Today’s Random D-Back is presented to you by courtesy of ChuckJohnson56, who mentioned him some months back in a comment on yet an other random D-Back.
Edit: I made a few updates in the article thanks to the comment of sirbradford that made me remember a couple of things I omitted.
Diamond in the rough.
Danny Dorn was definitely an all Los Angeles’ baseball kid. He was born in San Dimas, went to Diamond Bar HS and ended up at Cal State. According to his Titan’s bio, he also sold ice cream at the Anaheim stadium of the Angels.
He definitely was a baseball talent. For Diamond Bar he batted .530 and .447 in two seasons (the other season probably cut short because of an injury?), which led him to a scholar ship at California State University. In the Big West he would keep on mashing, especially in his first year, in 2003, where he achieved a 1.028 OPS, although also helped by a .417 BABIP.
While he doesn’t repeat those stats in the following seasons, from 2004 (when Cal State wins the College World Series) until his final season in 2006, he is one of the best hitters of the team and in the league, with good base-on-ball and strikeout numbers.
In 2005 Dorn enters the MLB draft for the first time and gets picked by the Tampa Bay Rays in round 23. Together with his room mate Justin Turner he decides to return to school for the 2006 season after the offer isn’t to his likening.
“Turner eventually did get a call, and a pair of contract offers from the Yankees but he was already a little miffed at them, and checking in with Dorn sealed his decision. “The Rays actually offered him a lot more money than the Yankees were offering me, and he said ‘I’m going back to school’,” Turner said. “That made it easier for me to go back to school, too.”” - Justin Turner on his 2005 draft selection by the Yankees, as quoted by TrueBlueLA in 2015
It might be a decision the lefty eventually comes to regret. In 2005 Dorn exposes himself in the Cape Cod League, and he has a miserable showing for the Brewster Whitecaps. In 26 games against some of the best players in the nation, the Californian has a .222/.287/.283 with poor base on balls and strikeout ratios.
When he returns to Cal State for his senior year the results are terrific again, but scouts aren’t sold at all. In the 2006 draft he drops all the way to the 32nd round, where the Reds take him. Beside the poor showing in Cape Cod, what might also play a role is his allegedly poor defence and his troubles with hitting southpaws, that is remarked many years later in 2010 on FanGraphs.
That “typical” guy who is stuck in AAA.
Coming from such a strong showing in college, it should be no surprise that Dorn finds no real opposition in the rookie leagues in 2006 and he hits a great 1.030 OPS for the Billings Mustangs. By the end of the season Baseball America calls him the best late round pick in the Reds’ draft and in later years some media outlets refer to his draft pick as a “steal”.
After another good season in A+ and AA he is ranked on redsminorleagues.com in their Top 25 prospect ranking of their farm and a year later Baseball America mentions him as well, at #28, right before his college team mate Justin Turner.
But the question marks on his defensive capabilities and his huge splits seem to put a stop on his progression in the minor leagues and keep him in AAA. In 2010 Dan Szymborski on FanGraphs notices a .197/.239/.394 career slash line against lefties.
Meanwhile, Dorn is moved over to 1B where he gets blocked by Joey Votto. In 2011 and 2012 he has very average results for the Louisville Bats in AAA and by the end of June 2012 he is released by the Reds. He ends the season with the Detroit Tigers’ Toledo Mud Hens.
Detroit resigns the lefty slugger for the 2013 season, but the Tigers aren’t a terrific team to be on for a guy seeking his MLB debut. Detroit runs away with the AL Central to a 93-69 season and Dorn decides to look for a new opportunity elsewhere when the season wraps up.
An opportunity arises.
Shortly after hitting free agency in 2013 the Diamondbacks sign Danny Dorn on a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Dorn is already 29 by this point and is best regarded as depth, but he doesn’t give up hope.
“My plan is to get to the big leagues and still have a good five-year big-league career or something,” the 30-year-old said. “If you don’t think like that, you might as well go home.” - Danny Dorn quoted in March 2015 on Arizona Republic
Obviously, at 1B Dorn is blocked by Paul Goldschmidt, while the outfield spots, despite the presence of Mark Trumbo, are taken by either defensive wizards Inciarte and Parra or otherwise the talented Peralta and AJ Pollock. Dorn hits fine in Reno, we wouldn’t expect less from his profile, but probably has bad luck that a slumping team just isn’t prepared to give bats to a player that doesn’t look to be part of the future.
