pitcher, Alberto Castillo, being released by the Dodgers. The club has now reassigned 16 prospects to minor league camp, which runs from March 18-30.

“All those guys, they’ve all had pretty good camps as far as work,” Manager Don Mattingly told the Associated Press. “It’s just getting to the point (where) there’s not enough at-bats to get guys any playing time.”

Below is a list of players re-assigned to minor league camp through the first two rounds of Dodgers cuts:

Pitchers:
Matt Chico (2011; 5.06 ERA in 10.2 innings, Triple-A Syracuse)
Ryan Tucker (2011; 5.40 ERA in 68.1 innings, Triple-A Round Rock)
Will Savage (2011; 3.95 ERA in 141.1 innings, Double-A Chattanooga)
Chris Withrow (2011; 4.20 ERA in 128.2 innings, Double-A Chattanooga)
Josh Wall (2011; 3.93 ERA in 68.2 innings, Double-A Chattanooga)
Stephen Fife (2011; 3.66 ERA in 103.1 innings, Double-A Portland)
Michael Antonini (2011; 4.01 ERA in 148.0 innings, Double-A Chattanooga)
Shane Lindsay (2011; 1.98 ERA in 63.2 innings, Triple-A Charlotte)

Batters:
Matt Wallach (2011; .247 in 186 AB, Double-A Chattanooga)
Gorman Erickson (2011; .275 in 142 AB, Double-A Chattanooga)
Lance Zawadzki (2011; .233 in 326 AB, Triple-A Omaha)
Jeff Baisley (2011; .303 in 538 AB, Triple-A Salt Lake)
Alfredo Silverio (2011; .306 in 533 AB, Double-A Chattanooga)
Scott Van Slyke (2011; .348 in 457 AB, Double-A Chattanooga)
Alex Castellanos (2011; .322 in 121 AB, Double-A Chattanooga)
Russ Mitchell (2011; .283 in 336 AB, Triple-A Albuquerque)

For now, former Isotopes Jerry Sands, Justin Sellers and Ivan DeJesus Jr. still have a chance to earn a roster spot for Opening Day. However, DeJesus left last Saturday’s game in the seventh inning after pulling his left oblique muscle. The middle infielder complained of discomfort on his first swing of the at-bat, and is awaiting results of Monday’s MRI to know the extent of the injury.

“It’s hard to compete when you can’t be out there,” Mattingly said. “With this type of injury, there’s not a lot you can do. If you lose eight to 10 days, how many days does it take just to get your timing back? Not a good time to get hurt. You could see it on his face last night. These guys know it hurts your chance.”

Either way, it’s a safe bet Isotopes fans will greet DeJesus with a warm welcome if he’s back in Albuquerque again this season.

Big league roster experience or not.

Ivan DeJesus Jr. will await MRI results (Courtesy LA Times)

Around the Office Happenings With a Guide to March Madness

Here in the ‘Topes front office there’s a lot of action going on as our 10th season rapidly approaches. From the Pro Shop to the fields of Belen Little League, everyone has their glove-hands full (see what I did there?). Let’s check in with some of the big happenings over the next month:

  • Fans can begin to redeem their season ticket plans starting on Monday, March 26 at 10:30 AM through March 28. With a great schedule ahead, you definitely don’t want to miss a game.
  • Club Read just kicked off with some great incentives for kids to crack open a few books this season. Dion’s Pizza and your ‘Topes will be giving away some awesome prizes to participants.
  • With the Lobos beginning play, our stadium operations crew has been hard at work sprucing up the stadium in preparation for our home opener. The field is starting to look great and it kind of feels like baseball season around here again.
  • Speaking of that, the home opener is less than a month away when the ‘Topes take on the Omaha Storm Chasers on Friday, April 13 at 7:05 PM.
  • Minor League Makeover starts on March 20 when the ‘Topes grounds crew will begin touching up Belen’s field. Home Depot has also joined the action and donated supplies for the project.
  • The Pro Shop is fully stocked with great gear for the 2012 season. Take a look at our own Assistant Director of Retail Operations, Patrick Westrick, as he shows off what’s become his new home over the past few days:

Assistant Director of Retail Operations, Patrick Westrick shows off some 'Topes gear

And also in the office, we’re all dialed in for some NCAA March Madness, which means ’round the clock “expert” talk about basketball.

Even when you haven’t been watching any of the season.

So as the water cooler becomes the most crowded place in the office and the big wigs lock their doors because of a sudden “important meeting” (everyone knows you’re watching the games in there), please make sure to avoid the following mishaps for the madness that is the NCAA Tourney:

1. The “No That’s Not Going To Happen” Card: Don’t be THAT guy that reads over other people’s bracket and quickly points out that “No! That pick will never happen!” I don’t care how many hours of “Bracketology” you watched, you’re not the Schwab for a reason.

2. Bringing Up Others’ Brackets Just To Talk About Your Own: It’s the same rules as Fantasy Football; everyone wants to talk about their team, but no one cares, AT ALL, about anyone else’s team. Please don’t come strike up a thrilling conversation to hear the winner of my bracket when you have a 15-minute speech-of-the-century planned about that INTENSE 8/9 matchup.

