Chipping away at the mystery around Alexander Guerrero

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
5:28
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers’ newest every-day player was asked if he plays with a similar style to his Cuban compatriot, Yasiel Puig.

"No, different … different," Alexander Guerrero said. "He plays a little bit, as we say in Cuba, aggressively. I’m more calm."

Having arrived in the United States for the first time just two weeks ago, Guerrero -- wearing a fresh, white No. 7 jersey, a thick gold chain and loafers with no socks -- certainly looked cool and composed on Friday while mingling with Dodgers fans at Homeboy Industries in Chinatown, a stop on the team’s yearly charity caravan.

But Guerrero admitted he’s still struggling with the jarring transition to a new culture and economic system.

"It’s a process," Guerrero said. "But it’s beautiful here."

The process the Dodgers will be monitoring most closely is Guerrero’s transition from his natural position, shortstop, to his position of the future, second base.

His efforts to accelerate the learning curve were hampered by two hamstring injuries in the Dominican Republic winter league.

The Dodgers signed Guerrero for four years and $28 million to take over second base from Mark Ellis, who later signed with the St. Louis Cardinals as a free agent.

Guerrero, 26, admits the process isn’t without its flaws. He called shortstop and second base "completely different." but he also expressed confidence he can be ready by spring training. He has been working out in Arizona with Dodgers coaches for the past two weeks.

The Dodgers -- not entirely convinced Guerrero is ready, based on scouting reports of his defense from the Dominican -- have said it’s possible he’ll begin the season in the minor leagues. Options to open the season at second base include reclamation project Chone Figgins, veteran minor leaguer Miguel Rojas and Dee Gordon. The Dodgers also continue to try to add one more infielder to their bench.

Guerrero called playing in the major leagues "his dream."

"I’m working hard for it," he said. "Ultimately, it’s up to the team."

Guerrero said he was able to defect from Cuba in his third attempt -- on a boat to Haiti -- along with his brother and two friends. He said his wife, 9-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter remain in Cuba but that he expects them to join him in two months.

He sat out the 2013 season after suspicions arose in Cuba that he was thinking of defecting. With all the scrutiny from Cuban officials, he said he decided to sit out and plan his exit strategy.

Guerrero, a three-time All-Star in Cuba’s highest league, had a .308 career average, 102 home runs and 392 RBIs in eight seasons. The Dodgers project him as a premium offensive player and hope he can be adequate with the glove.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Yasiel Puig
BA HR RBI R
.296 13 59 73
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 19
RBIA. Gonzalez 91
RY. Puig 73
OPSY. Puig .869
WC. Kershaw 16
ERAC. Kershaw 1.73
SOC. Kershaw 194