De Jesus out to overcome injury setback
Dodgers infield prospect recovered from grim leg fracture
LOS ANGELES -- The limp is virtually gone, and now the only visible evidence of what happened is a lump on his left shin the size of half a golf ball.
But Ivan De Jesus Jr. remembers what that lower tibia looked like on the inside via X-ray.
"It looked like a chicken bone, broken in half, all jagged," De Jesus said. "I try not to remember, but it will be in my mind my whole life."
De Jesus is on the comeback trail this Spring. The 22-year-old infielder suffered a bad fracture with a twisted step at the plate trying to score from second base during a "B" game against the Milwaukee Brewers last spring. He was carted off the field, taken to a local hospital and soon underwent surgery. Dr. Brian Shafer of the Scottsdale Health Care Hospital inserted a permanent stabilizing rod through the leg from the knee to the ankle.
When De Jesus participated in the Dodgers' Rookie Developmental Camp in January, he pulled up his pant leg to reveal the pain-free callus, a calcification that will never fully go away and is prominent because of the lack of soft tissue over the shin.
De Jesus estimated at the time that he was 95 percent healed, but still lacked fluidity while running the bases. Assistant general manager De Jon Watson, however, said the slight limp DeJesus had has improved significantly in the past month.
The son of Ivan De Jesus Sr., a former Dodger and 15-year Major League veteran, De Jesus Jr. was rated the club's best infield prospect and sixth overall in the organization last year by Baseball America. He came to camp with an outside chance of making the club as a backup and was being worked mostly at shortstop, even though it meant giving Chin-lung Hu more time at second base.
A second-round Draft pick in 2005 as compensation for departed free agent Adrian Beltre, De Jesus had been known primarily as a defensive player until his breakout offensive season in 2008 at Double-A Jacksonville, where he hit .324, scored 91 runs, finished the season with a 23-game hitting streak and was the organization's Minor League Player of the Year.
But training camp was barely three weeks old when De Jesus was injured. He said he remembered reaching for the plate and being brushed by Brewers catcher Carlos Corporan as he landed awkwardly.
"When it happened, I didn't feel anything," said DeJesus. "But when I was laying on the ground, I was crying inside. I knew something happened. When the doctor said I needed surgery, I started crying. That was my first reaction because I knew it was going to be a big year for me."
After the surgery, De Jesus predicted he would return by the All-Star break. It was wishful thinking, as it turned out.
"Instead, I didn't get back until the last week of August," De Jesus said. "I tried to come back quick, but my body wasn't ready. I still had leg pain. I played four games in Arizona [Rookie League], but had to stop. I played 12 games of winter ball and then shut it down because it bothered me a little. My movement wasn't normal, and they play on turf over there."
The Dodgers just want to see De Jesus get through this season at Triple-A in one piece, although he said the goal remains a spot on the roster.
"From my point of view, from December to now, I'd say there's a lot of change," De Jesus said. "I'm stronger mentally. The injury helped me a lot mentally. I'm more prepared. I need to show I'm healthy right now and ready to go. I'll be ready to fight for a job. I want it. Last year sitting around, I'll come back hungry. Playing in the big leagues is what I want to do."
De Jesus' recovery included a short stint in the Puerto Rican Winter League. In his second game back, he walked to the plate and the catcher said he was glad to see him back on the field.
The catcher? Corporan.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.