De Jesus' injury has ripple effect on LA
Infielder likely out for year; DeWitt sees more work at short
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Dodgers Minor League infielder Ivan De Jesus Jr. underwent surgery Tuesday to repair the broken left leg he suffered in a home-plate collision in Monday's "B" game. He's expected to miss the entire season.
De Jesus, the club's Minor League Position Player of the Year last season, had a rod inserted in his broken tibia by the club's Arizona-based surgeon, Dr. Brian Shafer, at Scottsdale Health Care Hospital. He will be in a boot and on crutches for six weeks and will require a four-month rehabilitation.
The 21-year-old De Jesus, a second-round Draft pick in 2005, had been known primarily as a defensive player until his breakout offensive season last year at Double-A Jacksonville, where he hit .324, scored 91 runs and finished the season with a 23-game hitting streak.
Although De Jesus was likely to start the season at Triple-A, his loss has made the conversion to shortstop for Blake DeWitt more intriguing, as well as caused a ripple effect on the club's flexibility to make trades.
Until the injury, the Dodgers seemed to have a surplus of middle infielders after the signings of free agents Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake and Orlando Hudson. Blake has been slowed by a strained groin, although he said he's ready to return and manager Joe Torre said it would happen by the weekend.
De Jesus -- the son of a former Dodger who was rated the club's best infield prospect and sixth overall in the organization according to Baseball America -- was being worked mostly at shortstop, even though it meant giving Chin-lung Hu more time at second base.
In addition, the signing of Hudson turned DeWitt -- the assumed replacement for retired second baseman Jeff Kent -- into a utilityman.
Already with Major League experience at third base and second base, DeWitt is being worked this spring extensively at shortstop, where on Tuesday he started for the second time in the last three games, slugging a home run and double. He also bobbled a double-play grounder and settled for an out at first base.
Last spring, DeWitt played his way from Minor League camp onto the Opening Day lineup. Having already shown he can play in the Major Leagues, DeWitt is demonstrating his versatility while management ponders whether he'll get enough at-bats as a Major League reserve to continue his advancement, rather than play every day at Triple-A.
"Off of last year, you want him to make this club," said Torre. "It will take a lot of conversation. We all know the plusses. He's really a player.
"We don't want to retard his progression. We're not concerned with his ability to do the job, but we have to evaluate his development, whether that would make it that much longer for him to get here if he doesn't get enough at-bats. Playing three positions gives him more opportunities."
DeWitt was a shortstop in high school, but was moved to third base as soon as he signed.
"At the time, I wasn't as quick reading the ball off the bat," said DeWitt. "The last couple years, I'm not saying I'm faster, but I'm getting better reads on balls and hops and understanding what's involved with each position. You can even have so-so hands, but if your feet move well, it can make your hands above average."
Working DeWitt at short also can be interpreted as another sign in the continual frustration over Tony Abreu, who was back on the field Tuesday after missing several days with a tight groin muscle. Abreu, with an ideal skill set to handle third base and the middle-infield spots, has battled trunk injuries for most of the previous two seasons, undergoing surgeries for a sports hernia and torn hip labrum. Torre said he was hopeful Abreu would return to games in a few days.
At this point, in addition to the starting infield of Blake, Furcal, Hudson and James Loney, the primary utility infielder assured of a job is Mark Loretta. The club is also likely to carry a pure shortstop -- Hu and non-roster veteran Juan Castro the most likely candidates -- unless DeWitt shows he can handle to demands.
New in camp is Doug Mientkiewicz, although the non-roster veteran would be considered a corner infielder. Also in that mix are Hector Luna and Luis Maza.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.