- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Dee Gordon asks a lot of questions, something that Barry Larkin noticed the first time he worked with the Dodgers shortstop in the offseason. Precise questions, about how you hold the glove in making a play at the second base bag, about how you make sure you hit the ball on the ground when you want to, about your mental approach.
This curiosity is part of the reason Larkin came away from his conversations with Gordon believing that the son of former relief pitcher Tom Gordon will become a good player -- a really good player. "He's got the ability to be an All-Star -- and a perennial All-Star," Larkin said over the phone Friday, from Arizona.
As with all young players, there are flaws to be found in Gordon, who turns 24 in April. He hasn't drawn a high volume of walks in the minor leagues -- 40 in 133 games in 2010, for example. He hasn't hit for power, with seven homers in 1,814 plate appearances in the minors.
But what Gordon does have is game-changing speed -- he stole 24 bases in just 54 games with the Dodgers last year, and others in the Dodgers' organization will tell you Gordon has a very strong sense of who he is and what he must do to be successful. Play an efficient shortstop. Put the ball on the ground. Pressure the defense with his speed. Run.
And he asks all those questions, in his effort to get better. "I've always been that way," Gordon said. "I always felt like if I didn't know something, I'll ask. Just ask."
Gordon never had any precise instruction in base-stealing until he signed with the Dodgers, and early in his career, "I was kind of winging it," he said. But Crash McRay, a coach in the L.A. system, began to work with him, and over the last 14 months he's worked under the tutelage of Davey Lopes, who is regarded as arguably the best teacher of baserunning, and base-stealing, in the sport.
Lopes is intense in his manner of coaching -- so intense, Gordon said, "that he kind of scares you a little bit. ... But Davey's been one of the greatest at it."
So Gordon asks questions. A lot of questions. "I'm not perfect at base-stealing," he said. "It's not like I'm never getting caught. I need to get better in every category."
Larkin believes that Gordon's body will fill out and that he'll get stronger. "He's going to develop his man muscles," said Larkin, who is working with Cincinnati minor leaguers this spring. "Dee seems like a sponge -- a workaholic. I love his work ethic and attitude. He's passionate.
"He's really intuitive, and he's got great instincts -- and he's got athletic ability out the wazoo."
• In the aftermath of the Andy Pettitte signing, the Yankees won't really be forced into a decision about their rotation for weeks. Pettitte must first go through a full spring training, building up his arm and leg strength in preparing to pitch. If he comes through that healthy, and all other Yankees starters continue injury-free, then there will be a problem -- a glut of seven starters for five spots. The Yankees already are open to the idea of trading a starter, and the most likely candidate, because of his age, is Freddy Garcia, who had a good season last year, going 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA. He'll make $4 million this year, with some reasonably significant incentive clauses. There already are teams looking for starting pitching, the Baltimore Orioles among them, and if the Yankees have to make a deal happen, they'll be able to find one.
But history tells us you never have enough pitching. Time and again in George Steinbrenner's era, he would stockpile arms and in almost all cases, the surplus was needed after a series of injuries. Another example: Going into last season, the Red Sox were thought to be flush with starters, and by year's end, they were scrambling, trying to acquire Bruce Chen and others as fill-ins.
I'd respectfully disagree with Kepner on that. To sign a left-hander with Pettitte's track record for a contract that will cost the Yankees less than the average salary in the big leagues is a coup. There isn't a team in the majors that wouldn't have jumped at that kind of opportunity.
Bobby Valentine had something to say about Pettitte's return.
• The news about Salvy Perez is not so good: The Royals catcher will miss 12-to-14 weeks. Maybe now, those who criticized Perez for signing his five-year deal will understand his perspective: While playing catcher, nothing is guaranteed, until it is.
• Rival evaluators say that Twins infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka is really struggling this spring, at the plate and in the field.
It'll be interesting to see how the Rays handle Carlos Pena, whose OPS against lefties was 298 points lower against left-handers than right-handers. From Mark Simon of ESPN Research, here are the greatest differentials in OPS splits when the hitter's performance was weaker against left-handers in 2011.
Lower OPS vs LHP
1. Andre Ethier -- 315 points
2. Eric Hosmer -- 301
3. Carlos Pena -- 298
4. Ryan Howard -- 287
5. Casey McGehee -- 276
6. Adrian Gonzalez -- 259
7. James Loney -- 255
8. Prince Fielder -- 224
9. Erick Aybar -- 200
10. Nick Markakis -- 181
11. Jimmy Rollins -- 170
12. Bobby Abreu -- 168
13. Adam Jones -- 164
14. Raul Ibanez -- 162
15. Dan Uggla -- 160
16. Alex Avila -- 160
17. Coco Crisp -- 148
18. Adam Lind -- 132
19. Freddie Freeman -- 130
20. John Buck -- 130
• There was a great note on the Rays' bulletin board, the day after 70 members of the organization got their heads shaved for the cause of fighting pediatric cancer. From Joe Smith's story:
- In an effort to raise awareness for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, the Rays showed off their newly shaven heads with no hats during batting practice. They'll do the same the next couple of days, as well as wear their "Fortune Favors the Bald" shirts. The most important item on the clubhouse bulletin board, highlighted in yellow, was: DO NOT FORGET TO APPLY SUNSCREEN
Buster Olney writes that Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon is eager to learn and improve upon his game. That, in addition to his impressive physical abilities, is why some think he's a future All-Star.