De Jesus working hard to prove he belongs

De Jesus working hard to prove he belongs

De Jesus working hard to prove he belongs
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Ivan De Jesus Jr. has had it with rehabs.

In 2009, he spent the entire season rehabilitating a left leg broken in a Spring Training "B" game.

In 2010, he had to rehabilitate his game.

This spring, he had to rehabilitate his reputation after being passed over for a September callup while seemingly in the organization doghouse.

With less than two weeks before Opening Day, De Jesus not only is hopeful he's moved beyond the rehabs, but he's still in the running for an Opening Day roster spot.

He knows it won't be easy making that final cut, especially after manager Don Mattingly said this week that he'd rather De Jesus play every day in the Minor Leagues than sit on the bench in Los Angeles.

But Mattingly didn't rule out De Jesus, who is competing with veterans Aaron Miles and Juan Castro and speedster Eugenio Velez for an extra middle-infielder spot.

2010 Spring Training - null
Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info

"He's always been part of the equation," Mattingly said. "I saw a lot of Ivan in the Arizona Fall League. He's always been part of the mix. He's getting his legs back. The injury put him back. It seemed to cost him a second year, he didn't have the same hop in his step, but it looks like he's got it back. I look at it as, you don't want to see him sitting and not playing hardly at all."

De Jesus -- the 23-year-old son of a 15-season Major Leaguer who played for the Dodgers and now coaches for the Cubs -- offers a dissenting opinion.

"They say it's a negative if I'm in the big leagues and don't play, but I just want to be there," he said. "I know I'm a young guy and they want me to play. I know the situation right now. It's not impossible, but it will be hard for me to play every day with the infield they've got. I don't mind being a utility [player]. I've shown I can do that."

He said his father has helped him deal with disappointment.

"I talk to my dad a lot and we talk some about baseball, but also about other things, like what I need to do to improve," said the junior De Jesus. "He just says take care of yourself and show them you can play every day and be ready to play every day."

After breaking his left leg above the ankle in a plate mishap during Spring Training of 2009 and missing the entire season, De Jesus rebounded with an uneven 2010 at Triple-A Albuquerque, where he hit .296 with 70 RBIs and 89 runs scored, but lacked the first-step quickness needed for a middle infielder. There also were whispers that his on-the-field approach lacked the intensity expected from a prospect with Major League bloodlines, and that was the reason that Chin-lung Hu, and not De Jesus, was promoted in September.

"He seems to be moving better," said Tim Wallach, De Jesus' Triple-A manager last year and third-base coach this year. "I think he realizes he's got a chance to be part of this. He saw things he needed to work on. It seems to me he has. He's come in with pretty much getting after it and showing people what he can do.

Big league bloodlines are usually an asset to a prospect, but sometimes they spawn a feeling of entitlement. De Jesus said he was counseled by his father after last season on how to change the team's perception of him as a player.

"No doubt about it, there's a right way and a wrong way to be a professional," said Wallach, who has two sons that are pro players, one in the Dodgers' system. "I tell my kids about that. I think it's great that he talked to his dad about it. That tells me he's aware that some things need to get better. That's a first step. Once you're aware there are things you need to fix, it's easier to fix it. Personally, I never had a problem with him. It's not that he's a bad kid. He was very respectful to me.

"I don't know what it's like to miss a full year, mentally or physically. I never had to come back and regroup. It's almost like starting over as bad as that injury was. One thing for sure, he can swing the bat, no doubt about that. And I'm not so sure he can't play third."

De Jesus was drafted as a shortstop in the second round, but he's now projected as a second baseman. He believes that playing for Mattingly in the AFL gave him a clean slate to make a new first impression.

"It was a great opportunity for me to see Donnie. He had never seen me play, he only saw me a couple days in the dugout. It was fun playing for him and now fighting for a job on the 25-man roster. He knows the type of person I am. I'm trying to impress him every day.

"Last year, how it ended with all the reports and stuff, playing with Donnie and getting the chance to show him all the things they say were incorrect. It was a chance to change that perception of me. I can't control the decisions they make, but I can control what I do on the field, and play good baseball. I believe in me, I believe in God. I believe I'll have a long career in the big leagues and I hope it starts this year Opening Day."

As Wallach suspected, De Jesus concedes that coming back from the injury jarred his confidence.

"The first third of a season, I was frustrated. I wasn't doing things I know how to do, it just wasn't clicking. I worried a lot early. What's wrong? Where is the Ivan I know? I knew I could come back, but I thought it would happen quicker. But I kept working hard and it finally came back. Now I'm 100 percent."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.