Three years ago at Camelback Ranch, Josh Lindblom stood out. It was the Dodgers' first year at their new spring training facility, the team was buzzing after coming off their first playoff series win in 20 years, and they re-signed Manny Ramirez a few weeks into spring training. Yet it was hard to keep from noticing the closer from Purdue the Dodgers had drafted in the second round the previous June.
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Lindblom, then 21, started off on the minor league side but appeared in five major league games that spring. He impressed with his fastball, and put up a 1.38 ERA in 13 innings, with three walks and 10 strikeouts. Lindblom even came reasonably close to making the team out of spring training.
After an on-again, off-again, on-again attempt at converting Lindblom to a starter in the minor leagues, the Dodgers finally pulled the plug on that plan in June 2010 while Lindblom was in Triple A Albuquerque. In addition to switching back to relief pitching full time, Lindblom had to retool his mechanics as well. He worked with Isotopes pitching coach Glenn Dishman nearly every day, using dry work (reps without actually throwing baseball) to get his mechanics back to where they were when he pitched in relief.
Lindblom put up a Pacific Coast League-influenced 6.54 ERA in 95 innings in 2010 (though his FIP was a much more respectable 4.31), and though the results weren't there Lindblom still looks back on that year fondly.
"A lot of people call it a lost year, but for me that was the best year of my career," Lindblom said. "It refocused my goals and dreams. I wanted to pitch in the big leagues, but was I pushing myself far enough to get there."
Lindblom continued to hone his craft in the instructional league in 2010, where he worked with Dodgers minor league pitching coordinator Rafael Chaves, bullpen coach Ken Howell, and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. The result was not only improved mechanics, but a new focus and dedication from Lindblom, who aimed big by setting his sights small.
"I took the approach, instead of looking to where I was at the end of the year, of looking day-to-day," Lindblom explained. "Was I getting better each day? Was I doing the things I needed to do every time the sun came up to get to that goal.
"Last year, I sat down and asked, 'What do I do well?' I command my fastball well and I have a good changeup, and I can pound the zone. I work off that, instead of working off the reports we have that say 'Don't throw this guy that,' I throw off my strengths."
He started 2011 in Double A Chattanooga, and that fastball-changeup repertoire quickly added a third option, as Lookouts pitching coach Chuck Crim helped Lindblom develop a slider three weeks into the 2011 season. After seven saves, a 2.96 ERA, and 33 strikeouts in 24 innings in Double A, Lindblom got his first call to the majors on May 29, and made his big league debut three days later.
Lindblom was the third of four pitchers who excelled for the Dodgers last year after beginning the year in Double A, joining Javy Guerra, Rubby De La Rosa, and Nathan Eovaldi on the Chattanooga Express to Los Angeles. In two stints with the Dodgers, Lindblom had a 2.73 ERA, allowed 33 baserunners in 30 innings, and struck out 28 batters.
He also used his new weapon, the slider, 30% of the time, riding in in left-handed batters and giving him an out pitch low and away to right-handers. Lindblom's success in the majors last year helped him gain confidence as the year progressed.
"That first time up, you always have the question of whether I belong here and whether I can play with these guys. But I proved that I do belong there and I can pitch in the big leagues," Lindblom said. "That opportunity came and I took advantage of it."
Lindblom carried that confidence into the offseason, when he trained and came to camp this year stronger and in better shape than last season. "Last year was the first time I pitched into September so that was a big change. It seemed as the year went on I got stronger. That's a testament to our training staff here and our strength and conditioning coaches, that they put that first," he said.
Lindblom, who will turn 25 in June, has a sense of perspective that makes him easy to root for.
"The coolest thing is going out before the games and doing our running when the stadium is empty. You just take in the scenery and you think, wow that's going to be my office in about six hours," he said. "I just get chills thinking about it."
Lindblom is the second Purdue Boilermaker to play for the Dodgers, joining Bill "Moose" Skowron, the longtime Yankees first baseman who played in Los Angeles in 1963. (hat tip to Baseball Almanac)
Josh and his wife Aurielle in 2011 founded The Josh Lindblom Foundation, a charitable organization to raise money and awareness for children and families in need in their hometown of West Lafayette, Indiana, where they were both born and raised.
Lindblom is on Twitter at @JoshLindblom52.
Lindblom was added to the 40-man roster when his contract was purchased from Double A Chattanooga last May. He has two option years remaining.
|2010 - AAA (Albuquerque)
|2011 - AA (Chattanooga)
|2011 - MLB
|2012 Projections - Age 25 Season|
Lindblom has options remaining, which makes it probable he will begin the season in the minor leagues, a fact of which he is well aware. "It's a known fact that if you have options, you are kind of expendable, but as a player I can't really worry about that or think about that. All I can do is go out and every day get better," he said.
I think Lindblom starts in the minors but isn't kept down for long, and ends up posting a 3.45 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 47 innings for the Dodgers this season.
What is your prediction? Be sure to guess Lindblom's ERA, number of innings pitched, plus anything else you would like to predict.