April 15, 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic after it struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City. And though 1,514 souls perished on that fateful and tragic night, it could have or even should have been 1,515. As it turned out, one extremely blessed young lady who encountered some unexpected travel delays during her trip from her native Hungary to Southampton with a Titanic ticket in hand was rather fortunate that the mighty ship had sailed without her. That young lady would later become the great grandmother of one Andrew James (A.J.) Ellis, the 2012 starting catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Needless to say, A.J. Ellis is extremely happy that his great grandmother had literally missed the boat.
Like his great grandmother, A.J. Ellis has encountered some unexpected travel delays of his own; traveling form the Minor Leagues to the Major Leagues. To say that A.J.’s road to the Majors has been a difficult one would be a gross understatement. Ellis, the Dodger’s 2003 18th round draft pick out of Tennessee’s Austin Peay University and who celebrated his 31st birthday on April 9th, has had to painfully watch Dodger General Manager Ned Colletti go outside of the Dodger organization and sign not one, not two, but three veteran (ok, old) free agent catchers just when it appeared as though he was finally going to get his shot at becoming the Dodger’s everyday catcher. Now this is certainly not to say that Brad Ausmus, Rod Barajas, and Dioner Navarro weren’t good catchers (ok, maybe not so much Navarro), but let’s be honest here, A.J. Ellis was every bit as good defensively than all of these guys (better, actually), and he does have some offensive power, albeit warning track power.
It was tough enough for Ellis to have to deal with these questionable Colletti signings, but to have it done when he was putting up some pretty good numbers at Triple-A Albuquerque during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and then he continued to put them up when he was eventually called up to replace the injured Russell Martin in 2010 and to replace the retiring Brad Ausmus in 2011, would make even the strongest willed man a little weak in the knees. Talk about trashing a guy’s confidence, Ned was destroying A.J.’s. Yet day in and day out, Ellis simply showed up where he was told to show up, did exactly what he was told to do (and then some), and built an outstanding relationship with EVERY Dodger pitcher, young and old; and he did all of this without so much as a groan (not audibly, at least). I can only imagine how many frequent flyer miles Ellis has earned from his countless trips between Albuquerque and Los Angeles.
Although A.J.’s 2012 Spring Training numbers weren’t exactly earth shattering, they weren’t bad either. In 21 games he went 13 for 45 (.289) with four doubles, one home run, and 4 RBIs. But what was earth shattering, or at least an attention getter, was that he drew ten walks and had a very impressive .421 on-base percentage this past spring; two things that he has done consistently throughout his professional career. That said, if I had to pick one thing that I would like to see A.J. change, it would be for him to not take as many good (usually the best) pitches. In nearly every A.J. Ellis at bat, he almost always takes two strikes and usually on the first two pitches when the pitcher is trying to get ahead in the count and, as I noted, usually the best two pitches that he is going to see during that at bat. Granted, it is difficult to be critical of the guy who clearly has the best eye on the team, but in my opinion, A.J. would probably become a bit more of a potential power threat if he were to swing at one (or both) of these pitches. Here again, it is very difficult to be critical of Ellis when he leads the team (or is near the top) in walks and OBP, but it is something to at least think about.
The chances of A.J. Ellis ever becoming the next Mike Piazza, Mike Scioscia, Steve Yeager, John Roseboro, or Roy Campanella are extremely unlikely, however there is little doubt in my mind that he will be a very effective and solid backstop and will call a good game. He enters the 2012 season having thrown out 27% of runners attempting to steal, but this number might be a little skewed with Ted Lilly being in the Dodger rotation.
When all is said and done, A.J. Ellis will probably finish the season with an average somewhere in the .265 range with possibly 6 or 7 home runs and perhaps as many as 50 RBIs. His keen eye will probably earn him quite a few walks and his OBP will probably remain in the .360 range, which is quite respectable. Unfortunately, having a good OBP when you are the number 8 hitter in the line-up in the National league doesn’t always help your team very much and is something that Dodger manager Don Mattingly is going to have to address at some point during the 2012 campaign. Getting on base a lot with the pitcher coming up next doesn’t always translate into a lot of runs scored.
Through it all, A.J. Ellis has kept everything in perspective and has maintained a great attitude, and though it doesn’t surface very often, he also has a great sense of humor. After learning of Matt Kemp’s lofty prediction of being the first player in MLB history to go 50-50 (home runs and stolen bases) in 2012, A.J. Ellis went out on a limb and made his own prediction for the 2012 season – “I’m going to join the 3-3 club this year.”
How can you not love this guy?