Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Digging for hidden diamonds
By Mark Saxon
A.J. Ellis had never had more than 108 at-bats in a major-league season before last year. The catcher wound up leading the Dodgers in on-base percentage.
Luis Cruz had bounced around from organization to organization with scarcely a toehold in the major leagues. He became one of the Dodgers' most productive players in the second half of 2012.
This spring, the Dodgers have veteran major-leaguers at virtually every spot on their roster, but there is always room for surprises. Injuries and under-performance tend to create opportunities, which explains why the Dodgers have invited 18 non-roster players, several with major-league experience, to spring training.
While the Dodgers' mainstays will be easing their way back into baseball shape, these guys will be hustling to salvage their careers. Let's look at some of the players, in order of likely impact, who could surprise:
C Jesus Flores. The Dodgers brought in several veteran backup catchers and it's not just so that they have enough people to warm up their pitchers. While the team remains high on Tim Federowicz, he has played just 10 major-league games. And it's not ideal to have a high-ceiling prospect playing just a game or two per week. Flores became the Washington Nationals' starting catcher last year after Wilson Ramos tore a knee ligament and before they traded for Kurt Suzuki. He was once a bright prospect before injuries hit and, at 27, he has plenty of time left to revive his career.
Chances of making an impact: Excellent
RHP Kevin Gregg. He's a towering right-hander with a big arm and an occasionally devastating split-finger pitch. Plus, it's not often you can get a former closer under the age of 35 on a minor-league deal. Gregg is coming off a terrible season (4.95 ERA) and was released by the Baltimore Orioles, but he still has talent, with a fastball that averaged 92 mph (according to Fangraphs) and a solid 7.63 strikeouts per nine innings. He seems like the kind of guy who will be pitching for someone next year. It just might be the Dodgers.
RHP Mark Lowe. He's one of those guys with so much raw ability, you wonder why he can't hold onto a major-league uniform. He's only 29 and still has a 95-mph fastball. Someone like that always has a chance.
RHP Peter Moylan. He did well in limited opportunities for the Atlanta Braves (2.95 ERA in 259 games) and, at 34, he should have something left. He'll pitch for Australia in the World Baseball Classic, so he should get plenty of work. Plus, his sidearm style could be appealing as a different look.
OF Tony Gwynn. He went into last year with a platoon role in left field, but he struggled, batting .232. The Dodgers designated him for assignment late in the season and he elected to report to Triple-A to remain with the organization. He's only 30 years old, so he has time to improve his value, but the Dodgers have limited opportunities for outfielders.
C's Ramon Castro and Eliezer Alfonzo. Two guys with significant major-league time trying to hold on as they get into their mid-30s. Because of their experience and because of the Dodgers' potential void at backup catcher, there's always a chance.
OF Jeremy Moore. It wasn't that long ago that he was one of the Angels' more promising prospects. He's a good center fielder with outstanding speed, but the presence of Torii Hunter, Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout blocked him and a serious hip injury cost him all of the 2012 season. He's only 26 years old and, if his legs are healthy, he could be an enticing option off the bench because of his ability to impact a game on the bases.
INF Dallas McPherson. When he was 23, the Angels handed him their third-base job coming out of spring training. But like Brandon Wood after him, he struggled with strikeouts. A series of hip and back injuries over the ensuing years put his career on the slow train. He bounced around baseball for the next nine years and now, at 32, he's hoping to finally stick.
Alfredo Amezaga. Little known fact: The Angels drafted him No. 401 overall in 1999, one spot ahead of Albert Pujols. He was once a promising shortstop prospect, but he struggled at the plate and the Angels designated him for assignment. The Florida Marlins later turned him into a center fielder and he briefly had an everyday role. Because he can play every position other than pitcher or catcher, he always has a chance to stick, but at 35, his window is closing.