Defense has been a strong point for Midland Rockhounds infielder Tyler Ladendorf ever since he joined the Oakland A's organization. He takes pride in his ability to cover his position well. A natural shortstop, Ladendorf has seen significant time at several positions during his career, including short, second, third and centerfield, and he has excelled defensively at all of them. In fact, Ladendorf was rated the best defensive infielder in Oakland's minor league organization by Baseball America for the second consecutive season in 2012.
Ladendorf does not focus on the accolade too much but admits defense is an important part of being a complete baseball prospect.
"Being able to field your position is something people look at so I work on it everyday and try to continue to improve in that area," he said. "It's only one part of the game though. I still have plenty of offensive areas to improve upon too."
Ladendorf is no stranger to the Rockhounds. He was a member of the team for a full season in 2011 (125 games) and he hit .225, scored 55 runs, whacked 26 extra-base hits including six home runs and drove in 35 RBI. His on-base percentage was .308. Ladendorf slugged .319 and his OPS was 627. The Park Ridge, Ill. native was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento for the Pacific Coast League's last four games and also played for the River Cats during the PCL playoffs. He went four for 23 (.174) with five walks, five runs and two RBI.
This year Ladendorf has brought up his batting average while already surpassing his RBI total from 2011 and is only one home run away from last season's mark. Through Tuesday, the 24-year-old was hitting .251 in 283 at-bats with 40 runs scored, 15 doubles, one triple, five homers and 37 RBI. He had walked 30 times and also raised his OBP (.331), slugging percentage (.364) and OPS (695) since 2011.
Despite an improvement in many offensive categories, Ladendorf has been stuck in a slump since the All-Star break. At the break, Ladendorf had a line of .288/.373/.429. Since then, he has hit .174/.240/.228 in 22 games. A big problem has been strikeouts. He has recorded nearly one per game (18) during this span compared to just six walks. Another area in which Ladendorf has struggled has been against right-handed pitchers. The right-handed hitter has scalded left-handed pitching to the tune of a .358/.430/.627 line, but he was batting only .218/.299/.282 versus right-handers.
The up-and-down nature of his offensive performance has been frustrating for Ladendorf.
"I've been kinda disappointed with myself this season," he said. "I haven't been consistent and haven't got on base as much as I'd hoped for. If you look at my overall statistics there up from last season; however, I'm still not quite where I'd like to be. The good thing is I am improving which is exactly what you want to see."
Ladendorf suffered a minor heel injury early in the season that placed him on the 7-Day disabled list but said he has fully recovered.
"The heel was just a minor thing," he said. "It's fine now. It feels 100%. It isn't hampering my performance."
Since high school, scouts have been intrigued by Ladendorf's athleticism. He was selected by the New York Yankees in the 34th round of the June draft in 2006 out of Maine West High School in Des Plaines, Ill but did not sign.
Instead, he attended Howard County Junior College in Big Spring, Texas, located not far from Midland. Ladendorf played two seasons (2007-08) at the school known for its national JC dominance.
After his freshman year, the infielder was again selected in the 34th round of the June draft, this time by the San Francisco Giants. Ladendorf declined the offer and enjoyed one more successful year at Howard County.
Following his '08 campaign with the Hawks, Ladendorf was named a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American. In just 53 games, he hit .542 with 16 home runs, 83 RBI, 29 doubles, five triples and 31 stolen bases (in 32 attempts).
That stellar display of baseball caught the eye of the Minnesota Twins and the University of Oklahoma. The Twins drafted Ladendorf in the second round of the 2008 draft. He signed with them and turned down a scholarship offer from OU.
Ladendorf knew that was the right time to join a Major League organization even though the Sooners were also calling his name.
"I had already played two years at Howard College," he said. "Oklahoma is a great school but when the Twins drafted me in the second round I felt like it was time to move on to the next stage. I had to take advantage of that opportunity.
"When I was drafted out of high school and in 2007 I knew I wasn't ready yet. I wanted to create a better opportunity for myself by playing a few more seasons."
After spending one year in the lower levels of the Twins' minor league system, Ladendorf was acquired by Oakland from Minnesota for major league shortstop Orlando Cabrera on July 31, 2009. Since the trade, Ladendorf has been making his way slowly up the ranks of the A's system. He finished the 2009 season with Low-A Kane County, playing in front of friends and family in the Chicagoland area. In 2010, he was promoted to High-A Stockton and even spent some time with Sacramento, as the A's development staff turned to Ladendorf and his trustworthy glove when they were thin in the middle infield at the Triple-A level.
If Ladendorf is promoted to Triple-A at the end of this season, it will mark the third consecutive year that he has spent time on the River Cats' roster without spending the majority of the season with Sacramento. If he can finish the 2012 season showing continued improvement at the plate, Ladendorf will position himself for an opportunity to spend a majority of the 2013 campaign at Triple-A.