During the 2012 minor league season, a power-hitting third baseman emerged on the scene for the Dodgers – Christopher Jess Retherford, better known as “C.J.”
Born in Homestead, Florida, C.J. grew up in Chandler, Arizona and attended Hamilton High School. He later went on to Arizona State University where he helped the Sun Devils to a 5th place finish in the 2006 College World Series.
Retherford, a powerful right-handed hitting third baseman, was initially signed by the White Sox in 2007 as a non-drafted free agent and made it as high as Triple-A within the White Sox organization. In 2011, Retherford was traded to the Braves and then to the Tigers, where he played at the Double-A level with both teams. He was released by the Tigers in June of 2011 but was immediately signed by the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the Independent League.
If you see a pattern here, there definitely is one. In spite of doing exceptionally well in high school and college, C.J. went undrafted by the MLB and has had to fight his way at every level to make it into professional baseball. And though he had moments of greatness within the White Sox, Braves and Tigers organizations, he never really lit it up at the minor league level; but what he did do was exhibit incredible courage and intestinal fortitude and maintained a ‘never-give-up’ mentality that apparently caught the eye of a Dodger scout somewhere along the way, as C.J. was signed to a minor league contract by the Dodgers in December of 2011.
Retherford began the 2012 season with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the Dodgers Advanced Single-A affiliate. To say that C.J. did well with the Quakes would be a gross understatement; he did exceptionally well – well enough to make the Cal League All-Star team. In 74 games with the Quakes, Retherford hit .343, had an OBP of .395, and a SLG of .633. If this isn’t enough to turn your head, he also hit 20 home runs in 286 at-bats (that’s one every 14.3 ABs) and had an insane OPS of 1.028.
It didn’t take rocket science to figure that C.J. would be promoted to Double-A after the 2012 Cal League All-Star break, and he was. And as usually happens with such promotions, C.J. struggled a bit with the Lookouts, where he finished the season with a triple slash of .250 / .311 / .378 and hit only three home runs.
The point to all of this is that C.J. Retherford is a good baseball player; in fact, I would consider him a very good baseball player. However, C.J. turned 27 years old in August and any way you slice it, this is way too old to be playing at the Double-A level. Retherford is clearly at a crossroads of his professional baseball career – and he knows it.
Realizing that his future in the MLB might be in jeopardy, Retherford made the decision to go All-In and play winter ball in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he has done quite well with a triple slash of .291/.375/.468, with eight home runs and 33 RBIs. And while these are not blow-you-away numbers, he is among the leaders in nearly every offensive category on the Tiburones de La Guaira.
To their credit, the Dodgers are also very well aware of Retherford’s situation and that his MLB clock is ticking. On November 25, they signed C.J. to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league camp at spring training. But even at this, Retherford’s chances of making the Dodgers Opening Day roster are extremely remote; in fact, they are minuscule – but stranger things have happened in the wacky world of professional baseball. And make no mistake about it, Stan Kasten, De Jon Watson and Logan White are brilliant baseball men, and if Retherford has a great spring, you can bet that they will be showcasing him for a possible future trade. And even though C.J. will, in all likelihood, begin the 2013 season at Triple-A Albuquerque, the thought of him batting in Isotopes Park and its 5,300 foot elevation is mind-boggling.
And who knows, if C.J. Retherford has an outstanding spring training and continues to hit with the power that he did at Rancho Cucamonga with the Quakes, perhaps the 27-year-old will become the next Luis Cruz who, by the way, is exactly whose spot on the Opening Day roster he will be fighting for.