Dodgers' Scott Van Slyke hits a solo home run against the Miami Marlins… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
How can you not be happy for Scott Van Slyke?
He had to feel pretty unwanted this winter. The Dodgers were busy signing people and needed to make room on their 40-man roster.
So their 2011 minor league player of the year and the son of All-Star Andy Van Slyke, was designated for assignment. Available for the taking by every team in baseball, not one claimed him. He was 26.
After a tough few days and some introspection, added determination was borne.
“I think I just wanted to prove to the Dodgers that I still had some value and I could help them win,” Van Slyke said. ”Whether it happened or not, I think I would have come in the same way.”
Van Slyke dropped at least 20 pounds. He focused on his swing, dropping his hands slightly and slightly shortening his leg kick.
Yet in spring training, he was not even a nonroster invitee. He seemed completely off the team radar. When he did get a chance late in a spring game, he struggled with just two hits and 22 at-bats (.182).
Nothing outwardly seemed different from the guy who had batted .167 for the Dodgers last season.
So he was assigned, again, to triple-A Albuquerque. Where he proceeded to tear up the Pacific Coast League. After 34 games he led the league in hitting (.397), and was tied in homers (nine) and runs batted in (30).
Now a seemingly more relaxed Van Slyke is enjoying some admittedly very early success. Against the Marlins on Sunday, he went two for four with a solo home run and run-scoring single.
For a guy who had to feel everyone had given up on him, it was nice to see.
“I’m just trying to play the same baseball I have been for the past month,” Van Slyke said. “It’s not on my mind to play better than I am.”
Van Slyke started Sunday for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who has been bothered by a nagging neck injury. He was playing first at Albuquerque this season, after mostly playing the outfield last year.
But his versatility, coupled with his being able to add some power to the bench, could keep him around even when players start coming off the disabled list.
After often looking overmatched last year, he now appears more comfortable at the plate and in the clubhouse.
“I think I’m just more relaxed,” he said. “I think last year I was trying to prove too much in such a short period of time. [This time] I’m just going to play the way I know how to play.”