It had been a long time coming when the Dodgers optioned outfielder Trent Oeltjen to minor-league camp after Saturday’s 9-3 win against the D-backs.
Oeltjen was vying for a roster spot in a crowded Dodgers outfield that included four players ahead of the former ‘Tope, perhaps most importantly versatile fielder Jerry Hairston. Even so, Oeltjen didn’t make it easy on the Dodgers after batting .289 this spring and scoring two runs in Saturday’s exhibition game. But despite the solid performance, Los Angeles’ roster couldn’t support a spot for the outfielder.
Oeltjen has appeared in 99 big-league games since his MLB debut with the D-backs in 2009. He batted .220 during that tenure, most recently dropping to .197 through 61 games with the Dodgers in 2011. Conversely, the outfielder racked up 149 hits in 465 at-bats (.339) with the ‘Topes last season, the highest among all Isotopes with more than 55 games for the Triple-A club.
The roster move leaves the next and near final Dodgers transactions to involve an infield position between former ‘Tope Justin Sellers and non-roster invitee Josh Fields. Sellers’ performance has fluctuated during spring training and currently includes a .308 batting average, while Fields got off to a hot start before recently cooling off to hit .273.
Stay tuned for more up-to-the-minute roster updates as the ‘Topes prepare for the 2012 campaign beginning April 5 at the Omaha Storm Chasers.
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.
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.”
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:
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)
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.
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.