Thetrade of Eduardo Escobar opened the door for Drew Ellis to get his chance at playing time as the third baseman for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and it’s a work in progress for four games.
Ellis, a second round pick of the Diamondbacks in the 2017 draft out of Louisville, got the start at third base Wednesday night against the San Francisco Giants. It was his third time in the lineup since trading with Escobar.
That Ellis is in the big league is thanks to good numbers at Triple-A Reno, but those numbers (.286 batting average, 13 home runs, 21 doubles, 52 runs batted in, 65 games) are partly a product of Ellis’ finding a place to play playing regularly in 2020 when he was not invited to the Diamondbacks’ alternate training site.
The Louisville native competed in a four-team independent competition set up to give minor leaguers whose season was canceled due to the coronavirus a place to stay sharp. Ellis, now 25 years old, found more than that.
He played with minor leaguers and veteran major leaguers, including longtime Cincinnati Reds infielder Brandon Phillips and former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Ben Revere.
“It was super fun. Just a little relaxed. I got to play baseball, obviously it was an off year for me with COVID and everything, so just being able to go play and have fun and enjoy the game and keep perspective on what was important, was very big for me,” said Ellis.
Not being invited to the alternate venue in 2020 fueled Ellis’s competitive fire. He told himself he had to play somewhere, and close to home was a good fit. He traveled by car for about an hour every day to play football.
“He showed us a lot. He went into the ‘indy’ ball and played really, really well. It was one of those unlucky ones, right on the border where we had to choose who would be at the ‘alt'” came to spring training and had a great attitude. I don’t think he was happy about that, but he kind of explained the frustration and what he intended to do, and then he went to Triple-A and was the same guy. He played very well defensively. That will be good to see.”
Ellis found fun in the game again, admitting that in 2018 and 2019 he didn’t perform as well as he had hoped in the minor leagues. So the chance to train and focus on his swing and clean up some things has helped him a lot.
Ellis trained off-season with Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Will Smith, a friend and former teammate of Louisville.
The positive side of not being with the Diamondbacks allowed him to watch friends make their Major League debut in 2020. It also motivated him to tell himself what to do and where to grow. .
And that wasn’t just in baseball. He said a full year away from organizational baseball helped him “be the best version of myself I can be.”
In the Dutch big league, Ellis led off with a hit in his first 10 at bats in Wednesday’s game. But he’s excited to be part of a younger group of Diamondbacks trying to make the most of their chance in the losing season.
“I think this team, we’re going to go through our struggles, but I think we’re going to be good. With the guys coming up and the guys we’ve got here, it’s definitely going to be fun for years to come,” Ellis said.
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said there are some teething problems when players come to the big leagues.
“He has really good moves in defense, I think he’s in command of the attack zone when he’s on the plate and controlling the at bat,” said Lovullo. “We know he has a lot more work to do and he will go after it and get a chance.”
Ellis tries to simplify his approach.
“It’s baseball. It’s cliché, but it’s the same game as before,” he said. narrow path of what to do, I’ll be in a good place.”
Lovullo said pitcher No Ramirez and outfielder Stuart Fairchild are feeling better as they recover from COVID-19 symptoms. Pitchers Joe Mantiply and Riley Smith and outfielder Pavin Smith, who are also on protocol, are feeling good and will return to baseball soon, Lovullo said.
“We just have to keep in mind that this virus is still alive, it’s still out there,” Lovullo said, “and put ourselves in the best possible situation to stay healthy.”
Pitcher Luke Weaver, who was recovering from a shoulder injury, threw 40 pitches to batters in two innings of rehabilitation work, one of which was infielder Josh Rojas, who went on to hit four at bats. Rojas works his way back from a dislocated finger.
Second baseman Josh VanMeter was a late scratch in Wednesday’s lineup against the San Francisco Giants, due to low back cramps. Jake Hager replaced him.
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