August 31, 2014

Dodgers’ Winter Development Program Offers Valuable Lessons for Top Prospects

I had a chance to attend part of the Dodgers’ third annual Winter Development Program this afternoon at Dodger Stadium.  In essence, this is training for the organization’s top prospects in what it takes to be successful as a Los Angeles Dodger (both on and off the field).  Activities in this intensive ten-day program include workouts with coaches and major league players, seminars, visits from Dodger legends and community visits.

Participants included pitchers Chris Withrow, Josh Lindblom, Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen, Aaron Miller, Ethan Martin, Armando Zerpa, Carlos Monasterios, John Ely and John Link.  Attending position players included A.J. Ellis, Russell Mitchell, Dee Gordon, Andrew Lambo, Trayvon Robinson, Kyle Russell, Matt Wallach and Jesse Mier.

While I was out at Chavez Ravine today, I also saw Ramon Troncoso and Blake DeWitt working out, and Matt Kemp was reportedly at the facilities yesterday.

Following the workout, I had a chance to catch up with a few of the team’s top prospects, including shortstop Dee Gordon, pitcher Jon Link, converted pitcher Kenley Jansen and pitcher Ethan Martin.  Following are a few quotes:

Shortstop Dee Gordon (Topps Minor League Player of the Year, Dodgers’ Minor League Player of the Year, Midwest League Prospect of the Year, and league co-Most Valuable Player)

On His Favorite Part of the Winter Development Program: “I love the Dodger legends.  To hear some of their stories from Sweet Lou (Johnson), Tommy Davis, Maury (Wills), Aaron Sele, Tim Wallach and Steve Garvey.  Those guys have some great stories for us.”

On His Goals for the Upcoming Season: “Win a minor league championship.” (Gordon was very serious when he said this – I loved the competitive fire inside his soft-spoken voice)

Pitcher Ethan Martin (Dodgers’ 2008 #1 Draft Pick)

On the Winter Development Program: “It’s great.  A great experience.  This is the second time I’ve been in LA and love the city.  It’s just great to be here around the older guys in the organization, but then you got McDonald, DeWitt and all of them that have been up here to  experience this, and it’s just great to see and learn from them.”

On Spending Time with the Dodger Legends: “That was amazing.  Just hanging out with them and hearing all of their stories.  It’s something you dream about.  When you’re growing up, you see all these stories and watch all of this stuff on TV about them, and then all of a sudden you’re eating dinner with them. That was just a shock to me.  Wow, you’re really meeting these guys and really eating with them.”

On the Person Who Has Made the Biggest Impression on Him: “I have to go back to Aaron Sele.  He’s one of our coaches, but just hanging out with him, he can relate to us.  He wasn’t there too long ago, so he knows how tough it is.  Other coaches are saying the same thing, and I do understand, but the way he talks to us…he just comes across so genuine and understanding.  I get a lot from him.”

On His Goals for the Upcoming Season: “Just to go out and try to stay healthy and get my innings in and compete in every single outing I have.  My main goal last year was to just compete and learn my mechanics.  I think I’ve got a hold of my mechanics…they’re not perfected, but I just want to go out and put out a strong outing every single time I walk out on the mound.”

Pitcher Kenly Jansen (Dodger pitcher converting from catcher)

On the Person Who Has Made the Biggest Impression on Him: “The one that made an impression on me always, and I always love and laugh a lot, is Tommy Lasorda.  Always telling great stories and what a great story he had.  I learn a lot from him, listening to what he says.”

On His Transition from Catcher to Pitcher: “It’s going pretty good.  I’m feeling comfortable and natural.  I keep working on it, but it seems like it’s going pretty good right now.  This year I have a lot of time to work on it and especially learn from all the pitchers that have a lot of experience, like JMac (James McDonald), Ramon Troncoso…Aaron Sele.  I’ve been learning a lot at how to work at pitches and how to get prepared as a pitcher.”

