Dodgers give Russell Mitchell a chance
SAN DIEGO -- Of the two Los Angeles Dodgers' players who spent their first day in the major leagues Monday, one of them immediately became the feel-good story of the season, John Lindsey having toiled away in the minors for 16 years before finally getting an opportunity that might not last more than the four weeks that are left in the season.
The other one, the one who might actually have a long-term future in the organization, got almost no attention whatsoever.
Infielder Russell Mitchell, the Dodgers' 15th-round draft pick in 2003, has been beating the bushes for quite a while himself -- eight years, to be exact. But it wasn't until this season, his first at the Triple-A level, that he played his way into a prominent place on the organizational radar and possibly into position to earn a spot on the Dodgers' Opening Day roster next spring.
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Mitchell, 25, had a monster season for Albuquerque, hitting .315 with 38 doubles, 23 homers and 87 RBIs, and posted a .363 on-base percentage. He also was named to the all-Pacific Coast League team and was voted by his teammates as the Isotopes' Most Valuable Player.
This from a guy who entered the season with a career batting average of .257.
Mitchell gave much of the credit to Albuquerque hitting coach John Moses.
"Johnny Mo taught me to relax," Mitchell said. "He was great. I had a game plan, I learned the pitchers, and I tried to stay within myself and hit the ball where it was pitched. It worked out for me. I had always been really aggressive and a pull hitter, but now I'm trying to stay up the middle."
Mitchell said he also started watching a lot more film of opposing pitchers.
"I looked at things like my previous at-bats against a pitcher, just to have some idea of how he was going to pitch to me," Mitchell said. "That helped a lot."
Mitchell probably can't count on a lot of playing time for the rest of the season -- at least not until the Dodgers are officially eliminated from playoff contention -- but what little time he does get will essentially be a head start on spring training, when he should be in position to compete for a spot, possibly as a utility man. A corner infielder who primarily plays third base, Mitchell began playing left and right field during the past month just to increase his versatility.
"I think it's an advantage when you can bring somebody up here and have them rub elbows with these guys," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "Spring training is one thing, but you're dealing with 60 players down there. Coming up in September, you have the opportunity to get a little more of a feel."
What could complicate matters for Mitchell next spring is that he has been in the Dodgers' system so long he will be eligible for six-year free agency if he isn't on the 40-man roster, which he is for the moment. But he wasn't on it until the Dodgers officially purchased his contract Monday, so keeping him there through the winter might not be a slam dunk. But he has clearly moved into valued-prospect status, so the Dodgers probably will find a way.
Martin moved to 60-day DL
Catcher Russell Martin, who is out for the season because of a torn labrum in his right hip, was transferred from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day to clear a 40-man roster spot. The Dodgers had only 39 players but needed to clear a second spot to add both Lindsey and Mitchell. Infielder Chin-lung Hu and pitchers John Ely and Jon Link, all of whom were recalled from Albuquerque on Monday, already were on the 40-man roster.
Oeltjen could be called up
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The Dodgers are expected to purchase the contract of outfielder Trent Oeltjen from Albuquerque on Tuesday, a move that will require them to clear yet another 40-man spot.
Oeltjen, 27, is from Australia and became an instant sensation when he made his big league debut with the Arizona Diamondbacks last August, batting .500 (12 for 24) with three home runs in his first five games. He cooled off after that, though, and wound up hitting .243 in 24 games for the Diamondbacks.
Oeltjen signed with the Milwaukee Brewers last winter and played for their Triple-A Nashville affiliate before being released on July 2 and signed four days later by the Dodgers. He hit .347 with a .416 OBP in 49 games for the Isotopes.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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