Denorfia impressing at Padres camp

Denorfia impressing at Padres camp

PEORIA, Ariz. -- One moment, Chris Denorfia was a prospect on the rise, an outfielder primed to push his way on the Cincinnati Reds' Opening Day roster.

The next, Denorfia was clutching his right elbow wondering what went wrong and what was next for him.

Cruel game, baseball.

"It was just one throw," Denorfia said, recalling that spring day in 2007 when his hopeful career was put on hold. "I felt fine that day. I made a bunch of throws in the outfield earlier in the day."

"I let one go, and it came off of my fingers funny. I felt it explode in my elbow."

Denorfia, in the Padres' camp as a non-roster invitee this spring with no promises and no guarantees, doesn't wince or shudder when he recalls the story of the elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery, forcing him to miss a season.

Tommy John surgery is a more common procedure for pitchers than position players. Denorfia's case, though, is one of the exceptions.

The timing for Denorfia certainly couldn't have been worse. In 2006, he was rated as the Reds' fifth-best prospect by Baseball America. He hit .349 with Triple-A Louisville that season and earned a promotion to the Reds, where he hit .283 in 106 at-bats.

Denorfia felt he was in a position to make a run at a spot on the Reds' 2007 Opening Day roster.

"It definitely was bad timing for me, career-wise," Denorfia said. "It sidetracked me. I was starting to get my feet wet at a time when opportunities were starting to be presented to me. It forced me to take a step back.

"It was a rough road back. But I think that I learned a lot about myself in the process."

The only action Denorfia saw in 2007 was the one that saw him changing teams, as he was traded to the Oakland A's. He returned in 2008 and made the A's roster to start the season, hitting .290 in 62 at-bats.

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"I found myself feeling different when I came back," Denorfia said. "The bat felt different in my hand, the ball felt different in my hand. I had to get readjusted to myself. I almost had to learn how to play again. A year off is a long time in this game."

The 29-year-old Denorfia hit .271 last season with nine home runs and 49 RBIs playing for Triple-A Sacramento. He signed a Minor League deal with the Padres in January.

He's hitting .375 this spring and has essentially found himself in the starting lineup about every other day. With the Padres deep at the outfield position, Denorfia understands his role, though that doesn't make it easier watching.

"I feel re-energized," Denorfia said. "It's a fresh start for me. The clubhouse is great here, and the coaching staff has been great. There's a lot of positivity around here. I'm trying to feed off it."

He's impressed the Padres so far.

"He's shown very well in this camp. A number of years ago, he was on everyone's radar. He was a good-looking young player, good defender, speed and swung the bat," manager Bud Black said. "His career was derailed by the Tommy John. He does a lot of very good things on the field. He's a complete player."

With Kyle Blanks, Scott Hairston, Tony Gwynn and Will Venable set to make the roster, and utility man Jerry Hairston capable of playing the outfield, as well, it appears as if Denorfia will begin the season with Triple-A Portland.

"More than anything this spring, I want to introduce myself to the organization, and show what I can do, and hopefully they'll decide that I can help," Denorfia said.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.