Let’s Remember Some Dodgers: Eugenio Velez, D.J. Houlton & Chin-Feng Chen

Lets knock out a few simple ones this time. I dared to say Daryle Ward may have been the Dodgers’ worst hitter (other than pitchers) since the 1990s. How quickly I forgot the 2011 run that captivated me in the second half of the season.

Another entry makes the list simply because I managed to be in the crowd for one of his six career victories and the other adds to the subcategory of looking back on the Dodgers’ odd assortment of top prospects who failed to pan out.

Eugenio Velez

So Ward slashed .183/.211/.193/.403 in 114 plate appearances. Well, Velez slashed .000/.075/.000/.075 in 40 PAs. He never got a hit with the Dodgers. Being an asshole 21-year-old at the time, I vividly remember cheering for him to keep the streak going every time he came to the plate.

Tied for the major league record of hitless at-bats at 0-for-45 on the final day of the 2011 season, Don Mattingly sent Velez to the plate to hit for Jamey Carroll as the Dodgers led the Diamondbacks 7-0. Looking to snap the skid before the season ended, Velez rolled a 1-1 pitch to second base in his final major league plate appearance. That’s right, Velez never played in the majors again. He hung around Triple-A with St. Louis, Toronto, Milwaukee and Tampa Bay until 2015 and even had two PAs in the Dominican Winter League this past year.

Velez’s record has since fallen, very notably by Chris Davis and his 0-for-54 run between 2018 and 2019. But still, Velez’s -0.7 WAR and -79wRC+ included 11 Ks, 2 BBs and amazingly five runs scored. While walking twice and being hit by a pitch once, Velez managed to score twice (the other three came as a pinch runner).

For some reason, the Dodgers actually started Velez in seven games through the second half of 2011. He’d signed a minor league deal in December 2010, and replaced Dee Gordon on the 25-man roster in July after Rafael Furcal returned.

The promotion from Triple-A Albuquerque was deserved, as the former Giant was slashing .339/.371/.463/.834 in 235 PAs. While the team was desperate for some help in the middle infield in 2011 (it’s not like Justin Sellers or Ivan De Jesus were doing much better), poor John Lindsey couldn’t even get a return to Los Angeles with his .947 OPS in 270 Triple-A PAs.

D.J. Houlton

While the Dodgers lost Shane Victorino in the 2004 Rule 5 Draft, they added Houlton from the Houston Astros. Entering his age-25 season with just 11 Triple-A starts two years prior in 2003, Houlton landed on the Dodgers’ major league roster for all of 2005.

Stuck at a level he likely wasn’t entirely prepared for, Houlton’s first 13 appearances in the majors came out of the bullpen during April and May. But with 37-year-old Scott Erickson’s 7.22 ERA and 7.44 FIP in 38 2/3 innings across 8 starts, the Dodgers pushed Houlton, a Fullerton, California native, into the rotation.

That probably wasn’t the best idea even if Houlton’s 7.41 ERA in relief wasn’t as bad as the 4.86 xFIP he held. And in a prime example of why pitcher wins are mostly pointless, Houlton’s first five starts led to a 4-1 record despite a 4.30 ERA and 4.40 xFIP. With four home runs allowed in those 29 1/3 innings, Houlton 47.1 FB% and 33 Hard Hit% seemed a little worrisome (sure enough, his 1.47 HR/9 finished as the 10th highest among pitchers with at least 120 innings).

But since I can write about whatever I want, I felt the need to include Houlton here as I was at one of his four victories (and six in his MLB career) in June 2005. The surreal experience, even to this day, was June 12 as Hee Seop Choi hit three solo home runs against the Twins and Houlton struck out a career-high 8 in 6 innings.

With the Rule 5 conditions gone, Houlton spent all of 2006 in Triple-A Las Vegas, starting 29 games with a 5.60 ERA and 25 home runs allowed in 162 1/3 innings. A 3.65 ERA in 106 Triple-A innings for Las Vegas helped Houlton return to Los Angeles as a reliever in July 2007, finishing with a 4.18 ERA in 28 innings.

Now entering his age-28 season, the Dodgers decided to sell Houlton to the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Japan. Spending four years with the Hawks, Houlton’s 2009 and 2011 seasons were pretty strong with the latter ending in a Japan Series title as he went 19-6 with a 2.19 ERA and 121 Ks in 172 1/3 innings. Moving on to the Yomiuri Giants for two years, Houlton’s career came to an end after a year with the Kia Tigers in Korea.

Chin-Feng Chen

The Dodgers signed the 21-year-old Chen out of Taiwan in January 1999, with the deal reportedly for seven years and $600,000. Having shined in the previous year’s world championships and the Asian Games a month before signing, Chen immediately landed as the Dodgers’ No. 2 prospect according to Baseball America.

Chen destroyed California League pitching as a 21-year-old in 1999, becoming the Dodgers’ first 30/30 player in the minors while slashing .316/.404/.580/.984 in nearly 600 PAs for High-A San Bernardino. That shifted him to the top of the Dodgers’ organizational rankings and No. 17 overall by Baseball America. Playing for Double-A San Antonio in 2000, Chen’s number slipped a bit but he still remained the Dodgers’ No. 2 prospect and No. 86 overall on Baseball America.

In High-A Vero Beach and Double-A Jacksonville, Chen’s total line for 2001 stood at .290/.390/.523/.913. Back up to Baseball America’s No. 64 prospect before the 2002 season, Chen made his Los Angeles debut in September to become the first Taiwanese-born player to ever play Major League Baseball. However, Chen never could break through in Los Angeles as he bounced between Triple-A Las Vegas and the majors for the next three years. In 1,829 PAs across four years for Vegas, Chen slashed .283/.356/.525/.881, but managed just 25 PAs for the Dodgers between 2002 and 2005.

His lone two hits were singles, while he struck out 10 times. Thankfully after his contract with the Dodgers expired, Chen moved to the Chinese Professional Baseball League where he played for more than a decade.

About Cody Bashore

Cody Bashore is a lifelong Dodger fan originally from Carpinteria, California (about 80 miles north of Dodger Stadium along the coast). He left California to attend Northern Arizona University in 2011, and has lived in Arizona full-time since he graduated in 2014 with a journalism degree.