Monday, March 28, 2016

Dodgers Closing In On 2016 Roster

Who makes the 2016 final cut?
As the Dodgers are getting ready to break camp on Wednesday and head home to begin the annual Freeway Series with the Angels, it is a perfect time to speculate on the final 25-man roster. Team officials are surely losing sleep over all of the injuries the team has endured throughout spring training and are crossing fingers the blood-letting is over. The 14-car pile-up that is the Dodgers current injury list (yes, that many) could make for some interesting roster decisions.

Kershaw ready to lead the staff.
(photo courtesy Cindy Murphy)
Starting Pitching Staff (5 spots)
Can Lee capture the #5?
(photo courtesy Cindy Murphy)
One through four is an easy call with ace Clayton Kershaw (great spring, raring to go as usual) leading the way, followed by Scott Kazmir (luckily his abdominal issue turned out only to be a dehydration cramp the other day), then a very solid looking Kenta Maeda, an ever-improving Alex Wood, followed by, drum roll, please...the insert-a-new-name-every-five-days-guy. I am only half-kidding. Due to injuries to #5 frontrunners, Mike Bolsinger (left oblique), and Brandon Beachy (left arm soreness), and no clearcut winner for the job between Carlos Frias and Zach Lee, it looks like we will get a combination of the two depending upon match-ups. Then when Bolsinger and Beachy are ready, they, too, will probably join the #5 parade. This sounds a lot like last year's "drive to find number five," which was pretty much a disaster. Hopefully, these four can combine to give the team a chance to win every fifth day until either the rehabbing Hyun-Jin Ryu (shoulder) or Brandon McCarthy (elbow) can take over in (maybe) June.

Coleman has earned it.
(photo courtesy MLB)
Bullpen (7 spots)
Avilan may have pitched himself off roster.
(photo courtesy L.A. Times)
Closer Kenley Jansen, set-up man Chris Hatcher, and righty Joe Blanton are locks. Former Kansas City Royal, Louis Coleman, has been phenomenal this spring (9 innings, 11 strikeouts, 0 walks, 0 runs, 3 hits allowed), cementing a spot. Lefty J.P. Howell hasn't looked great, but stands to make the club based on past performance and a hefty contract, while his shoe-in back-up, Luis Avilan, is now in a dogfight with Adam Libertore, who has pitched much better this spring. I am guessing Avilan will make the club with Libertore on speed-dial should Avilan continue his downward trajectory. The seventh reliever slot has Pedro Baez's name written all over it (he has had a very strong spring), especially since Yimi Garcia is experiencing some knee soreness. If Garcia's knee is ready for opening day, the Dodgers could opt to take him instead of Avilan or Libertore and go with just one left-hander to begin the season. 

Barnes could make a name for himself.
(photo courtesy MLB)
Infield (8 spots)
Super-sub, Kiki Hernandez.
(photo courtesy Cindy Murphy)
Here's where things start to get interesting due to injuries suffered by catcher Yasmani Grandal (sore forearm) and second baseman Howie Kendrick (tight calf), both of whom figure to start the season on the disabled list. Austin Barnes will land the back-up catching role, which is an exciting development because he is proving to be both solid defensively (good pitch-framer) and offensively (4 homers, 10 RBIs this spring, and surprisingly speedy); Barnes could potentially be the Dodgers' starting catcher someday if Grandal continues his injury-prone ways. Filling Kendrick's spot should be Charlie Culberson over Micah Johnson since Culberson can play second base and also spell rehabbing Corey Seager at shortstop and Justin Turner at third base. The other six slots are easy locks: A.J. Ellis at catcher, Adrian Gonzalez at first base, Chase Utley at second base/third base, Seager at shortstop, Turner at third base, and, of course, Mr. Everything (infield and outfield), Kiki Hernandez.

