GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Gavin Lux is getting a do-over.
The top prospect in baseball according to many rankings heading into last spring, the former first-round pick had torn up Triple-A and made his big-league debut in September 2019. The stage was set for him to take over as the Dodgers’ second baseman in 2020, if not right out of the gate then soon after, with visions of a Rookie of the Year award conjured by some.
It didn’t work out that way.
For whatever reason – when asked if he had one, Lux said flatly “No. No.” – Lux did not barge through the big-league door. The sport was shut down by the pandemic in mid-March. Lux headed home to Wisconsin then was late reporting to the Dodgers’ summer camp for reasons he chose not to share publicly.
Out of rhythm and out of sorts, Lux didn’t make the season-opening roster and was sent to the alternate training site where he stayed until late August. He hit .175 in 19 games with the Dodgers then spent most of the postseason watching from the bench or the taxi squad.
“It’s cliche but it was a learning experience,” Lux said Tuesday, having gone 6 for 14 so far this spring. “I mean, honestly, now it’s in the past and I’m not thinking about it. I definitely move forward. But it was a learning experience. It’s probably a good thing in my career to struggle early on, learning how to deal with it, learn how to deal with failure. So I think it was a good thing, honestly.”
The challenges of pandemic baseball last year were not a good thing for a 23-year-old prospect trying to find his way, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
“You have to understand that there was a 10-day, two-week, three-and-a-half week layoff intermittent of spring training and spring training 2.0 so that puts a guy behind the 8-ball,” Roberts said. “But he’s worked really hard to be consistent. And he’s in a good spot.”
Lux took on the challenge of pressing the re-set button by spending most of the winter in Los Angeles, working with the Dodgers’ strength and conditioning staff and working out at Dodger Stadium daily.
“Honestly, it was similar to work days with no game days in the spring – lift in the mornings with Travis and Brandon McDaniel, in the afternoon working out taking ground balls with Chris Taylor and Dino (Ebel) and then Dino turning around throwing BP out on the field to us,” Lux said.
“I actually stayed with Brandon McDaniel and got a lot of good workouts with him, got a lot of good meals so I was eating better, taking care of my body better. So overall just being in L.A. was a better opportunity for everything that I need to do to get ready for the season.”
He has emerged in spring training with a swing he says is “simplified.” Other things have simplified as well – all but gone is the hype and expectations that came with being such a highly-touted prospect a year ago.
“No, honestly. I don’t think about them too much at all,” he said of the pressure those things brought. “I enjoy playing baseball. I love playing baseball. So that’s what I’m worried about. All the rest of it’s just noise and it’s not that important to me right now.”
The Dodgers have one less option at second base this season with Kiké Hernandez now in Boston and Roberts has indicated Lux will get ample opportunity to claim the position this time around – and not just a platoon portion with Taylor.
“I see him getting a good runway to play regularly,” Roberts said. “What that means, I think that there’s room for conversations. But him against lefties, I don’t think we’re too concerned about that. He’s always handled them and performed well. It’s really not a handed-ness thing with Gavin.
“He just looks more comfortable. I think that last year, again, the start-and-stop kind of got him a little bit. But right now, there’s just been so much consistency in his work. He and the hitting guys are just all synced up. There’s clarity in his mind. He’s just more free and easy this year, whatever that means.”
The Colorado Rockies announced Tuesday that the state will allow them to fill Coors Field to 42.6 percent capacity when the season opens on April 1. That translates to approximately 21,000 fans.
The Dodgers open the season with four games at Coors Field, meaning they will play in front of their largest crowds since the end of their National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals in October 2019. Crowds at last fall’s postseason games at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas were capped at approximately 11,000.
“Man, it might feel like the World Series,” Roberts said. “It’s great. If that’s the floor for Colorado, for Denver I think that’s fantastic. I’m not sure where we’re going to be in Los Angeles (as far as the number of fans allowed in Dodger Stadium). But I know that having an Opening Day, having Major League Baseball, having fans in the stands is exciting regardless, even if they’re cheering for or against us.”
Roberts said center fielder Cody Bellinger could take the next step in his recovery from November shoulder surgery by taking “live at-bats” during workouts Wednesday. Bellinger has stood in against Dodger pitchers during live batting practice but only tracked pitches and did not swing. Bellinger is on track to start playing in Cactus League games “right around the 14th or 15th,” Roberts said. Bellinger will alternate between playing center field and DH at first. … Catcher Keibert Ruiz has joined workouts and could appear in Cactus League action by the end of this week. Ruiz was late to camp due to visa issues traveling from his native Venezuela. … Roberts said he expects the team to start making roster cuts this weekend.
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