PHOENIX — In the battle for a utility spot on the Dodgers bench, one name who has flown under the radar this spring is Darnell Sweeney, who has played four positions to date in Cactus League play.
Sweeney was drafted by the Dodgers in the 13th round in 2012 out of Central Florida, but was traded to the Phillies in August 2015 in the Chase Utley deal. The Dodgers got Sweeney back in the Howie Kendrick trade last November.
The 26-year-old, switch-hitting infielder is happy for a second chance with his first organization.
“It's something I'm familiar with,” Sweeney said. “There's definitely a comfort factor coming back to Dodger blue, and I'm pretty excited for the opportunity.”
Sweeney was a non-roster invitee in Dodgers camp in 2015, then got a taste of the majors after the trade to Philadelphia, hitting .176/.286/.353 in 37 games down the stretch. Since outrighted by the Phillies, Sweeney is again a non-roster invitee in camp, looking to get back on a 40-man roster and back to the majors.
"You get that taste of the big leagues, you want that whole cup of coffee, not just a little sip,” Sweeney said. “I'm definitely using that experience to fuel the fire to get back up here and help this team win.”
Against the Mariners on Wednesday, Sweeney played shortstop. In addition to 20 innings there this spring, he has played 39 innings at third base, and 10 innings at second base. He will also likely see more time in center field, where he has played four innings this spring and 91 minor league games.
"We're going to get him out there in center field. He made a nice play at short, and at third base, and we know he can play second base,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He's really impressed us as a baseball player. I really hadn't put eyes on him before.”
While Sweeney might not make the opening day roster, likely behind Chris Taylor, Kiké Hernandez and maybe Charlie Culberson on the utility depth chart, his versatility could mean a return to the big leagues at some point in 2017 for Sweeney, who has embraced the utility role.
"My utility and the versatility on the diamond is a big factor in the game right now, not just with the Dodgers,” Sweeney said. “That I can play multiple positions, that's a good opportunity for me.
“Once you realize that's the type of player you are, that was the biggest thing. I just needed to buy in. I just have to make sure I get my work in at multiple positions, putting in extra work in the infield and outfield. Now I have the confidence that I can bounce anywhere and feel like I can contribute to the team.”
So far this spring, Sweeney is 9-for-29 with two home runs and two walks this spring, hitting .310/.355/.517.
“I like the way he conducts an at-bat from both sides of the plate, he defends, he's dynamic, he can run,” Roberts said. “Every player wants to make an impression, and he accomplished that this spring.”