Clay Thompson can play
all 3 outfield spots.
(photo courtesy Cindy Murphy)
Outfield (5 spots)
Guerrero's place is the A.L.
(photo courtesy Cindy Murphy)
When spring training began the outfield looked even more crowded than last season. However, a spate of injuries simplified the decision-making process. Yasiel Puig, should his right hamstring hold out (he has sat out a couple of games with tightness), will man right field and Joc Pederson will handle center field with some occasional bench time against tough lefties. Left field was Andre Ethier's (finally!) until he fractured his right tibia. Now, a struggling Carl Crawford and the hot-hitting Scott Van Slyke (6 homers, 7 RBIs) will platoon in left. And it looks like prospect Trayce Thompson will now get his shot to make the team, filling in at all three outfield spots as needed. It will be fun to watch Thompson, as he is considered to be the top defensive outfielder in the Dodger organization; also, Thompson was the spring ironman with 61 at-bats, and though his batting average was low, he did have 2 home runs, 3 doubles, 1 triple, and 8 RBIs. Alex Guerrero's sprained knee helped create this opening (Guerrero's contract won't allow him to be returned to the minors), and I, for one, hope Thompson is able to take full advantage of this opportunity and give the Dodgers a reason to finally trade or cut Guerrero when he is healthy again. I feel badly that the guy got part of his ear chewed off in a dugout fight in his first year, but his terrible fielding make him an American Leaguer at best.

These are my picks for the 25-man roster. I better publish this piece ASAP before another Dodger pulls up lame and ruins my forecast.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Dodgers Dropping Like Flies

If you're a Dodger fan and you're squeamish, you might want to avert your eyes. As Opening Day approaches, the injuries are coming in at a freakish clip, which is not something a club wants to see this close to breaking camp. All the depth the front office has been stockpiling might very well get tested earlier than expected.

Candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation are on a downward spiral. 
Ryu & the Dodgers aren't laughing now.
Training camp barely began when the Dodger pitching staff started taking a hit. First to go down was Brett Anderson with back surgery. So Alex Wood moved up to occupy Anderson's fourth slot, and then promptly felt tightness in his left forearm. He missed one start and then returned, but it's hard to tell if he's really healthy since he revealed he was secretly playing with a sore ankle pretty much from the day he arrived last season in the trade with the Braves. Fishy. Then the Hyun-Jin Ryu setbacks started up, and it's deja vu, you know, that feeling when the team keeps on pushing back his return timetable until it finally announces he needs surgery...again. Let's hope not. The team says it will be at least June before Ryu sees a major league mound, so the fifth slot, just like last season, is a black hole. 

Can Beachy come back from Tommy
John and snag the #5?
In the early-going, it was fun watching guys compete for the #5, now it's just scary. 
Lee may finally have his opening.
Top prospects Julio Urius and Jose De Leon proved they are not-yet-ready for primetime, pretty much getting lit up in their spring innings. Same for Jharel Cotton. Not sure why Ross Stripling fell out of the running, as he looked pretty good. Nevertheless, these guys were all sent to the minor leagues last week in the first round of cuts, leaving Mike Bolsinger, Brandon Beachy, and Zach Lee to fight it out. Opponents were only hitting .232 against Lee, but the Dodgers eventually sent him to the minors as well (might have been his 4.50 ERA), making it a two-man game. And then the injury bug bit the pitching staff yet again. Beachy threw a rotten game last Friday night (extremely high pitch count, four walks, couldn't get out of the third inning, etc.), and the next day the team revealed he has tendonitis in his pitching arm. The prescription is rest, but we know how that usually turns out. As if that wasn't bad enough, Bolsinger was scratched from his next start because of an oblique strain. Apparently, he felt "a lot better" the next day, but since oblique strains can be super serious (Carl Crawford missed 75 games last season with one of these boys) the team is playing it slow and safe. So...about that 5th slot...Now what? Manager Dave Roberts and the brass are considering canceling Lee's option and bringing him back up or possibly giving Carlos Frias another shot like last year before he hurt his lower back. Frias did okay in the slot, nothing too special, but not horrible either. Either way, the #5 slot is panning out just like last season, which is not a good thing. Some think the Dodgers should throw Urius or De Leon out there; this won't happen, though, as neither of them have big-league arm strength yet, and to bring one of them up now would smack of desperation.

