Spring full of lessons for Dodgers prospect De Jong

Young pitcher absorbing information from Gagne, Maddux, Blanton, others

Spring full of lessons for Dodgers prospect De Jong

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dodgers pitching prospect Chase De Jong's earliest memories of baseball are watching Éric Gagné, with his signature goggles, close out games for Los Angeles.

"That rich Dodger history, I don't know if many people have as much appreciation for it as I do, growing up where I did," he said.

De Jong is a product of Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, about 20 miles south of Dodger Stadium. The 22-year-old right-hander was acquired by the Dodgers in July from the Blue Jays.

After appearing in 11 games with an ERA of 3.96 for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the Dodgers' Class A Advanced affiliate in the California League, De Jong was extended an invite to join the Dodgers in Glendale for his first Spring Training.

"For me, being a kid outside of L.A. and actually living that, growing up with it and being submerged in it, this is incredible," he said. "The fact that I get to hang out with guys like Éric Gagné."

Playing baseball as a young kid in Long Beach, De Jong grew to emulate the Dodgers in the way he played the game.

"I can remember trying to be like Hideo Nomo in a lot of Wiffle ball games in the neighborhood," he said.

Nomo wasn't the only Dodger whom De Jong looked up to growing up. He didn't lack for inspiration.

"You always wanted to be like them, the Orel Hershisers or the Éric Gagnés closing out games," he said.

As a young player making his way through the Dodgers' farm system, De Jong has had some success. But he knows he has a ways to go to earn a spot on the Major League team. Until then, learning from the veterans in the clubhouse during Spring Training is De Jong's priority.

De Jong said his attention to the small details is what he is working on most.

"Not so much what to do on your start day but what to do between them to get ready for your start day," he said. "We all know how to pitch, but to do the preparation and the little things right to get yourself prepared for that start is what I'm trying to learn from these older guys."

De Jong has started a relationship with veteran Joe Blanton, with whom he plays catch. Blanton, an 11-year veteran in the Major Leagues with six clubs, can give De Jong instant feedback on his throwing technique.

"Greg Maddux (special advisor to Dodgers president of baseball operations) has also been a huge wealth of knowledge," he said. "The guy had 18 [Gold Gloves] so I could probably learn a little something from this guy about fielding my position."

Every pitcher in the clubhouse has more experience playing professional baseball than De Jong, a fact he's aware of and is ready to embrace.

"It would be foolish of me not to seek out wisdom from anybody that would be willing to give me any," he said.

The biggest difference De Jong has seen from the lower levels to what he sees during Spring Training workouts is how much more mistakes hurt you.

"Mistakes go farther," he said. "They get hit harder."

Bill Slane is a senior majoring in journalism at Arizona State University. This story is part of a Cactus League partnership between MLB.com and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.