Debus May Have Converted Another Star

Jon Debus, the man credited with transforming Russell Martin from a run-of-the-mill third-base prospect into the best catcher in the National League, was weeks away from ending his long career as a Dodgers minor-league instructor when he had a fateful conversation with Lucas May in the fall of 2006.

May was a talented prospect without a position, who had just hit 18 home runs at low Single-A Columbus, He had moved from shortstop to the outfield the better to utilize his big bat. Now Debus, the organization's catching instructor, was proposing another position change.

Even minor league players were once the best in their city, county or state and many resist making a move to another position, let alone a third move to an even more defensive spot.

"He came to me and said they were going to look at some guys behind the plate, and they wanted to see how I would do," May told Tony Jackson of the Los Angeles Daily News. "I said good. When I made the decision, I wasn't going to go back there at half speed and see how it went. I was going to gather as much information as I could and put everything I had into it."

Debus couldn't stick around to see the result of the switch. He left that winter to become Terry Collins' bench coach with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan's Pacific League.

But after just one season behind the plate at high Single-A Inland Empire last summer, much of it under the careful tutelage of the Dodgers' new minor-league catching coordinator, Travis Barbary, May has suddenly become the Dodgers' best catching prospect since, well, Russell Martin.

"I'm working with Russ every day," said May, 23, who is in big-league spring training for the first time. "I watch how he does certain things, and I realize how big a star he really is. He is the type of guy who, if I aim to be like him, I'll be in a pretty good spot one day. I just don't know when that day will be."

The youngster is still a work in progress but will probably open the season at Jacksonville. On the Dodgers' 40-man roster for the first time -- a move to keep from losing him in the Rule V draft -- he will not be rushed.

The Quiet Man Speaks
Juan Pierre, perhaps the odd-man out in the Jones-Kemp-Ethier struggle for three outfield spots, was not talking when he showed up at spring training early.

But he opened up to Diamond Leung of the Riverside Press-Enterprise. Some of his quotes underline the fact that the veteran outfielder, criticized for his weak arm and low on-base percentage, is not a happy camper:

"I'm no dummy. This guy's (Andruw Jones) won Gold Gloves. I have no choice but to move and do the best job I can wherever I'm at."

"Some people value my game. Some people don't. Some people in LA like it. Some people don't. I know my game is not pretty. I'm not the guy all over SportsCenter."

"I'm not going to walk around here salty."

"I know I have to get on base a lot more. I had a disappointing season, and I take full responsibility. I have to improve offensively and defensively."

"If not (a starter), then I guess they might have to look at getting rid of me if they don't see me as an asset to the team. I don't know."

"It is what it is. I'm just trying to put it behind me, get past it and help the team win. And I'm all for winning."

Park's a Very Long Shot
Chan Ho Park, who won 80 games over six full seasons for the Dodgers 1996-2001, is in Dodgertown as a non-roster free agent.

Odds on earning a spot on the roster for any like invitee are pretty high and at age 35 are a long-shot better's dream.

But, unlike Pierre, Park is delighted just to be back where he was so successful after a number of years and stints in the minor leagues the last two, finishing with earned run average of 5.57 in AAA for the Mets and 6.21 in AAA for the Astros. With Texas he was 22-23 with a 5.79 ERA.

He told Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times that he knows how tough it will be to make the squad. He will pass on the of Olympic qualifying round in March to remain with the Dodgers, noting, "This could be my last chance in baseball." Asked if he might retire if he doesn't make the club, Park smiled and replied, "No comment."

Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said Park threw a side session and that his fastball was "fairly consistent" and changeup "pretty good," but that his breaking pitches required fine-tuning. "There's some life to the ball coming out of his hand that maybe we haven't seen in a couple of years," Honeycutt said.

"I know I can be better than I've been," said Park, who battled back problems in 2004 and required surgery in 2006 for an intestinal disorder. "I feel better and stronger and confident. I have fans in L.A. and Korea who believe I can come back. They are wishing and hoping to see me again, and I want to make those dreams come true."

Dodger Blue Notes-- New Japanese import Hiroki Kuroda surprised everyone when he displayed a cutter he rarely used in Japan. "I heard in the States a fastball with movement away is better to have over here," said Kuroda. "I don't think I've perfected the location, but I was satisfied with the movement." ...The Legend -- Sandy Koufax -- made one of his stealth visits to Dodgertown on Sunday, talking to Joe Torre, club officials and clubhouse attendance before disappearing back into the corn field, ala 'Field of Dreams.' ...The Jury (Joe Torre) is still out on Joe Beimel's long hair but there will be no verdict right away. "Right now, I just want to get to know the players a little bit," Torre said. "The last thing I want to do is tell them they have to do something differently just because I tell them to wear their glove or tie their shoe differently." ... The Dodgers are hoping to replace the logo across the front of their home jerseys with the words ThinkCure, in the same blue script, for their March 29 exhibition with Boston at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The club is awaiting approval from Major League Baseball. All proceeds from the game - as well as from the sale of those game-used jerseys afterward - will benefit ThinkCure, the Dodgers' in-house charity to benefit cancer research.

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