KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Dane Sardinha knows he has to hit. He knows what the problem is, and he can lay it out pretty clearly. It's his biggest focus in his game. Even then, he can't quite get past it. "I can't lay off certain pitches," he said Friday. "I don't know if I don't see it as well as other guys do, or what the deal is. I just swing at a lot more bad pitches than other people." He hasn't yet shown he can hit, but he has long since shown he can catch. And that could get him to the big leagues in a couple of weeks.
With Vance Wilson headed for the disabled list to start the season and Brandon Inge on the trading block, Sardinha could end up the leading candidate to back up Ivan Rodriguez on Opening Day. If he did, it would be the first time he has opened the season on a Major League roster after seven Minor League seasons. It would be a happy day for his parents, and especially for his baseball-playing brothers. But it's still not the dream scenario for Sardinha. "I don't want to go up there and be like, 'Oh, we're just carrying this guy because we have no one. He's going to be the weakness in our lineup,'" he said. "It would be awesome to break camp with these guys, but I'd like to earn my way up by showing them I can hit. Hopefully that can happen this year, put everything behind me." It's a long-running mixed saga for him. After all, it takes some defensive talent for a player to keep finding everyday playing time with a .223 career average in the Minors. It takes some great talent in that regard for that same player to be regarded as a potential big league catcher. "He's an extremely fine defensive catcher, and he can throw," manager Jim Leyland said. "And anything you got offensively would be a bonus. You'd just hope on the days that you catch him that the big boys would carry the lineup offensively. But he's an excellent catcher and thrower. I've really been impressed with him. I like him a lot." It's a similar story to what scouts saw in him before the Reds selected him in the second round of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft. He was an All-American at Pepperdine University, where he hit .365 and .353 as a sophomore and junior. There was a question whether his bat would carry to the higher levels of the Minors, but his ability to defend the plate and work with a pitcher drew raves. Baseball America rated him the best catcher in his leagues in his first two pro seasons. He was an International League All-Star in 2004. As the regular catcher at Triple-A Toledo last year, he threw out just under half of would-be basestealers, and the pitching staff he handled ended up leading the IL in ERA. That was a big reason the Tigers wanted him back this year. Even this spring, Dontrelle Willis went out of his way to praise Sardinha for the game he called with him on the mound last week.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.