De Jesus following father's footsteps
Dodgers prospect could crack Puerto Rican roster in '09 Classic
When the first World Baseball Classic was played in 2006, Ivan De Jesus Jr. was a teenager preparing for his first full pro season in the Dodgers system. The thought of representing Puerto Rico in the Classic wasn't anywhere in the '05 second-round pick's mind.
Three years later, the son of the 15-year Major Leaguer of the same name is in a different place. The 21-year-old is coming off his best year as a pro, as one of the youngest players in the Double-A Southern League he finished first in on-base percentage (.419) and fifth in batting average (.324) while being named to the All-Star Futures Game in the process.
"He's maturing as a young man," Dodgers farm director De Jon Watson said. "His skill set continues to grow. The way he's preparing himself to play seems to be a lot more consistent. Working with [hitting coach] Luis Salazar last year, he stayed focused and locked in. He was also healthy all year. He's a solid, well-rounded player."
In '08, it seemed like De Jesus handled everything the Dodgers threw at him. He maintained a very consistent approach at the plate all year, continued to play a solid defensive shortstop and even handled a move to second base -- it seemed like the Dodgers might have a need at that position in Los Angeles -- in stride.
"He's a consummate professional," Watson said. "He's worked at his craft. Making these strides puts him in a good position, if there's a need, he'll be knocking on the door in the next couple of years."
He used his "offseason" to try and crack that door open a little more. The first stop was the Arizona Fall League, where he got in 16 games and hit .254 (17-for-67) and was named to play in the Rising Stars Showcase. From there, he headed home to Puerto Rico to play some Winter ball. All he did there was finish 10th in the league with a .309 average over 139 at-bats to make the Puerto Rican Winter League postseason All-Star team. The Dodgers, obviously, were pleased with his accomplishments.
"We wanted to get him to the AFL and exposed to that level of competition, where you have a select group of players, the better young and coming players," Watson explained. "We wanted him to compete in that arena. He more than held his own, then went home to Puerto Rico and swung the bat even better there.
"It was a good challenge for him. His progression has been consistent. He's improved at every level, he turns it up and plays to that level, if not above that level."
The next stop could be a trip from Spring Training back home to play in Pool D of the World Baseball Classic in San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium. The Dodgers don't doubt De Jesus can handle the competition; they're just not 100 percent sure they want him to get the chance.
"It would be another challenge to reaffirm that he's capable of playing against players at the highest level, and it'll be good for him from that standpoint," Watson said. "The downside is our Major League staff won't get as good a look at him because he'll be taken away for those couple of weeks."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.