Baseball is in Justin Sellers‘ DNA. Since he was a kid he dreamed of playing in the big leagues like his father, Jeff Sellers, a former pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. That dream has become a reality as Sellers lives his childhood dream every time he steps on the field as a professional baseball player in the Cleveland Indians organization.
“Growing up I always wanted to be like my dad and play in the major leagues,” said Sellers. “He’s had the biggest impact.”
Justin acquired a love for the game at an early age being around his father, a right-hander who appeared in 61 games over four major league seasons and had a record of 13-22 with the Red Sox.
“Just being around the game and clubhouse and stuff made me fall in love with the game,” said Sellers. “The sound of the metal cleats. He let me be batboy and stuff like that. You grow up and want to be just like your father.”
Sellers grew up in Southern California and played baseball at Marina High (Huntington Beach, CA) with Oakland Athletics first baseman Daric Barton. Highly recruited by several top college baseball programs, Sellers committed to play at Cal State Fullerton, but later opted to sign with the Oakland Athletics after they drafted him in the 6th round (191st overall) of the 2005 First Year Player Draft.
A shortstop by trade, the 5’10, 160-pound, Sellers played multiple infield positions in his first four professional seasons and quickly became known around the organization as a utility man with Gold Glove-caliber defense.
Following his most productive season at the plate (.255, 6 HRs, 46 RBIs) with Double-A Midland in 2008, Sellers was traded by Oakland with outfielder Richie Robnett to the Chicago Cubs for right-handed pitcher Michael Wuertz. Exactly two months later, before he ever suited up in the Cubs organization, Sellers was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for cash considerations prior to the start of the 2009 season.
Sellers spent all of 2009 in Double-A Chattanooga where he posted a career high .280 batting average. His offensive numbers continued to surge in 2010 at Triple-A Albuquerque. In 90 games with the Isotopes, Sellers batted .285 with 14 home runs and 56 RBIs. He returned to Albuquerque to start the 2011 season and picked up where he left off at the plate, batting .304 and belting 14 home runs and 49 RBIs in 89 games.
The SoCal kid’s big league dream came true when the Los Angeles Dodgers purchased his contract on August 12, 2011. He made his big league debut that day in front of his hometown fans.
“I’m from Southern California, so making my debut in L.A. was kind of crazy,” said Sellers. “Don Mattingly was my first big league coach. It was awesome.”
Sellers shined early at the big league level, recording his first big league hit and home run that week and hitting .333 in his first nine games.
He made the opening day roster for the Dodgers in 2012 and 2013, but only appeared in 46 games over those two seasons due to a bulging disc in his lower back.
In an effort to add more middle infield depth, the Cleveland Indians acquired Sellers for cash considerations before to the start of the 2014 season.
Since the trade, Sellers has appeared in just seven games with the Indians. He’s spent the remainder in Triple-A Columbus, where he has played shortstop, second base, third base, and all three of the outfield positions. In 90 games in Columbus, he’s batting .253 with three home runs and 32 RBIs.
It’s no secret that the Indians middle infield is crowded with top prospect Francisco Lindor, who’ll likely be the club’s 2015 opening day shortstop, 2013 All-Star Jason Kipnis, and young guys like Jose Ramirez and Zach Walters. But that hasn’t stopped Sellers from continuing to work on his game and find new ways to press the organization for a roster spot.
“I’m working on everything,” said Sellers. “My plate appearances, outfield. I’m really good defensively in the infield. If I could take my outfield game to another level, I think that would definitely benefit me and eventually help me with the Indians if I was lucky enough to get called up. But I’m constantly working on my swing everyday and my approach.”
Despite a .253 batting average, Sellers has had some big games at the plate recently, including a 3-4 night (HR, 2B, 2 RBI) in a July 27 win over the Norfolk Tide.
“Staying short and hitting line drives,” said Sellers when asked what he’s doing to improve his approach at the plate. “I have a tendency to hit too many fly balls. But if I just stay short, have quality at bats, get on base, hit the ball hard, bunt, and move the runner over – those are the type of things I’m working on.”
Defense and hitting aren’t the only things Justin’s working on to press the organization.
“If I could work on one thing specifically that will make me a dynamic player it would be my speed,” said Sellers. “If I could get faster and steal 20-30 bags. I’m not there right now, but if I could be a speedster because I’m looking around the league and speed kills.”
Whether it’s learning a new position, changing his approach at the plate, or working to improve his speed, Sellers is willing to do what it takes to become a better baseball player and continue to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“It’s been a blessing to have my dad play in the league and try to follow in his footsteps,” said Sellers. “Not a lot of people can say they did that.”
Sellers loves the game and has many chapters to write before his childhood dream is finished.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer