The Catching Competition Is Fierce

VERO BEACH, Fla- Catcher A. J. Ellis began the spring in the major league camp as a non-roster invitee. That was a reward for a solid 2006 but realistically he wasn't going to get any chance to make the team and he knew it.

So, he spent some time living the life of a big leaguer, got into some exhibition games, warmed up a lot of pitchers, then came back to earth when he was shipped over to the minor league side.

Ellis was one of the more pleasant surprises of last season. He'd been strictly a backup man until then, regarded as very competent on defense, not so much with a bat. He started the year at Jacksonville as a sub behind Brad Cresse but when Cresse got hurt, moved into an everyday role. He did well enough that when Brad came back, they shared duties.

A. J. (that's for Andrew James) wound up playing in 81 games, his most-ever as a pro. He managed only a .250 mark but was sent to the Arizona Fall League. There, as he explains, "I got to work a lot with (organizational batting instructor) Bill Robinson. We changed some things with the way I hit (His hands and plate positions among them) and it took off."

It certainly did for he hit .346 there against some very good pitching. But then A. J. always felt he was a better hitter than he has shown previously. After all, he was all-conference four years running at Austin Peay where he still holds the school record for the most hits and compiled a .351 mark for his collegiate career.

Currently he's fighting for a job at Las Vegas, which in the general order of things, should be where he is next posted. However, there's more than a little competition around to make that not at all a sure thing.

For one thing, Ken Huckaby was also dispatched from the big league camp as well and Huck's a guy with a lot of time in, who's been told he's the emergency catcher in case something happens to either Russell Martin or Mike Lieberthal, who'll be 1-2 on the Dodgers this year.

There's more, too, in the presence of a couple of
other free agent signings who are currently trying to make it to Las Vegas. That's Alberto Concepcion and Octavio Martinez.

Conception is a former USC standout who was getting no place in the Red Sox chain so opted out to sign with his hometown Dodgers. He played at Portland in the Eastern League last season where he hit just .227.

Martinez was once one of the Orioles prime prospects and is regarded as an excellent receiver. However, recurrent shoulder problems have blighted his career and he's never been able to catch a full season. Last year he was in the Pirates' system, hitting.254 at Altoona, another Eastern League team.

What's more, there's still two big league veterans in the Dodger camp that have yet to be assigned, Kelly Stinnett and Sandy Martinez.

All this means the battle for the two jobs that normally are available at Vegas is getting rather intense. Probably, Huckaby gets one and the others will be duking it out for the lone place remaining. Which could mean it's back to Jacksonville for A. J.

If that could mean a regular's spot, he'll gladly take it. He impressed some people last year and if Robinson's hitting lessons hold, he could do even more this time around.

LA Dodgers Insider Top Stories