Ethier is feeling the pain.
It would be nice if the injury parade stopped there. It gets worse.
Ethier's pain could be Thompson's gain.
Just when it seemed that Andre Ethier finally had job security, he fouled a ball off of his shin. Ironically, he wears a pad on his knee and one on his shin, but there is one tiny bare area. Yep, the ball found that the spot because that is what happens when you are a Dodger, so look out. X-rays were negative--yay!--however, it is so sore that the medical staff ordered a bone scan tomorrow. Not good, especially when one backup, Scott Van Slyke, now has a sore hip flexor, and the other is Carl Crawford. Even if Crawford manages to leave camp healthy (and we all know that is a BIG if with his history), he is currently sporting a pathetic .120 batting average. If Ethier's injury spells D.L., the team could turn to slick prospect, Trayce Thompson, who has 2 home runs, 7 RBIs, and is considered to be one of best outfielders in the organization. Unless he is the next one to drop. Oh, and, this just in...catcher Yasmani Grandal left the game today in the second inning with forearm soreness, which has been bothering him for several days. Seriously?

Yep, I am resorting to this.
Dave Roberts might be, too.
Of course, injuries are part of professional sports and every team has to deal with them. Things could get even worse for the Dodgers, so I feel the need to...

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Who's On 1st, What's on 2nd, I Don't Know's On 3rd

Is this what Turner's
knee feels like?
This is not a joke--there is some serious trouble for the Dodgers at third base. Sure, starting third baseman Justin Turner looked solid when he finally made his spring debut on Monday, slashing a double, picking up an RBI, scoring a run, and taking a walk. However, it's anybody's guess how consistently (games and ability) he will be able to play this season coming off of microfracture knee surgery. The Dodger front office mismanaged some personnel moves in the off-season, leading to a very precarious situation at a key position. It's been all hush-hush so far around the team, but a problem is brewing.

Utley might need to pray to his bat
for hits this season.
It's kind of a joke to think lifetime second basemen Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick can play third.
The Dodger front office really screwed the pooch on this one. When Kendrick rejected the team's $15.8 million qualifying offer over the winter, the Dodgers secretly rejoiced, excited about the compensatory first-round draft pick they would receive when another team signed him. Nice plan if it worked, right? But no other teams wanted Kendrick, and the Dodgers then resigned him for two more years AFTER they had already resigned Utley earlier in the winter when they assumed Kendrick was gone! Crazy. The fact that the Dodgers made the move for Kendrick at the 11th hour shows how much value they actually think Utley provides--try zero. The 37-year-old Utley has very diminishing bat skills, and even worse, the Dodgers are asking both he and Kendrick to play third when Turner needs to rest that creaky knee. The results so far this spring have been predictable with both Utley and Kendrick struggling to adjust to the different spin on the ball a fielder sees at third. Kudos to the two old guys trying their hands at third, but this is a disaster waiting to happen. Turner himself is only considered an average third baseman, so basic baseball logic dictates that you take him out in the late innings and put in a defensive specialist to lock down the infield when it counts. You definitely don't replace Turner with defensive liabilities like Utley and Kendrick.

Kendrick is a second baseman.
The Dodgers have painted themselves into the proverbial (hot) corner. 
Kendrick is going to be the primary second baseman, as he should be, because he can still provide a solid glove there and timely hitting. If Utley brings the same bat with no hits in it like last season (when he hit .212), he is worthless since he is not a capable third baseman to sub for Turner. Plain and simple. Utley needs to hit--a lot--to earn his keep, but manager Dave Roberts will be forced to play him irregardless because of the way the front office composed the roster. They actually HAD an all-star third baseman on the team for about five seconds this winter when they received Todd Frazier from the Reds in exchange for prospects Jose Peraza, Scott Schebler, and Brandon Dixon; however, they immediately flipped Frazier for Frankie Montas, Micah Johnson, and Trayce Thompson. Team insiders said the Dodgers believed Tuner's knee would limit him to third base duties only, so keeping Frazier didn't make sense since they were both starters. Okay, we get it, Turner is your guy at third if his knee doesn't complain, but you need a capable back up or Clayton Kershaw and the rest of the pitching staff are going to go crazy watching routine ground balls ping pong around the diamond. 