“I never really thought about quitting. I’d be frustrated but I was having good years,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was hitting .220 in the minor leagues going ‘what am I doing, I’m wasting my time.’” - Danny Dorn quoted by Arizona Sports in 2015 on his years in the minor leagues
Although the outlook isn’t great, Dorn is happy to return to Arizona for the 2015 season and the D-Backs give him a longer look in Spring Training. But Dorn doesn’t really impress and is assigned to Reno. In the PCL he has an incredibly hot start and hits .474 over 10 games. The Diamondbacks decide to ride the bat when Jake Lamb hits the DL on April 21 and call Danny Dorn up for a major league debut.
“Arizona manager Chip Hale said Nevin [manager for the Aces in 2015, DBE] told him that some of Dorn’s older teammates were so excited by his call-up they began to cry. “You always root for those guys. He stuck with it,” Hale said … “You just love it when those guys get an opportunity. There are a lot of guys like him down there. He kind of represents that Bull Durham guy.”” - Chip Hale quoted in 2015 by AZ Central after Dorn’s call up
His big league debut is a pinch hitting walk in a 7-1 loss against the Texas Rangers, when he replaces Chase Anderson. Until May 9, when he is optioned to Reno, he makes only pinch hit appearances although his last one is one to remember when he knocks in 2 RBI, sending a game against the Padres into extras. A couple of days earlier he got his first MLB hit against the Dodgers in Los Angeles.
It was a special hit, not just for Dorn and his family, who all live in LA and witnessed the game, but also for long time friend Justin Turner.
“That is something I will never forget, either,” Turner said of Dorn’s pinch-hit single in the sixth inning. “That’s a special moment. Known Danny for a long time, played with him for a long time. It was way overdue. Finally got his opportunity. I couldn’t be happier for him. We shared a lot of very special moments together. To be there for that one was icing on the cake.” - Justin Turner on Danny Dorn’s first major league hit, quoted in a Fox Sports’ article in May 2015, in a game against the Dodgers
Mid June he is called back up and gets more chances to stick, starting 3 games at first base and in right field, but Dorn is on a short leash and not able to make an immediate impact. After those games he again needs to try and make the best of pinch hit appearances, but goes hitless in each one of them and is finally sent back down again on July 2. He returns briefly for another pinch hit appearance on July 19, but disappears to Reno to never return again. His final MLB triple slash is .167/.219/.200. Heavily skewed because of the pinch hit appearances, of course, but still, at least Dorn can say he made it.
“I’m finally able to say I played in the big leagues,” he said. “It almost feels like a weight has been lifted off me. I can just have fun. If somebody asks me I can say, ‘Yeah, I played in the major leagues. That’s pretty special. They can’t take it away from me.” - Danny Dorn quoted in 2015 by AZ Central after his MLB debut
13 years in the minor leagues...and counting.
The Diamondbacks release Dorn by the end of July and he is picked up by the Toronto Blue Jays on the waiver wire to add depth in Buffalo. After the season he gets a call from the Nexen Heroes of the KBO and decides to move overseas for the 2016 season.
He has a great first season in Korea and is one of the better hitters on a team that finishes in 3rd place in the regular standings, but is finally eliminated in the post-season’s quarter finals.
Dorn returns for another season in the KBO in 2017 but gets to know the short leash foreign hitters are on. After batting just .140 he is released after 3 months, in July, and returns to the States.
In 2018 he plays his final year of baseball in the Independent Leagues, but a .608 OPS probably tells him all he needs to know.
He decides to look for a different opportunity and is offered a job in the Los Angeles Dodger’s minor league organisation as manager of the AZL Dodgers Lasorda and finishes 10th with a 27-29 record. He would repeat the position in 2020, but COVID prevents it from happening.
Although the Dodgers announce that Dorn will return as manager for the 2021 season of the ACL Dodgers in 2021, it might be that there was some change of plans during the season because baseball-reference does not list him as the manager for that season. Maybe he had already moved into the hitting coach position, a role he has taken on in the current 2022 season.
And so, after spending 10 years in the minor leagues as a player, Dorn will now face his 4th as a coach in the minors. Like Chip Hale once hinted at, he is Bull Durham like, and maybe his path will lead him one day back to the D-Backs, Bull Durham like to Visalia.