Ross nearly landed in Los Angeles

Ross nearly represented Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- Before emerging as a fan favorite and the starting center fielder for Florida, Cody Ross had the experience of wearing Dodger Blue.

Had circumstances been different, who knows, his career path could have been different.

Drafted by the Tigers in the fourth round in 1999, Ross was dealt to the Dodgers for left-handed pitcher Steve Coyler on April 1, 2004. He remained in Los Angeles' Minor League system until early '06, a season in which he bounced around to three different teams. In two seasons with Los Angeles, he played in just 22 games and had 39 total at-bats for the Dodgers.

When Ross was out of options in 2006, he was dealt to the Reds on April 24 of that year, and just more than a month later -- on May 26 -- he came to the Marlins for a player to be named (lefty Ben Kozlowski).

One of the better pickups the Marlins have made in years, Ross is now a regular on the roster and he plays Gold Glove-caliber defense in the outfield. At the plate, the 5-foot-10, 194-pounder displays surprising power. He's been a solid run producer, batting .267 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs.

The Marlins open a three-game series with the Dodgers on Friday in Los Angeles. For Ross, it's a chance to reunite with an organization that helped his development.

"When I was traded to them, I was excited," Ross said. "I was traded in Spring Training in '04. But once I got over there, I realized how many outfielders they had."

At the time, the Dodgers' outfield included Milton Bradley, Steve Finley and Jayson Werth. Former Marlins outfielder Juan Encarnacion was also there.

"They had a pretty good group of young guys coming up. I knew that I had to do something to get their attention," said Ross, who simply was caught in a numbers situation. "I felt I had to prove myself all over again. But looking back at it, I thought the Dodgers organization was a great organization. I just never really felt I was part of their long-term [plans]."

Ross spent much of his time playing for the Dodgers' Triple-A Las Vegas affiliate. For a while, he was in the same outfield with Shane Victorino. And when Werth was rehabbing an injury, the three of them were in the Las Vegas outfield.

Werth and Victorino now, of course, are All-Star outfielders with the Phillies.

"Victorino, Werth and me, we all clicked," Ross said. "All three of us were in Las Vegas. Me and Victorino were in the outfield. Werth came down on rehab assignments.

"We'd hang out in Spring Training. Those guys became pretty good friends of mine, and we'd keep in touch, even in the offseason."

The Dodgers had plenty of outfield depth in their system. While Ross was at Triple-A, players like Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp were at the lower levels.

"I went to Triple-A and I struggled. I was trying to do too much," Ross said. "I was trying to impress. I was doing all the things young players do to try to impress. I felt I got back on track, and I played pretty well.

"My time over there, I felt it was a stepping stone for my career. I felt I was never really given an opportunity. I was called up in spurts. I'd get a start, get a pinch-hit and then I'd be back down in the Minors."

When Ross joined the Marlins in 2006, he was part of a young team that used more than 20 rookies over the entire season.

The past two seasons, he's established himself as a regular.

"We gave him an opportunity and he seized it," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

At the start of this season, Ross was in right field. But after Cameron Maybin was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans, he secured the center-field spot, which he is anchoring right now.

"He can play all three outfield spots, and he has some juice in his bat," hitting coach Jim Presley said.

Throughout his career, Ross has repeatedly had to prove himself. Plays like he made on Monday night in San Diego are why those with the Marlins feel he's Gold Glove worthy. At PETCO Park, he made an outstanding running catch on the warning track to flag down Chase Headley's bid for extra bases.

"It's just nice to hear people finally say stuff like that," said Ross, who has always heard he was basically a fourth or fifth outfielder. "It's been kind of the opposite of my career. People speculated on what you can and can't do.

"It's nice to be able to prove people wrong. But not just that, to show the people who care about me -- my family -- that I'm capable of playing, that I belong here. I've got to give a lot of credit to the Marlins, they gave me the opportunity to come over and play."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.