Van Slyke getting with the program

Van Slyke getting with the program

Van Slyke getting with the program
LOS ANGELES -- When Scott Van Slyke put together a 2011 season at Double-A worthy of being named the Dodgers Minor League Position Player of the Year after seven years as a professional, some figured it was about time.

The nice way to put it is to call Van Slyke, 25, a late bloomer. The son of former three-time All-Star Andy Van Slyke is a little more direct.

"I didn't take baseball seriously enough," said Van Slyke. "In high school, I didn't hit extra after practice. I went to a private school [John Burroughs College Prep in St. Louis]. I was seeing 75 [mph] on a daily basis. I signed, went to the Gulf Coast League and the first pitch I see is 95. I stepped out of the box and said to myself, 'I've got no chance.' It took me a while."

It took more than one pitch, for sure. Van Slyke said there was a lot he didn't get after bypassing a scholarship to Ole Miss and signing with the Dodgers as a 14th-round Draft pick. Most of it was mental, quite a hurdle to clear for someone who went to a private school known for high achievers, whose older brother is, in Van Slyke's words, "a genius." Van Slyke pretty much let his natural ability carry him, until he realized that wasn't enough.

"My first three or four years, my Dad tried to help me, but I was a little stubborn and didn't listen to him," said Scott. "I had always been a success in high school and thought I knew what I was doing. I listen to him more lately."

Scott said the realization began in 2008, when he flunked out of Class A and was sent back to the Dodgertown complex for some remedial Baseball 101 with instructor Gene Clines.

"It was what I needed," he said. "I came into that year thinking it was going to be a great year and it didn't happen. It was definitely a wakeup call."

Van Slyke broke through in 2009 under the tutelage of hitting instructor Franklin Stubbs, overcoming an 0-for-25 start to hit .294 with 23 homers and 100 RBIs, mostly playing at Class A Inland Empire. Promoted to Double-A in '10, he stumbled again until reuniting with Stubbs after a demotion to Class A.

"I guess I didn't realize how hard it was to maintain my swing," said Van Slyke. "The last couple of years, I've gotten into a routing, I work better in batting practice. Early on, I just went up and swung and played the game. Getting with Stubbs, I realize how important it is to have a game plan. He just gets my swing and can communicate with me. Next year, I need to be able to change on my own and not rely on a hitting coach. That's one of my goals."

Of course, his primary goal is to finally reach the big leagues, and he said he definitely believes he's on the verge. One of the strongest supporting arguments for that belief is his inclusion as one of 15 invitees to this month's Player Development minicamp. Six invitees from last year's minicamp reached the Major Leagues in 2011.

"It's a big honor and a big commitment from the club, and I think what they're saying is, 'You really have a chance to get to Los Angeles, and we want you to work hard and be ready,'" he said. "It's encouraging to see guys like Dee Gordon and Josh Lindblom getting chances and knowing the year before I was playing with them and having success. It gives you a lot of confidence knowing that the work pays off."

Andy Van Slyke was 6-foot-1, 190 pounds and a left-handed hitter, mostly a center fielder by trade who was known more for stolen bases and runs scored than home runs. Scott is 6-foot-5, 220 pounds and a right-handed hitter, primarily a corner outfielder who played 65 games at first base last year at Double-A Chattanooga, where he hit .348 with 20 homers and 92 RBIs to earn Player of the Year honors.

His use in both the outfield and first base is a clear sign that Van Slyke can emerge as a replacement for corner outfielders Andre Ethier and Juan Rivera or first baseman James Loney.

"I definitely do feel I'm ready," he said. "I just need to show them in the spring and that if they need somebody, I'm ready and capable of doing things to help."

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