Spring Training is officially underway at Camelback Ranch and the Los Angeles Dodgers are gearing up for what should be a fantastic 2014 season. The Dodgers entered Spring Training a week early due to their regular season kickoff series with the Arizona Diamondbacks in Australia. While most of the Dodgers Opening Day lineup and roster is already set, barring injury, there are a couple of positional battles that are sure to be headline worthy in the coming weeks. Let’s take a look at a couple of them.
The Dodgers biggest hole last season was at second base where the team ran out a platoon of Mark Ellis and Nick Punto for the majority of the season. This year the team is expected to hold an open competition between Alexander Guerrero, the Cuban import who signed with the Dodgers for 4 years and $28 million dollars this offseason, and Dee Gordon, who has yet to live up to expectations.
Guerrero, 27, should be considered the favorite heading into Spring Training; however, we really don’t know what to expect from him. According to scouting reports, his player comparison is Dan Uggla. But which Dan Uggla? If Guerrero is the Florida Marlins Dan Uggla then we should expect a highly capable power hitter that hits for a decent average, drives in runs and plays a decent second base. If Guerrero turns out to be the Atlanta Braves Dan Uggla, the .200 hitter with limited power, then this may end up being Dee Gordon’s job.
Gordon, 26, has shown flashes in the Major Leagues but hasn’t been consistent enough at the plate to hold down a job for an extended period of time. Gordon is a career .256 hitter in the big leagues and only has a .301 OBP. In order for Gordon to lock up a job with the Dodgers, whether it be as the second baseman or as a utility man, he is going to need to draw more walks and hit for a better average. We know Gordon isn’t going to hit for power. Gordon’s best attribute is his speed, which means he needs to get on base as frequently as possible. Without getting on base, Gordon is a fringe major leaguer. It should be interesting to see how Gordon makes the transition from shortstop, his natural position, to second base.
Prediction: The second base job will be given to Guerrero when it’s all said and done. The Dodgers invested heavily in Guerrero and have obviously had success with foreign imports over the past couple seasons, mostly notably with Yasiel Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu. If Guerrero struggles in spring training, however, things will get very interesting come the end of March.
We discussed who would be the Dodgers fifth starter at length in January. However, it’s worth revisiting. There are no shortage of capable pitchers on the Dodgers roster and any one of these guys couple end up being the last starter. The candidates are Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Stephen Fife, Matt Magill and recently signed left-hander Paul Maholm.
Right now it looks like Josh Beckett is going to be the fifth starter and he says he is injury free. Billingsley won’t be able to take the mound until May or June due to his Tommy John surgery. Fife and Magill are nice gap starters, especially, Fife, but I don’t think they will win the fifth spot out of Spring Training unless Beckett gets injured again or they blow away the Cactus League competition and steal the job away from Beckett.
Prediction: It’s Beckett’s job to lose. He won’t lose it unless he gets injured.
8th Inning Reliever
The Dodgers went out and strengthened their bullpen this offseason with the additions of Chris Perez, formerly of the Cleveland Indians, and Jamey Wright, the former Dodger. The team also re-signed Brian Wilson, the bearded one, and J.P. Howell. The Dodgers already have a legitimate top-end closer in Kenley Jansen and lefty specialist in Paco Rodriguez.
The 8th inning role was Wilson’s by the end of last season and exceeded expectations in that role. While there are concerns about Wilson’s health, he looked great last season and should be considered the favorite to win the set-up job again. Rodriguez did a wonderful job for most of the season last year before getting fatigued by the end of the season. While Perez struggled last season, he was one of the finest relievers in all of baseball a couple of seasons ago and may find more success in the National League and in the friendly pitchers confines of Dodger Stadium.
Prediction: It has to be Brian Wilson. If it’s not Wilson something has gone terribly wrong.
The Dodgers re-signed Juan Uribe in the offseason and for good reason. Uribe was a massive disappointment in his first two years as a Dodger; however, he really turned it around last season and became one of the Dodgers most reliable players. Moreover, he was an integral part of the Dodgers fantastic chemistry last season and really bonded with Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig. Losing Uribe would have been a huge blow to the clubhouse and the Dodgers did the right thing by keeping him around.
The question for Uribe is whether or not he can be as consistent as he was last season. I have my concerns as Uribe is known to be a stud in his contract year and now that he is re-signed for 2 seasons, he may not have the same motivation as he had last season. The Dodgers need Uribe to be a .270 hitter with a decent OBP and to drive in runs from the bottom of the lineup. If he’s not able to produce the Dodgers have limited options behind him.
The Dodgers signed Chone Figgins a couple of weeks ago and extended a Spring Training invite to him. Figgins is not the same player he was a couple of years ago and struggled mightily in Seattle, like most hitters. Other options for the Dodgers include Brendan Harris, Miguel Rojas, Justin Sellers and Justin Turner, who the Dodgers recently signed. The Dodgers could also bring up Corey Seager, the uber talented SS prospect who will transition to 3B in the near future. That scenario; however, is highly unlikely.
Prediction: Uribe is going to win the job; however, if he fails to produce the team may have to look outside of the organization to fill the hole. While I don’t think Uribe’s production will match last seasons, I do believe he is the right man for the job at this moment. Also, he did this last season so he should probably get the benefit of the doubt.
Never Forget! PAPI!
Last Bench Spot
The Dodgers have no shortage of hitters to fill up the bench but to say that there is a drop off in talent between the starters and the bench guys would be the understatement of the century. Don Mattingly would like to have bench players that are versatile. That means that players like Dee Gordon and Justin Turner are probably going to make the big league club out of Spring Training. Obviously the Dodgers are going to have one of the four “starting” outfielders on the bench each game. One would assume that Puig is the only outfielder who is pretty much guaranteed to suit up for every game.
The Dodgers are going to keep Tim Federowicz on the major league roster for obvious reasons, which means the team will have one spot left to fill. The candidates are Scott Van Slyke, the power hitting outfielder, Figgins, Harris, and Rojas. The question will be whether the Dodgers feel comfortable with only two backup infielders or one backup outfielder.
Prediction: Van Slyke will get the last spot on the 25-man roster because of his power off the bench. Van Stache, as I like to call him, has been known to come through in key situations before and the Dodgers should be able to get by with only two backup infielders for the majority of the season.
We are quickly approaching the Dodgers Spring Training opener, which is on Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 12:10 p.m. PT against the Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale. It should be interesting to see some of these important positional battles play out on the Cactus League fields.