On His Goals for the Upcoming Season: “My goal is every time I go out there, just play hard, stay focused, make great pitches…and get better every day.”

Pitcher Jon Link (Reliever acquired from the Chicago White Sox in the Juan Pierre trade)

On the Winter Development Program: “I’m having a good time and enjoying myself out here.  Getting to know the guys and the facilities.  I think that’s big for guys that have a possibility of playing in Dodger Stadium in the near future.  To get to know the people, the facilities and your way around LA.  I think it’s real important, so that way when you get here, you can focus on playing baseball.”

On How Similar or Different the Winter Development Program is to What the White Sox Offer: “Way different.  The White Sox, to my knowledge, haven’t done anything like this.  I was only with them for a short period, two years.  This is one of the few teams that I know of that do it, and I think it’s a great opportunity for a lot of guys to come out and get to know everybody.”

On His Favorite Moment So Far: “Whenever you talk to Tommy, he’s a character and that’s a guy who knows baseball inside and out.  Things that he says you really hang on to. Because he’s such a great motivational speaker, and he knows how to motivate guys and teams, I think anything he says you really have to stick with.”

On Who Has Shown Him the Ropes in LA: “All of the guys welcome you with open arms.  However you get here, trade, free agent, Rule 5, obviously the Dodgers see you, they like you, they like what you can bring to the ball club.  And I think the Dodger organization as a whole realizes that all the way from the front office down to the players.  This organization is really committed to winning.  So anything, or anybody, that they can get in and help them win, they go after.  The guys have been great as far as welcoming us, the new guys, and showing us around.”

So Long Juan Pierre…Hello John Ely and Jon Link!

Juan-PierreAhhh…the departure of Juan Pierre.  Looking back, it’s still amazing to me how polarizing Juan (and his contract) were to Dodger fans everywhere.  It’s crazy to think how many arguments I got in with friends and fellow fans over his value to the team (will we ever forget Beast Mode?).  As noted previously on this site, I was (and still am) a huge Juan Pierre fan.  I loved his speed on the base paths, and whether in the clubhouse or in the dugout, Juan always had a smile on his face.

From the Dodgers’ press release:

“Juan always put the Dodgers first, even when it wasn’t in his personal best interest,” said Colletti. “In this day, that is a rare attribute. When he and I spoke at the end of the season, we agreed that if an opportunity presented itself in which his chance to play would be enhanced, we would pursue it and that’s what we’ve done. He deserved the chance to play more.”

During his three seasons with Los Angeles , Pierre batted .294 with a .339 on-base percentage and 134 stolen bases in 173 attempts. Last season, his 10th in the Majors, Pierre hit .308 (117-for-380) with a .365 on-base percentage in 145 games.

And as all Dodger fans will remember, Juan’s ability to not just fill in but excel when Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games was amazing.  What was even more amazing was how he returned silently to the bench when Ramirez returned to the lineup.  Still, it was time for Juan to go…he never would have been a legitimate starter for the Dodgers, and the fourth outfielder spot really should go to an up-and-comer like Jason Repko or Xavier Paul.

As for the trade itself, I thought Ned did a great job.  Not only did he save over $8 million over the next two years, but he aquired two righties: John Ely and John Link.  Ely is 23 and last year had a 14-2 with a 2.82 ERA in 27 starts with Double-A Birmingham.  He also led the Southern League in strikeouts (125) and was tied for the lead in victories…not bad!

The 25 year-old Link had 13 saves for Triple-A Charlotte  last year with a 3.99 ERA in 48 relief appearances.

Time will tell if these guys pan out (the Chicago mediaand bloggers are pretty dubious on this, given the White Sox inability to develop much in the way of pitching from their minor league system).  Still, Ned likes these guys and told “Mason & Ireland” on 710 ESPN that he’s received some calls from other teams asking about the pitchers.

Photo credit: Yahoo News