Under The Radar # 5- the Unsung Catche

Each season there are players who slide in under the radar. They're unnoticed at first but the manner in which they play gets attention. In this series, we're reviewing some who did just that in 2006. Today we'll look at catcher A. J. Ellis.

Ellis is a player who seems certain to spend most of his time in the bullpen warming up pitchers. As the season progresses, though, he gets more and more playing time for his managers learn to value his contributions.

It was that way in 2005 when he was supoosed tio be the backup for Edwin Bellorin at Vero Beach but wound up sharing duties, playing in 57 games. It was even more of the case in 2006 at Jacksonville.

The Dodgers had signed Brad Cresse as a free agent in the off-season and he was annointed the No.,1 catcher for Jacksonville. His play was okay enough but Ellis started to crowd in again. When Cresse broke a finger, A. J. took over and wound up getting in 81 games.

A. J. (whose given name is actually Andrew Thomas) was only an 18th-round choice out of Austin Peay College in Tennessee where he was All-Ohio Valley for all of his four years there. He managed to get hurt after playing only three games in his rookie year but made Vero Beach in 2004 as a reserve.

His playing time has increased each season as has his batting average. Not that he's the next Mike Piazza although he did have one memorable game this year when he slammed four doubles. So, he's not an easy out, either.

No, he seems to be about a .250 hitter which is exactly what he recorded this year. Put that with his ability to call and catch very capably, add a strong arm and you can see why he's getting that playing time.

He's been rewarded this year by an assignment to the Arizona Fall League. That doesn't mean he's likely to be placed on the 40- man roster although he may well get an invitation as a non-roster player next spring.

He's now 25 years old and although he's a big man at 6-3, 240 has managed only five home runs in his career, none of those coming in 2006.

He'll probably be sent to Las Vegas next spring- again in a backup capacity. But he's proved himself a valuable man to have around and someday, maybe, when there's a catching shortage at the big league level he might get a summons for he's efficient and capable, qualities that they're appreciating more and more as he makes a place for himself.

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