Dodgers rookies a mixed bag
DeWitt, Tronsoco seize opportunity; Young out of options
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers opened the season Monday with five rookies from four countries on their 25-man roster: Blake DeWitt, Hiroki Kuroda, Chin-lung Hu, Ramon Troncoso and Delwyn Young.Baseball's rookie rules technically classify Kuroda as a beginner eligible for Rookie of the Year honors, even though 10 seasons in Japan and a $35.3 million contract say he knows what he's doing. The Taiwanese Hu and native Californian Young are relatively familiar to Dodgers fans paying attention last September, when they had callups. Hu, 24, is a natural shortstop who this spring showed the versatility to fill in for Jeff Kent at second base and through physical maturity has become an adequate hitter. Young, 25, has been a gifted switch-hitting machine in the Minor Leagues looking for a defensive position, having been moved from second base to the outfield. He struggled offensively all spring, but made the club because he is out of options. But who are Blake DeWitt and Ramon Troncoso? When Spring Training opened less than two months ago, you had to be well versed in the Dodgers farm system to know much about DeWitt or Troncoso and psychic to predict these rookies would be on Monday's Opening Day roster. DeWitt, in fact, was in the Opening Day lineup at third base, although it took injuries to three other third basemen -- Nomar Garciaparra, Andy LaRoche and Tony Abreu -- to put him there. DeWitt is the fifth different starting third baseman for the Dodgers in as many seasons, following Adrian Beltre, Jose Valentin, Bill Mueller and Wilson Betemit at what has become a black-hole position. Unless he goes on a tear, DeWitt will be replaced when the injured incumbents heal. LaRoche will be out another month, Abreu another week and Garciaparra hasn't begun swinging a bat, and even when he does, will probably need a Minor League rehab assignment. "We're not asking [DeWitt] to carry us," said manager Joe Torre. "We're asking for nothing extraordinary. Just play and have fun. He hasn't tried to convince anybody of anything. He's very calm, or he's got me tricked if he's not." He's 22, a left-handed contact hitter with occasional power who showed a very reliable glove after he got the emergency callup from Minor League camp three weeks ago. "I came to camp not expecting anything and, obviously, not expecting to be here today," said DeWitt, who batted only .220 with three homers in 59 at-bats this spring. "I learned a lesson last year, when I came to camp wanting to make the Double-A team and I didn't play as well as I could and then I struggled after opening at Single-A. It was an important lesson about just going out and playing and not worrying about things I can't control. If I hadn't learned it last year, I probably would have approached this spring differently and put pressure on myself and probably wouldn't be here now." Troncoso is just as much a long shot. He's 25, a right-hander with a hard sinker who essentially won Rudy Seanez's middle relief role. He had a 2.79 spring ERA in nine games. While DeWitt was a touted first-round Draft pick in 2004, Troncoso is a product of the Dodgers' Dominican academy. He spent the first three years of his pro career learning to play the game with Dodgers academy teams on his native island. Neither has played a regular-season game above Double-A. DeWitt was a Missouri high school shortstop and in 2006 was moved to second base before returning to third last year, which he split between Class A and Double-A. Like DeWitt, Troncoso played at Inland Empire and Jacksonville last year and has been a reliever except for six starts in 2004. Troncoso is known for his hard sinker, which bullpen coach Ken Howell likens to the one Roger McDowell turned into a 12-year career. He said the more he pitches, the better he pitches. "I like to pitch relief because I like to pitch back-to-back," said Troncoso. "My sinker sinks better when I pitch a lot and I can keep my pitches down. I know this is a big jump, but I'm ready. The reason I'm here is that I pitched to the same hitters in Spring Training. I know I can do it."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.