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Baseball: Doing the little things to stay in the bigs
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Baseball: Doing the little things to stay in the bigs

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Gavin Lux doesn’t want to spend another day in the minor leagues, so he spent the bulk of his offseason in Los Angeles.

Five days a week during the winter he would head to Dodger Stadium for workouts. He ate two meals a day there while he worked out with established big leaguers and hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc. He traveled home to Kenosha—he’s a Indian Trail High School graduate—only for holidays and family birthdays. Otherwise, he was in Los Angeles working and becoming acclimated to the city. He envisions it becoming home once spring training breaks.

“You don’t want to go back,” Lux said. “You want to stay here. You want to be a part of what’s going on. For me, it was easy.”

Lux’s talent is unmistakable. The charismatic 22-year-old middle infielder is regarded as a top-five prospect across baseball after scorching the upper minors and making his major league debut last season. He made the Dodgers’ postseason roster and started three of the team’s five postseason games at second base.

The transition wasn’t seamless. Lux confronted obstacles typical for green big leaguers. He did nothing, however, to change his status as the franchise’s second baseman of the future. But is he the Dodgers’ second baseman on Opening Day? Manager Dave Roberts recently declined to commit to that.

“We still got a long way to go before we got to make that decision,” Roberts said. “But obviously, what Gavin did last year, the upside and all that stuff, he’s certainly in that conversation.”

Roberts said he believes Lux has earned a spot on the Opening Day roster, but must continue earning one. The Dodgers boast perhaps the deepest roster in baseball. They could opt to keep Lux in the minor leagues and have Max Muncy, Kike Hernandez and Chris Taylor split time at second base.

Doing so could allow the club to limit Lux’s service time to ensure he is under team control an extra season; if Lux, who has accumulated 28 days of service time, finishes the season with 171 or fewer days, he would become a free agent a year later.

Many teams have gone to those measures to extend team control for highly touted prospects without publicly admitting the practice. Players are eligible for free agency after six years of service. The goal is to effectively stretch it out to seven.

The Chicago Cubs, for example, delayed third baseman Kris Bryant’s debut in 2015 until April 17. The Cubs said they wanted Bryant, who batted .425 with nine home runs in spring training, to improve his defense and cut down on strikeouts.

Bryant, the second overall pick in the draft two years earlier, spent 12 days in Class AAA before getting called up to the majors. Coincidentally, or not, he compiled 171 days of service time that season. He filed a grievance, claiming the Cubs manipulated his service time, but lost the case last month. Instead of becoming a free agent after this season, he won’t test the market until after the 2021 campaign.

Like Bryant five years ago, there isn’t much left for Lux to prove in the minor leagues. He batted .347 with 26 home runs and a 1.028 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 113 games between Class AA Tulsa and Class AAA Oklahoma City last season. He remedied a throwing problem that plagued him in his first big league camp last spring while transitioning from shortstop to second base. He belonged when he arrived in September and the Dodgers, enamored with his potential, again refused to trade him during the winter.

“The toughest jump is from Class AAA to the major leagues,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “So I didn’t expect him to come up and hit .400 like he did in Oklahoma City, (but) wouldn’t have been surprised if he did. Just impressed with the ABs. The bat speed. The (dynamism) on defense. He’s going to be a good player.”

Lux said he learned from that first stint. Most importantly, he said, he believes he applied too much pressure on himself in the batter’s box. He was a patient hitter in the minors but found himself becoming too aggressive in a Dodgers uniform.

“I was afraid to hit with two strikes,” Lux said. “I didn’t want to go in and strike out.”

Comfort should come with experience. He already feels the difference in the Dodgers’ clubhouse at Camelback Ranch. A year ago, his locker was on the other side of the room, by the other minor leaguers, in his first big league camp. He made sure to blend in with his peers.

He’s a louder presence this year, unafraid to crack a joke or speak up. His locker is along the wall with veterans he trained with in Los Angeles. They were his peers during the winter and he expects they will be all season.

“It was easy to stay motivated,” Lux said, “because you got a taste of what it was like.”

MLB notes

Hall of Fame third baseman Chipper Jones has joined the ESPN lineup.

The former Atlanta Braves star will work as a major league analyst, primarily on weeknight and holiday games. He’ll debut on opening day when San Francisco plays at Dodger Stadium on March 26.

The 47-year-old Jones hit .303 with 468 home runs and 1,623 RBIs in a 19-year career through 2012.

  • Starter Eric Lauer struck out five over 2⅓ scoreless innings and Logan Morrison hit his second home run of the spring as the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Cincinnati Reds 5-4 on Sunday.

Wade Miley gave up three runs on four hits in 1⅓ innings for Cincinnati.

CUBS 7, MARINERS 3: Javier Baez and Albert Almora Jr. each hit their second home run of the string for Chicago. Jon Lester worked three scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out four.

WHITE SOX 8, ANGELS (SS) 7: Chicago starter Ross Detwiler was tagged for six runs and seven hits in 2⅓ innings.

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