Past, Futures meet in young DeJesus

Dodgers prospect with big-league bloodlines building a bright future

(Jerry Hale/MLB.com)

By Lisa Winston / MLB.com | July 2, 2008 6:00 AM

When the members of the World Team for the 2008 XM All-Star Futures Game are introduced and take the field at Yankee Stadium on July 13, some fans may think they've accidentally stumbled upon a Legends of the Game contest.

Ivan DeJesus at shortstop? Surely, it can't be the 15-year Major Leaguer who was considered one of the great defensive shortstops of his era? Wasn't that era over in the 1980s?

In fact, it's Ivan DeJesus Jr., the just-turned-21-year-old son of the long-retired veteran who will be taking the field for the World Team along with fellow top prospect Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers organization.

One of the top prospects in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, this DeJesus is a chip off the old block, and then some. While he certainly has inherited his dad's acumen with the glove and an early grasp of the kind of field leadership that comes with his position, he's also shown he's going to take the DeJesus family name to new levels when it comes to offense.

"Some people say I'll be a better hitter than [my father] was with more power," said DeJesus, who was hitting .304 with a pair of homers and 33 RBIs at Double-A Jacksonville through June 29. "But defensively, his glove was better than mine. I'm learning. I want to be the best of the best of the best."

The Dodgers' second pick (51st overall) in 2005 out of high school in Puerto Rico, DeJesus showed his offensive mettle right from the get-go. He batted .339 in the Gulf Coast League that summer and .277 with 44 RBIs and 16 steals in a move up to Class A Columbus in 2006, his first full season.

Last year, he made the next step to Class A Advanced Inland Empire, batting .287 with four homers and 52 RBIs, despite a finger injury that cost him a chance to refine his game in the Arizona Fall League.

This season, one in which he celebrated his 21st birthday in May, the 5-foot-11 right-handed hitter anchors a Suns infield on which he is the youngest player by nearly two years.

"Last year, I was the youngest guy, too," he noted. "It's hard, but you get used to it. It's good playing with veterans. They can teach you, and every day I learn something new with those guys."

Despite his youth, what DeJesus brings to the table was enough for Jacksonville manager John Shoemaker to decide that this kid was going to be his field general.

"This ballclub is a younger team, and I would say we don't have a bona fide team leader, so we've asked Ivan in the middle of the diamond to be our team leader," said Shoemaker. "He has that ability the way he plays, and we're trying to just get him to improve in all aspects of team leadership."

It's an honor DeJesus accepted with quiet confidence.

"Being the shortstop, for me it's the captain of the infield, and I always like to be aggressive," he said. "I like to talk to the pitcher, I want him to relax and have fun."

He has tried to take his cue not just from his dad but also from other top shortstops he admires.

"For example, Derek Jeter or someone like that," DeJesus said, referring to what he thinks it takes to fit the bill. "Be a consistent everyday player, work hard every day, have fun every day and learn something new every day."

A spray hitter to all fields with solid tools across the board, DeJesus has outstanding strike zone discipline.

"His biggest strength for a 21-year-old, without a doubt, is his plate discipline," Shoemaker said. "He doesn't chase pitches out of the strike zone. He makes the pitcher work. He lays off a lot of tough breaking stuff."

That patience has led to a .418 on-base percentage this season as he's drawn 53 walks in 78 games. And he has a .288 career batting average. This is where he may have a slight potential advantage on his slick-fielding dad, who posted a .254 mark over his big-league career and was known as a prototypical good-field, no-hit shortstop.

When it comes to the Dodgers depth chart at shortstop, DeJesus sits behind fellow prospect Chin-Lung Hu (who not only represented the club in last year's Futures Game but was named MVP). But that may not be the case for long. Hu, 24, hit .159 in 49 games for the big-league club this season but went on the disabled list at Triple-A Las Vegas in mid-June with vision trouble.

Those depth charts can change at the drop of a baseball cap, and DeJesus is clearly doing everything he needs to do with the Suns to open eyes in the front office. Being recognized for his prospect status with his selection to this prestigious game is certainly a good sign.

And Shoemaker, for one, thinks DeJesus has made the most of his upbringing.

"Some [legacies] may have a better professional approach and some may feel they don't need to work as hard," Shoemaker mused. "But he comes to the ballpark every day with a professional approach and has a lot of pride in performing well. He has really, really done a good job."

For now, DeJesus is happy to be able to carry on the family name.

He was only 3 years old when his dad retired as a player and moved to the other side of the field as a coach and manager (he is currently special assistant to Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella). But, despite the time demands on both of them, rarely does a day go by when father and son don't talk at least once.

"When I come to bat and they say 'Ivan DeJesus Jr.,' I'm proud," he said. "We talk every day, before the game and after the game, every day. The best advice he's given me? 'Come to the field every day and play like I know how to play.'"

Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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