While the centerpiece of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ return in the Matt Kemp trade was Yasmani Grandal, it wasn’t an indictment on A.J. Ellis. A team-first player, Ellis accepted his new role as Grandal’s backup.
Ellis served as the primary catcher from 2012-14, though injuries limited him to just 93 games in 2014. He’s developed a strong friendship with ace Clayton Kershaw, and the 35-year-old catcher has been lauded by several teammates for his work ethic and handling of the pitching staff.
Grandal also praised Ellis on multiple occasions last season for helping him grow acquainted with the pitchers and adjust to life on a new team. Ellis’ reputation has led to many projecting he’d transition to coaching after his playing career.
Ellis hasn’t ruled it out, however he’s also made it clear he isn’t yet considering retirement. In recently discussing the veteran catcher, first-year Dodgers manager Dave Roberts referred to Ellis as a ‘ploach’ — combination of a player and coach, according to Bill Plunkett of the OC Register:
“I think A.J. is in it for the right reasons,” Roberts said. “He was a mid- to low-round (draft) pick who had to kind of grind to get here, establish himself and then kind of carve out a nice career. He’s here for the right reasons. He wants to win baseball games, whatever it takes. He’s like Robin Ventura. When I played with Robin in L.A., he was a ‘ploach’ – a player-coach. A.J.’s not there yet. Robin had more service time and was older at that time. But A.J. is tracking to be a ‘ploach.’ … That was Robin Ventura’s nickname but it was a compliment.”
The Dodgers selected Ellis in the 18th round of the 2003 draft out of Austin Peay State University in Tennessee. He spent five years in the Minors before making his Major League debut in 2008.
Ellis and the Dodgers avoided arbitration during the offseason by agreeing to a one-year, $4.5 million contract. He is eligible for free agency after this season.