A.J. Ellis Shows His Catching Talents

While all-star catcher Russell Martin played for the Canadian team in the World Baseball Classic, the coaching staff had time to check out the catchers left at Camelback Ranch. Veterans Brad Ausmus (38) and Danny Ardoin (34) handled much of the work earlier, then rookie A.J. Ellis got a couple of starts of his own after a few games and his performance made a solid impression on the staff.

Ellis had played in four games late in the 2008 season, recording three official at bats and scoring a run. He had been in the Dodgers organization since he was selected in the 2003 draft and had been labeled the best fielding catcher by Baseball in 2007.

But mostly he had flown well under the radar, Then he had a break-out season at Las Vegas in 2008. He was selected a mid-season PCL all-star and finished the season with a .321 average, 17 doubles, four home runs, 59 runs batted in and a franchise-leading .436 on-base percentage. He hit .345 with runners in scoring position.

He didn't expect too much when spring training rolled around, but since he was on the 40-man roster, he came to camp with the big club for the first time and to his surprise saw more action in Cactus League games than he ever expected.

He got his first start against Seattle on March 7 and opened some eyes in the second inning by throwing out Wladimir Balentien and Mike Morse back-to-back trying to steal second.

He also was in the middle of a crucial 1-2-3 in the sixth inning to get Guillermo Mota out of a jam. To add icing on the cake, his two-out single in the bottom of the inning drove in a run and he then successfully started a double steal, breaking from first base to draw the throw and allow Jamie Hoffmann to score from third.

After the game, Ellis told Tony Jackson of the Los Angeles Daily News that he felt a lot more comfortable than during earlier springs.

"Absolutely," Ellis told Jackson. "It's more of a feeling like you belong, as opposed to before, when I kind of felt like I was just here to help catch bullpens."

Drafted as a college senior out of Austin Peay in 2003 after posting a career .351 average and a .443 on-base percentage.

He got off to a slow start that summer, breaking his hand after three games at South Georgia and missing the rest of the 2003 season. He played catchup in 2004, hitting just .219 at Class-A Vero Beach with two home runs.

He hit .256 in Vero in 2005 and .250 at Jacksonville in 2006 and even though he had recorded exceptional on-base percentages at each level they didn't seem to impress anyone.

Ellis had been strictly a backup man, 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. 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 all took off for me."

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.

That .346 average indicated to the front office that he was worth watching a bit more closely, and it was an important moment in his career.

"That was when I felt like I had turned my career around," he said to Jackson. "I just had a really good fall, both offensively and defensively. That was when it kind of dawned on me that I could play in the big leagues. Before that, I had the attitude that I was just going to play baseball and see what happened.

"The biggest person I had to prove something to was myself."

At age 27 in 2007, he will be 28 next month, he had been passed by power-hitting prospect Lucas May but May struggled at Jacksonville and at the end of the season it was Ellis, not May, who got the promotion to Los Angeles.

He's hitting .333 at about the 1/3 mark of spring training and even with Martin's return the young man will probably continue to see some action and that will continue to boost his confidence. He could certainly end up in Los Angeles again sometime during the summer.

A.J. Ellis
6-3  240  BR  TR
Born- April 8, 1981
Obtained- Selected in 18th round of 2003 draft

year  team   ave   obp   ops  gm  ab    r   h  2b 3b hr  bi  sb
2003  SGor  .000  .000  .000   3   6    0   0   0  0  0   0   0
2004  VBch  .219  .355  .662  40  114  15  25   4  0  2  22  1
2005  VBch  .256  .356  .708  57  176  27  45   8  0  3  22  1
2006  Jax   .250  .383  .667  81  252  34  63   9  1  0  21  2
2007  Jax   .269  .382  .791 109  357  59  96  22  2  8  57  1
2008  LVeg  .321  .436  .892  84  274  44  88  17  4  4  59  0
      L.A.  .000  .000  .000   4    3   0   0   0  0  0   0  0
 Min totals  .269 .387 .762 374 1179 317 60  7  17  181  5
 MLB totals  .000 .000 .000   4    3   0  0  0   0    0  0  

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