Ryan Ludwick, the veteran outfielder who is in Surprise with the Rangers on a minor league deal this spring, is fighting to win a job after back-to-back disappointing seasons with the Cincinnati Reds.
One thing that Ludwick will have going for him, though, in trying to make a team that is placing importance on clubhouse culture and leadership, is that he's garnered a lot of praise for being a terrific teammate.
In a Q&A with Ken Rosenthal, Mat Latos, who was a teammate of Ludwick's in both Cincinnati and the Padres, talked about the importance of veteran leadership, and had this to say about Ludwick:
I had two more years with probably the best teammate I ever had, Ryan Ludwick. I was with him in San Diego for two years. Luddy to this day is still the best teammate I’ve had in the big leagues.
That caught my eye, and I did some poking around to see what else there was out there about Ludwick. Of note, when Ludwick was dealt from the Cardinals at the trade deadline in 2010, it definitely caused waves with his former teammates:
There was no Luddy to launch Saturday even when one was needed to shake a stunned clubhouse and its subdued reaction to a three-team trade that landed a starting pitcher but cost a favored teammate. Ludwick, a former All-Star, was sent to San Diego to acquire a prospect used to get righthander Jake Westbrook from the Cleveland Indians. A year ago, the Cardinals' clubhouse was buoyant and energized by the addition of Matt Holliday via trade.
This year, any enthusiasm was tempered by disbelief, and many players chose their words carefully, pausing sometimes to find acceptable answers. Asked if he was surprised by the deal, Chris Carpenter waited 12 seconds before responding.
"The loss of Ludwick is something that surprised me," the ace eventually said. "In turn, you have to give up something to get something. Unfortunately it was Ryan. ... I can only speak for myself and not for everybody else. It's nice to acquire a guy like Westbrook, and it's hard to lose a guy like Ludwick. There's no question."
He paused five seconds.
"It will be interesting to see."
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said he did not canvass the clubhouse for reaction but expected it to be "bittersweet." Ludwick was a favorite at many levels for the Cardinals. He and Mozeliak went back to when the GM scouting the outfielder in college, and members of Mozeliak's front office have described Ludwick as a friend. In the clubhouse, Ludwick has been mentioned by young players as both mentor and translator in what can be an imposing atmosphere. Second-year center fielder Colby Rasmus said, "Last year we had some problems in the outfield with a couple guys," and it was Ludwick who helped Rasmus deal with any chill Rasmus felt on the major-league roster.
There was similar praise for Ludwick from his Padres teammates, after he was dealt to the Pirates at the 2011 trade deadline:
While only with the Padres for one calendar year, Ludwick certainly made an impression on his teammates.
"I think other than David Eckstein, he's [Ludwick] as professional a teammate as I have been around," said Padres catcher Nick Hundley. "His ability to come to the park every day and no matter whether he's going or if he's going bad ... he's still a great teammate.
"He never complains, he never pouts, he goes out there and plays hard and he plays hurt. There are just a lot of things he brings to the table as far as being a great clubhouse guy. Those are the kind of guys you want on your team."
Late last season, Ludwick talked about getting to the point of his career where he's going to be a bench or platoon player, and how he's willing to embrace that role in order to have a chance to win a ring. Ludwick is battling several other players, including Jake Smolinski, Nate Schierholtz, and Kyle Blanks, for what is likely one spot as a RH COF/DH bench bat (assuming that Ryan Rua wins the left field job, as expected), and he's going to have to show he can hit again in order to win a job. That being said, his positive influence and leadership would seem to be something that could help make the difference, if the choice is close between Ludwick and someone else.