KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- When right-hander John Ely decided he needed a change of scenery for the 2013 season, he took his desire to the extreme and was prepared to sign a contract to play for a team in South Korea this year.
A phone call from Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti on Dec. 19 of last year -- informing him he had been traded to the Astros -- was enough to inject some life into Ely's career and keep him stateside. A new team meant a terrific opportunity for the 26-year-old on a young team.
"To be honest with you, I was very excited about it," Ely said. "I think what I needed more than anything was a change of scenery, and coming over to a clubhouse that's energetic and the coaching staff is positive, it's a whole lot of opportunity. I couldn't be happier about it."
Ely is part of the pool of pitchers the Astros acquired this offseason to add some much-needed organizational starting pitching depth, joining Brad Peacock, Alex White, Philip Humber and Erik Bedard. In essence, they're among a group competing for two spots at the Major League level, but the idea was to have quality arms ready and available at Triple-A.
"There's a lot of good arms, but if you start looking around and looking at other people and what they're doing, it just takes away from what you're doing and what this team is trying to do as a whole, which is win ballgames," Ely said. "We've been playing really good baseball so far this spring. That's all I focused on and all this team is focused on."
There's nothing about Ely that's flashy. Ely has a straightforward arsenal of a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup, and he doesn't throw as hard as some of his competition, such as Jarred Cosart. What Ely does bring to the table is a strong Minor League track record.
Selected in the third round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft by the White Sox, he was traded to the Dodgers in '09 in the Juan Pierre deal. Ely made 18 starts for the Dodgers in '10, going 4-10, and spent most of the next two seasons in Triple-A Albuquerque. Last year, he was 14-7 with a 3.20 ERA in 27 starts.
With the Dodgers having a stacked Major League rotation that features veterans Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley, Ely saw the writing on the wall.
"When you look at the clubhouse over there, you have eight guys making $10 million to do the same thing you do," Ely said. "[Playing in Korea] was a decision me and my family and agent came to. It was the right thing to do at the time, and now obviously being over here, we're focused on helping out this team and hopefully being able to make this roster."
It's early in camp, but Ely has been impressive. Manager Bo Porter likes the way Ely's kept the ball down the zone and the late life on his fastball.
"He has great confidence in his off-speed stuff and he can throw it any count," Porter said. "He's been impressive early."
Making a good impression on the manager in February is one thing, but becoming a mainstay in the rotation takes so much more.
"Honestly, I need to take advantage of every opportunity," Ely said. "Every time I get the ball, I have to stay consistent. I think that's definitely something that could be in my future, but right now, first things first. I'm focusing every single time I pick up the ball in camp."