De Aza stays positive, focused in spring camp
Hitting coach Manto impressed with outfielder's work ethic
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Even though Alejandro De Aza has yet to play a full season in the Major Leagues, he's been in professional baseball long enough to know the No. 1 rule is to never take anything for granted. Many factors can derail the best-laid plans, or worse, shatter dreams.
De Aza is doing everything in his power during Spring Training to make sure those factors don't come into play this season.
De Aza is slated to be the White Sox's starting center fielder and leadoff hitter. He capitalized on an opportunity late last season, and has done all he can this spring to hold onto his roles. He knows first-hand how quickly fortunes can change.
"You know in baseball, it can be this way one day and this [other] way the next day," the left-handed hitter said.
De Aza got his first shot at the Major Leagues in 2007, earning a job with the Marlins out of Spring Training and getting off to a good start. But a fractured ankle cost him that season and the next. In 2009, the Marlins put him on waivers, and he was picked up by the White Sox.
Through it all, De Aza never lost hope or sight of his dream.
"I never think negative, never," the Dominican Republic native said. "I always think positive and when that [injury] happened, I just wanted to get ready to play baseball again.
"Thank God they gave me the opportunity to get here and I'm healthy and I'm trying to do the best I can to be ready every game."
De Aza was ready when the White Sox called him up last July. An All-Star at Triple-A Charlotte, De Aza made an immediate impact, hitting a homer in his first at-bat. He continued to produce over the next two months, finishing with a .329 average, four homers, 29 runs and 12 steals in 152 at-bats.
De Aza said that success and playing winter ball helped him be ready for Spring Training this year.
"It helped me personally, and helped my career knowing what I'm supposed to be doing," he said. "Last year, it gave me a step ahead. It's more comfortable, but at the same time I have to keep working hard, keep doing my job."
White Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto has been overwhelmingly impressed with De Aza's work ethic in camp.
"He's off the charts," Manto said Friday morning at the club's Spring Training complex. "He works his butt off. He works on the bases, he works in the cage all the time. A lot of guys come to the cage and just do the flip. He does everything -- his tee work, his short bat work, always on the curveball machine. So, he goes in there and he means business, which is good for the younger players to see.
"I haven't done anything with De Aza here," Manto added. "Tim Laker and his staff down in Charlotte did a great job with him. We had discussed just trying to keep him under control more with his body. And from a year ago, he really made a good adjustment. There's nothing else for him to do right now except, just like everybody else, make sure his timing is right and to get his bunts down."
Last season, De Aza displayed rare power, hitting three homers during one seven-game stretch, amazing when you consider he had not hit a single homer in 190 previous at-bats in the big leagues.
But power is not his strength. He knows his role is to get on first, steal bases and play solid defense.
"His power is just a byproduct of a good swing," Manto said of the 6-foot, 190-pounder. "I don't think he has that infamous, quote, home run power. He has a good-enough swing to hit some balls out, but I don't see him being classified as a leadoff hitter with power."
De Aza has had mixed results this spring, starting out strong but now having a .240 average, with six hits, two runs and a stolen base through his first nine games. He insists he is not going to let up as Opening Day draws near. It's just not his nature to go less than 100 percent every day.
"I just work hard," he said. "When you do that, something good can happen."
Is it all work and no play?
"No, baseball is fun. It's like when we were little kids."
Jim Thomas is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.