GLENDALE, Ariz.—He's lived a life unlike most other minor leaguers, having traveled the continent with his big league dad, filled in as a bat boy here and there and enjoyed the comforts of four-star hotels.
That's not to say that Devaris Gordon, son of veteran big league reliever Tom Gordon, would rather breeze through the minors and not enjoy the ride.
Because, frankly, the Dodgers' 20-year-old shortstop and 2008 fourth-round pick can't wait to experience a summer with the low Class A Great Lakes Loons—a time in his life that he figures ought to be as much about making great memories and forging lasting friendships as it will be about developing as a player.
If that means busing overnight, scarfing down the Grand Slam at Dennys and staying at the Econo Lodges, Best Westerns and Super 8s of the Midwest League, all the better.
"Bus rides are fun, especially those overnight ones," Gordon was saying in spring training. "In (Rookie-level) Ogden last year, we had one where they were blowing up a mountain in Yellowstone. We were on the side of the road for two hours. There was a lot of good bonding. There was no cell phone service. It was just you and your teammates."
Gordon has a very good reason for wanting to enjoy life in the minors: If the assembled cast of teammates on the Great Lakes roster manifests itself into a league championship, a winning environment would create the ideal setting for personal career growth.
This in a year when Gordon hopes to enhance his leadoff skills—beyond being a nice bunter—as well as show he can remain an up-the-middle anchor. His other task may be much more difficult, though, as Gordon tries to pack on the muscle in an effort to lose a body type (5-foot-11, 165 pounds) that could easily be mistaken for a skinny sophomore twig on the JV basketball team.
"I'm looking forward to getting a ring. I'm not really into losing," Gordon said. "I want to win every night I'm playing.
"You want to have quality at-bats and play a quality game. You want to be up for your teammates," Gordon continued. "As a leadoff man, they consider me a sparkplug. I know I may be young but they're expecting a lot out of me. So I've got to do the right things, on and off the field."
That Gordon speaks more like a veteran than a recent juco player on the verge of his first full season in pro ball is an encouraging sign to those in the Dodgers system.
Spring training was mostly productive throughout as recent draft picks such as righthander Ethan Martin and one-time NCAA home run champ Kyle Russell teamed with Gordon on the Great Lakes club while 2008 second-round pick Josh Lindblom threatened to make the Dodgers' Opening Day roster.
But the loss of shortstop Ivan DeJesus Jr., a sensation last year at Double-A Jacksonville, to a broken leg suffered in a collision at home plate left a bittersweet taste in minor league camp.
Having Gordon around, with a bounce in his step and motivation to win, fortunately made for a more positive environment.
"That's what we want to instill in all of our players, to understand what it takes to win," Dodgers farm director DeJon Watson said. "I think our scouting department is doing a nice job of bringing in that winning mindset to our organization. That's a positive."
The Dodgers took a slight risk last year in drafting Gordon out of Seminole (Fla.) CC. Because of a grade mix-up, the shortstop was not allowed to play that spring and, therefore, there were no immediate in-game scouting reports to decipher.
But the Dodgers benefitted from having Watson as farm director. In his Royals minor league days, he had roomed with Tom Gordon and knew the family well. He likes Devaris for a number of reasons: his leadoff abilities, speed, range at short.
Yet the big question is whether Gordon can add muscle to his lean frame. He is trying. He said he is eating at least five times a day.
"I just have a fast metabolism right now. It's just not there yet," Gordon said, acknowledging protein shakes are included in his daily eating ritual. "(His dad) says it's going to come in time. I read the back of one of his baseball cards and it said when he was 20 he was 165 pounds. That's pretty much where I'm at."
His dad, with the Phillies since 2006, is now listed as a 5-11, 190-pound reliever.
"(Eating regularly) was hard in the offseason but I'm used to it now," Gordon said. "It's kind of my daily habit. I've been able to maintain it. I've already added five pounds."
Still, Watson is optimistic that Gordon's body will mature but makes clear that he has hidden strength.
"He's lean and wiry, but he's strong," Watson said. "For me, his size is deceiving. There is durabilty in his body. So I'm not worried. I think he's going to be fine."
The key will be whether Gordon can continue to eat healthy during the season. Because of the natural proximity of their minor leaguers in spring training, the organization could closely monitor players' intake. They will try to continue to keep close tabs on them throughout the season even thought stops at, say, fast-food joints on bus trips are almost unavoidable.
"We try to educate every one of our players on what to eat," Watson said. "We've had discussions with nutrionists on what they eat prior to workouts and what they eat after workouts. But you're still dealing with young kids."
At The Plate
Should Gordon add muscle, it could make all the difference in him losing a perceived reputation as a bunting/slap-hitting, top-of-the-order weapon.
That will be one of his goals this season, to zero in on learning the nuances of leading off.
"I like being a line drive hitter, not just a slap hitter," Gordon said. "It's great to bunt and I like bunting. But if they know you're bunting and that's all you can do, you have no dimensions to your game.
"I'm just trying to square it up and have a good at-bat," Gordon added. "The big thing is laying off the high pitch. I love to drive it. But it drives my hitting coaches crazy."
That's all part of learning in a first full season, as taking small steps will lead to a better, broader picture at season's end.
Scouts reported last year that he sprayed the ball to the gaps in ranking fourth among prospects in the Pioneer League. In leading off for Ogden, he finished .331/.371/.430 (83-for-251) with two home runs, 13 doubles and 27 RBIs. He also struck out 29 times and drew 16 walks, then stole 18 bags in 23 attempts.
However, Gordon is realistic. He figures there will be highs and lows this year and that it success will come as he pulls himself out of the lows quickly and recognizing the positives even during difficult stretches.
"You've got to learn the mental side of (the game). You have to learn how to fail before you succeed," Gordon said. "I feel that's the advantage I have, from watching my dad go through his ups and downs. He's helped me understand that you are going to go 0-for-4 or 0-for-5. But you have to take that 0-for-5 and say, 'I had three good at-bats.' That'll get you out of that slump quickly."
That attitude has not been lost among Dodgers coaches.
"He doesn't come off that he's better than anybody else," Dodgers hitting coordinator Gene Clines said. "He's one of the hardest working kids we've had in camp. He listens and learns."
"Offensively, we're just trying to get his feet wet. He's got speed, bunts and he's a good hitter—just a young player we want to take slowly and let play," Clines said. "I still look at him as a high school kid. He's going to go through his ups and down. That's why we're going to take it slow. Once he learns he can compete against older guys, he's going to be fine."
Clines is impressed already with Gordon's bunting ability but did issue an edict that he he attempt a bunt at least once in every spring training game. However, he also sees the ability to hit line drives.
"He's holding his own. It's just a long process," Clines said. "It's going to be interesting to see how he does in the Midwest League."
Bus rides. Dennys. Super 8s and all.
"It's going to be a great year. I can't wait to enjoy it," Gordon said. "The team, the fans, the season. Next year at this time I want to say I stayed healthy, had a great year and did a lot of great things. And that I have a ring."