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.”
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.
On Monday the Los Angeles Dodgers designated infielder Russ Mitchell for assignment in accordance with the 40-man roster limit. This move was processed to free up space for newly acquired pitcher Todd Coffey. Mitchell’s status remains on waivers, and if no team shows interest in the infielder within two business days, he can return to the Dodgers, most likely being outrighted to the Isotopes.
Mitchell, 26, split time between the Dodgers and Triple-A affiliate Albuquerque Isotopes last season. The utility fielder hit .283 with 16 home runs in 336 at-bats with the ‘Topes, and appeared in 25 games with the Dodgers collecting eight hits and three RBI. In 40 career games at the Major League level, Mitchell has hit .151 in 93 at-bats.
Russ Mitchell’s standout moment occurred on May 20, 2011 with Los Angeles playing the first of a three game interleague series against the Chicago White Sox. Later dubbed “The Fog Game,” the Dodgers trailed the White Sox 2-3 in the 9th inning. Mitchell, who was penciled in the roster because of infield injuries, smashed a two-out, solo home run to tie the game. He again proved clutch in the 10th inning with a full-extension, diving snag at third base to prevent the game-winning runs from scoring. The Dodgers eventually went on to defeat the White Sox in a 6-4 final, largely due to the late-inning heroics of Russ Mitchell.
Still remaining on the 40-man roster are second baseman Ivan De Jesus Jr. and pitcher Ramon Troncoso. De Jesus spent the majority of the 2011 season with the Isotopes, hitting .310 with 29 extra-base hits and 59 RBI in 387 at-bats. The 24-year-old also proved a consistent glove in the field with a .989 fielding percentage with only four errors. Troncoso, 28, went 2-4 with a 5.05 ERA in 57 innings of work with the Isotopes in 2011, and posted a 6.75 ERA in 22.2 innings with the Dodgers.
De Jesus and Troncoso will be competing throughout Spring Training for a spot on Los Angeles’ final 25-man roster. Pitchers and catchers are set to report on February 19 and full squads on February 24. The exhibition games are scheduled from March 6 – April 1 at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz.