Shuffle Starts in Instructional League

Call it the Andy LaRoche syndrome. Even though Willie Aybar currently is occupying third base in L.A. and playing it quite well, the firm notion among most is that LaRoche will ultimately assume control there, perhaps as early as next season. Since it is a position in the minors where the Dodgers feel blessed with a number of quite good prospects, they've begun moving some of those off to other spots.

It began last spring with Jamie Hoffmann, who's now a center fielder. During the season Eduardo Perez began doing turns at first base and that's where he's been stationed on a daily basis in the Instructional camp. Now, it's Blake DeWitt's turn to try something else for Instructional games find him at second base.

DeWitt is one of the more highly regarded young players around. A first-round draft choice in 2004, he had a strong season at Columbus, batting .283 with 11 home runs. He hit even better when pulled up to Vero Beach at the end (.419) and his total of 34 doubles was the organization's best. His lefthanded swing is pure, projecting to even better results down the road.

But at third LaRoche is ahead of him -- and just about everybody else for that matter -- so they're currently trying to see if second could be a better fit for DeWitt. It's perfectly all right with him. "It gives me something else to get me up there," is the way he views it.

So far, the experiment seems to be taking. "He's looking pretty good," says Dave Anderson, organizational infield instructor who's been tutoring him in the camp at Dodgertown. "He's making all the plays. He looks okay on the double play."

Turning the double play is often the hardest part of the job for new men to master but that's not the case for Blake. "Positioning is the toughest. I'm not always sure of where I'm supposed to be, like on cutoff plays."

The 20-year-old from Missouri is regarded as a fast learner so it's not surprising that he's coming along nicely at a position that he's never played before. "No, not even in high school," he allows. There he was a shortstop but doesn't have the ideal range for that slot as a pro. At third, he tended to be error prone although he played flawlessly in the field after his promotion.

Second base, it should be pointed out, does not present a clear path to The Show, either. Tony Abreu ranks highly in future plans while Travis Denker brings undeniable pop to the game. Still, DeWitt is a player whose prowess at the plate is extremely promising so to have another spot he can play seems very much in order.