The Dodgers invited A.J. Ellis and Gabriel Gutierrez, two catchers from within their minor-league system, to big-league spring training today. While that has little significance for the team or for either player — teams routinely bring about eight catchers to camp just to catch all the pitchers’ side sessions — it does bring the list of non-roster invitees to a staggering 22 — and the overall list of players coming to camp to 60. The list includes a lot of former big leaguers, guys like pitchers Mike Koplove, Tom Martin, Mike Myers, Chan Ho Park and Tanyon Sturtze and infielder Ramon Martinez, and some guys you probably never heard of, like pitchers Rick Asadoorian, Fernando Desgue and Alfredo Simon. It’s going to be a crowded clubhouse, but one of these guys ALWAYS ends up having a great spring and making the opening-day roster. I’m guessing it will be either Koplove, Martin or Myers in the bullpen and possibly Martinez. He’ll compete with Tony Abreu and Chin-lung Hu for what probably will be two utility infield spots.
The Dodgers sold the right-hander to the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League, bringing down the curtain on a Dodgers career in which Houlton went 6-11 with a 4.99 ERA in 53 appearances, including 19 starts. All of those came in two seasons, but those two seasons were spread over three years because he never received a callup from Triple-A Las Vegas in 2006. Houlton came to the Dodgers as a Rule 5 selection from Houston and thus spent all of 2005 in the majors, going 6-9 with a 5.16 ERA at a point when he clearly wasn’t ready for prime time. He actually pitched pretty well at times that year, but he always seemed to get roughed up in the first inning. I remember one game at Florida on Aug. 19, 2005 (OK, I don’t really remember that much about it, I looked it up in my old scorebook) where he actually pitched six shutout innings, allowing only one hit, before giving up three runs in the seventh in what became a 3-0 Dodgers loss. After that game, D.J. told us he had tried to visualize his pregame warmup in the bullpen as the first inning, so that when he actually took the mound in the first inning, it would be more like the second inning in his mind. It might sound strange and simplistic, but it worked. He retired the first 13 batters he faced. He was also a really good guy who got thrust into a situation he wasn’t ready for, and that might have permanently affected his career. But this will be a good move for him. Of course, the other question that all of this raises is, will U.S. major-league teams ever take on corporate sponsors like the Hawks have done? Will it be the Los Angeles Bank of America Dodgers, the San Diego SeaWorld Padres, the Arizona Diamondbacks presented by Gila River Casinos? Oh wait, that last one already does exist.
The Dodgers signed infielder Ramon Martinez to a minor-league contract today and invited him to big-league spring training, where he will be given a shot to compete with youngsters Tony Abreu and Chin-lung Hu for what probably will be two utility infield spots on the opening-day roster. Martinez, 35, spent the past two seasons with the Dodgers, hitting a combined .243 with two homers and 51 RBI. Both of those homers came in 2006, the first as part of a five-RBI performance at Atlanta on Memorial Day, the second a walkoff shot to end a 16-inning game with Cincinnati on Aug. 29. He slumped to a .194 average in 2007 while appearing in just 67 games. Martinez received $850,000 last year. He is a 10-year major-league veteran who has spent his entire career as a reserve player.
The release says it lasts eight days (this Thursday through Feb 7), but it also includes the standard two-day tour of locations around the area Feb. 5-6, with some of those stops open to the public. Rather than me typing it all in here, I’ll just refer you to the official release at dodgers.com. All the info is there.