The Dodgers officially said goodbye to the retiring Jeff Kent on Jan. 22. It's a bittersweet feeling as Kent has provided many good things to the Dodger squad the last four years after torturing them as a Met, Giant, and Astro. However, as the wheel turns, time comes for some to step aside and make room for new talent.
In this case, the new talent comes in two portions, a starter at second base and the slot on the roster. For the roster slot, it is interesting how Kent's replacement, Mark Loretta, has many similarities with Jeff.
Kent is a LA native, born in Bellflower and attended Edison High in Huntington Beach. Jeff took the college route to the majors, going to the Pac-10's University of California, Berkley.
Mark Loretta is also a LA product, born in Santa Monica and attending St. Francis High in La Cañada-Flintridge. Mark matriculated at the Big Ten's Northwestern University.
Both came home to Los Angeles as free agents after playing for the Houston Astros the previous season.
They are radically different players however. Kent was a slugger who primarily played second. Though he had the ability to play elsewhere on the infield, moving to other positions was not a concept Jeff would gladly embrace.
Loretta is a contact hitter with a lifetime average of .297 who is capable and willing to play any position on the infield. Mark has played over 800 games at second, over 400 games at short, over 200 games at third and is three games shy of 200 at first.
He will be primarily on the Dodger bench ready to fill in where needed and serve as a pinch hitting option for Joe Torre.
The second base position in the Dodgers' starting lineup is slated to be manned by Blake DeWitt for 2009. Unlike Kent and Loretta, DeWitt was born in Florida, according to the Dodger and MLB Web site, and raised in Missouri. Other sources have him born in Missouri.
A multiple All-State star at shortstop and as a pitcher at Sikeston High, DeWitt was slated to attend Georgia Tech of the ACC. After the Dodgers drafted him in the first round with a compensation pick for the free-agent loss of pitcher Paul Quantrill to the New York Yankees, DeWitt decided to sign with the Dodgers and turn professional.
This spring will be filled with learning the nuances of fielding second base. The man he replaces, while not fleet of foot, knew how to position himself to make many plays others would not be in the proper location to make.
DeWitt showed great range and throwing ability at third base earlier in the season, until the Dodgers acquired Casey Blake to give the team some needed power and veteran leadership. Casey's new three year deal made DeWitt's move to second permanent.
Dewitt has youth and talent, but needs to learn the trade secrets of playing this new position. His footwork around the base: in turning a double play, taking a throw from the catcher on a stolen base attempt, and fielding a throw from the outfield on a hitter trying for a double all require unfaltering attention to detail.
Positioning himself properly for the hitter and pitch type will require copious amounts of homework. He will need advice from Loretta, infield coach Mariano Duncan, along with other instructors, at the Dodgers new spring training camp at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, AZ.
All of this is in addition to continuing his progress as a hitter. DeWitt started off hot in LA, cranking a home run at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum deep to right field against the Red Sox and winning the starting third base position by default due to the injuries to Nomar Garciaparra and Andy LaRoche.
DeWitt hit .279 in April and .322 with five homers in May. Then June rolled around and the adjustment the league made against him resulted in him hitting only .182 with 19 strikeouts. July saw DeWitt hit .229 in limited action before being sent down to AAA Las Vegas on July 26.
DeWitt returned to the majors on Aug. 27 and hit .282 with four homers in September and October. When Kent went down with torn knee cartilage, DeWitt took over at second base and held the position through the playoffs where he hit .273 against the Cubs but only .077 with 5 RBI versus the Phillies.
DeWitt has the ability, what we will learn this spring is if he has the desire. I'm thinking the answer to that is yes and the Dodgers will have a quality second baseman for many years to come.