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Inside A.J. Ellis' Breakout Season

The first-place Los Angeles Dodgers are enjoying MVP-caliber production from an up-the-middle position player. It's just coming from the guy no one would have expected. While Matt Kemp's hamstring has forced him to the DL for the second time this season, catcher A.J. Ellis has kept L.A.'s offense humming by hitting .315/.430/.503.

The 31-year-old Ellis, taken in the 18th round of the 2003 draft, was an on-base machine in the minors (career .406 OBP) but showed little power (.380 slugging percentage) and seemed destined to toil as a big league backup. Instead, he has grabbed the starting job by pairing his trademark plate discipline with surprising pop. Ellis has hit six home runs in 2012, already closing in on the career-best eight he managed in Double-A back in 2007. This unlikely slugger is killing pitchers who challenge him inside. Check out Ellis' slugging percentage by pitch location:

Ellis' slugging percentage by pitch location, 2012Ellis is slugging .789 versus inside pitches, trailing just Josh Hamilton (.891) and Josh Willingham (.871) among all MLB hitters. Five of Ellis' homers have come on inside offerings, including the Alex White sinker that the Dodgers backstop ripped over the left field fence yesterday afternoon against the Rockies.

It's highly unlikely that a 30-something catcher with little history of power hitting (19 shots in over 2,100 minor league plate appearances) can continue to channel vintage Mike Piazza. But Ellis' sharp eye should continue to make him an asset to the Dodgers. And if the power does persist, L.A. could have another up-the-middle All-Star on its squad.

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