3. Not Paying An Entrance Fee: I’m not condoning gambling, but if, by some far-shot chance, you’re involved in some exchange of money, goods or services for an NCAA pool, please, please, please pay the entrance fee ON TIME. Everyone knows that one person who keeps “forgetting” to ante up just in time for their bracket champion to lose in the third round. This, of course, is followed by “Well, I’m not paying now,” and 365 days to remember why you’ll never let that person join the brackets again.

4. Claiming You Knew That Upset Was Coming, And Not Putting It In Your Bracket: The list is long and frustrating; all those no-names that conveniently remind you of your bracket being destroyed. And then there are the teams that actually destroy your brackets. If you think Long Beach State is going to tear through the first few rounds and show up in the Final Four, then by-goodness, PUT IT in your brackets. I’ll entertain your “I knew Butler would win” rant as long as you have it in ink. If not, the next upset will be coming from you as you’re not allowed to watch the games with the rest of the group.

5. Picking UNC/Duke: ‘Nuff said.

6. Putting All 1-Seeds In The Final Four: This is self explanatory. Sure, they’re one seeds for a reason. And sure, they have the easiest path to the championship. But no, you aren’t allowed to pick all four in the Final Four. I’ll give you two teams…heck, I’ll  even give you three of the one seeds because I’m in a good mood from wearing jeans to the office today, but not all four. This just ruins any madness from this tournament when you pick the “best” teams to beat everyone else. I vote you let your hair down, live a little, and put that double-digit seed in the Final Four. Plus, you’ll have legitimate bragging rights about it (see number 4).

7. Informing Everyone That Your School Will Win It All: I’m sure your die-hard dedication to the alma mater will propel the team to an amazing run, blowing out every opponent along the way. My own Norfolk State is playing the two seed Missouri? Laughable. Just don’t. We all know you have insider news into your school you once went to for a few years and might have said “hi” to the basketball coach once while you were there, but don’t try to convince other people a 14 seed with an 18-16 record is a sure bet to win it all.

8. Pretending Not To Care: This is by far the worst move in the history of NCAA March Madness. No matter how little you know about basketball, or even sports in general, you DO care about this thing. Don’t be the killjoy that is “above” buzzer beaters and upsets. I’m not saying you’ll lose friends for pretending not to care, but you might find your weekend schedule quickly opening up.

All that being said, opening day can’t come soon enough. With great happenings around the office and a little Madness on the side, we’re finding ways to keep ourselves entertained until the first crack of the bat.

Just don’t let it come from me when someone violates a March Madness mishap.

Dodgers Buying Into Sellers

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to sift through Dodgers Spring Training headlines without seeing a mention of Justin Sellers.

Thrown into the mix of three new free-agent infielder signings this offseason (Mark Ellis, Jerry Hairston and Adam Kennedy), Sellers needs to continue to make the most of his opportunities to stand out from the pack.

And it certainly doesn’t help that his three competitors have appeared in over 1,000 Major League games each, compared to Sellers’ 36.

“Kennedy, Ellis, those guys are vets and I can’t control it,” Sellers told MLB.com. “I just have to play as hard as I can to help this team.”

Which Sellers is consistently doing this spring, ranking seventh in overall batting average — In the entire National League.

Through seven games with the Dodges in Spring Training, Sellers has ripped a base hit in five of his 13 at-bats, posting a solid .385 batting average. The utility fielder also lifted a three-run home run in a pinch-hit situation Monday against the Angels.

Unfortunately, power hitting isn’t exactly what the Dodgers are looking for from Sellers, as Manager Don Mattingly expects a more balanced approach at the plate.

“When he got back to the dugout, the first thing I told him was to hit the ball to right field next at-bat,” Mattingly said, referencing hitting line drives. “He knows he has to. He led the team in fly-ball percentage last year. I don’t want to see him trying to hit home runs… He has to keep working on his swing to keep the ball down.”

Try telling that to Sellers, who’s belted 14 home runs in each of his last two seasons with the Isotopes.

Even with his strong start, most still consider Sellers a long-shot to make the opening-day roster, largely due to the long list of Dodgers veteran infielders. This leaves a single reserve spot to come down to a friendly battle with fellow Isotopes teammate, Jerry Sands. Both have drawn attention in the first half of Spring Training, but Mattingly seems to be leaning towards keeping Sellers while sending Sands back to Albuquerque.

“We all like Jerry (Sands), but he’s at a point where he can still get better,” Mattingly said. “He has hit lefties pretty well, but struggled on the other side with the righties. I think he can do that, but still remains to be seen.”

Despite such news, Sellers knows he must continue to adapt his game (specifically avoiding fly outs) if he wants to become an everyday player in the big leagues. This also comes on the back of the Dodgers bringing in three players, who, in their attempt to earn a starting role, will try to keep Sellers in Albuquerque.

“It’s frustrating a little bit,” Sellers said. “But it made me work harder and gave me a little fire to come out and work my butt off.”

And also keep the ball down in the process.

Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Justin Sellers (Sport-US PRESSWIRE)

Snow or Shine, ‘Topes Fans Pursue Tickets

It wouldn’t be a proper release of something special without early morning campers and winding lines of eager fans.

Oh, and sub-freezing temperatures too.

Bundled in everything from boots to beanies, Isotopes fans lined the front of the box office, counting down the seconds until 10 AM and the release of individual game tickets — Counting seconds because it’s impossible to think minutes when you’re being pelted by snow.

But even that wasn’t enough to drive people away from laying hands on this year’s freshly printed passes.

Dave Christenson, who staked out the very first spot in line, arrived to Isotopes Park early this morning to purchase his perfect seats for the upcoming season.

“We’ve been out here since six this morning,” Christenson said. “We were sitting in the cold, shivering and drinking coffee, just trying to stay warm.”

Which is no easy feat in this inconsistent “Spring Training” weather.

“Maybe we’ll start a few days early next year,” Christenson joked.

For fans, the pre-ticket wait has taken on the persona of baseball at Isotopes Park, where the atmosphere is fan friendly and you can’t help but enjoy yourself.

“It’s really fun because you see the same people every year,” said Cathy Eagan, whose been coming to ticket sale day for the previous five years. “It really doesn’t matter which game I’m going to — it’s baseball, it’s great.”

Likewise, Christenson and company have made the best of the chilly mornings, finding ways to pass the time until the box office windows finally open up.

“We just want to come out here and hang out and have a good time,” Christenson said. “We’re already talking about doing it again next year.”

Christenson can expect to see some familiar faces if he braves the cold again for the 2013 season. Long-time opening-ticket veteran Tom Kieffer has been purchasing tickets during release day since he moved to Albuquerque. Besides bundling up Saturday morning, Kieffer also wore the expectation of recognizing a few fans while he waits to claim his tickets.

“I usually run into a few friends who’re just as into this whole thing as me,” Kieffer said. “But honestly I’m just ready to go, ready for the first game.”

Excitement for opening day seemed to be a common theme throughout ‘Topes fans, some looking forward to post-game fireworks and others just wanting the gates unlocked for opening night.

“I love coming to this ballpark,” Christenson said. “It’s such an awesome venue; it’s a lot more fun than any other park I’ve been to.”

And if you were not one of the fans bold enough (subbing in “crazy” is also acceptable) to triumph over the elements on Saturday, fans like Christenson, Eagan or Kieffer still happily invite you to come join them at Isotopes Park for a game or two this season.

“People need to come out here to watch the games and support the team,” Kieffer said. “Hopefully we win it all one year!”

And if that happens, 6 AM might not be early enough for tickets.

Fans brave the cold and await the release of single game tickets

On the Cusp: Scott Van Slyke

It may take more than a two-run homerun during a Spring Training game to prove it, but Dodgers prospect Scott Van Slyke seems ready to take the final steps towards making his own name in the majors.

Son of former All-Star outfielder Andy Van Slyke, Scott has steadily (albeit slowly) been progressing through the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system since being drafted out of high school in 2005. The outfielder tore through Double-A ball with Chattanooga last season, blasting 20 home runs with a .427 OBP en route to being named the Dodgers Minor League Player of the Year.

But while Double-A accolades are nice, Major League All-Star appearances are better.  And who else to tell it better than his own father, Andy, who admits his continuous insights may have an adverse affect on his son.

“I probably do overload him, to be honest with you,” Andy Van Slyke told Scout.com “It’s like a lot of information in life. You keep what’s useful and spit out the rest. Hopefully, he’s wise enough to use all of it.”

Whatever amount of information Scott has been using, it seems to be working. Prior to his breakout season last year, Van Slyke made a brief appearance with the Isotopes in 2010, collecting 11 hits in 12 games.  He was selected to the California League post-season All-Star Team in 2009, and became the first player in San Bernardino professional baseball history to collect at least 40 doubles (42), 20 home runs (23) and 100 RBI.

“It’s a game of percentages,” said Scott in 2008 after batting a dismal .148 with no home runs and seven RBI in 22 games with Single-A Great Lakes. “There’s a rollover factor; when the year ends, there’s always a new draft next year, and 30 more kids are going to come in.”

Andy Van Slyke also noted the ongoing pressure added by each year’s new crop of baseball prospects, advising Scott that although his plate-approach has improved since his earlier years, raw talent alone isn’t enough to become a big league star.

“You can have the most perfect swing, but if you’re not licking your chops, it’s irrelevant,” Andy Van Slyke said. “You have to want to be at the plate in that (clutch) situation. And you’d better not be looking to the on-deck circle.”

We call this “tough love.”

All pressures aside, Scott Van Slyke has finally put himself in a position to make his regular-season Major League debut. After an impressive outing in the Dodgers Spring Training opener, Double-A accolades seem like a thing of the past. With a strong performance through the rest of the spring and a “hunger” to succeed at the plate, Van Slyke might finally begin to meet expectations.

For both his father and the Dodgers organization.

Dodgers right fielder Scott Van Slyke slides into foul territory to make a catch on a fly ball hit by the White Sox's Alex Rios in the fourth inning Monday. (Paul Connors / Associated Press / March 5, 2012)

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