So is there a solution?
Will Culberson get the call
at third?
There is one in-house potential solution, but it's hard to see the Dodgers going this route. Charlie Culberson, a 27-year-old non-roster-invitee third baseman with 148 MLB games to his credit, is putting together a very solid spring for the team. He is playing great defense along with a .292 batting average and he is tied for the lead in team RBIs with 8. If the roster weren't so crowded with geezers, Culberson would probably make the team since he fits the typical back-up infielder mold. But the aforementioned old dudes, most notably Utley, are standing in his way. No way the top brass is going to cut Utley no matter how crappy he hits, as they made their commitment to him. However, if he is a disaster at third, what will they do? Injuries will most likely dictate the solution, as is often the case. If Turner can't play much this season, the front office will have to find a higher-grade player than Culberson, which would mean trading some of their coveted prospects for a Todd Frazier-type (smell the irony). Only in this scenario would the team cut its losses with Utley, and he then quietly retires when nobody picks him up.

Why did they even let the fleet-footed
Peraza go?
The million-dollar question: Why did they even sign Utley in the first place?
The Dodgers already had highly-touted and super-speedy prospect, Peraza, lined up to take over at second base since the end of last season. Since it is doubtful that Utley was in demand, why not just wait to see how things panned out in the marketplace before trading Peraza? The trade of Peraza netted another not-as-good second baseman (Johnson), yet another outfielder (Thompson), and more pitching (Montas, who quickly went on the 60-day DL with a rib injury). Just another one of the many head-scratching moves by the new brass. Let's hope this one doesn't come back to bite us. I can't see a scenario where it doesn't.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Hallelujah: Dodgers Are Off & Running

This sure ain't Mattingly's Dodgers.
The Don Mattingly era is officially over. Watch the Dodger spring training games and it is abundantly clear: the team actually has a legitimate running game in the works. Thank you, Dave Roberts! If I sound overly excited about this development, well, there is good reason--so let's get right to breaking it down.

No, we haven't reacquired speedster, Dee Gordon, but that's just fine.
Keep dreaming. Dee's still gone.
Sure, it would be great to have a true leadoff hitter at the top of the order like Gordon, doing anything and everything to get on base and then wreaking complete and total havoc once there, but Roberts & company are doing the next best thing. He has everybody on the team--lead-footed A.J. Ellis included--thinking run, run, run from the second they drop the bat to every second they are on base. Aggressive-minded base-running, Kansas City Royals-style. Remember those guys? Following the running model of last year's champs is not a bad idea at all. 

Seriously, even A.J. is scoring
from first base.
Need proof that the Dodgers are actually engaging in some old-school baseball?
Yesterday's game against the Colorado Rockies is a great example of the new-found running game. Not only were they running hard down the first-base line, but every Dodger was turning the first-base corner like they really ACTUALLY were thinking about going to second (no b.s. jogging up the line with the cursory, baby left-turn). This mode of running puts pressure on the outfielder to make a clean play on the ball with even one tiny bobble giving the runner an excellent chance at taking second base. Balls that were hit in the gap had every runner thinking extra bases, including Andre Ethier, who tripled on a hit to the outfield that would have had him settling for a double in seasons' past. Even Ellis got in on the action: he was on first base when Cody Bellinger lined a shot in the gap, and he chugged all the way home. In the Mattingly era, A.J. barely makes it into third on that hit. If this type of play doesn't signal that station-to-station baseball is a thing of the past for the Dodgers, than I don't know what does. 

Even more evidence of the Dodgers' new running game.
Ethier leading the way with base
running savvy & hustle.
In the same inning that Ethier legged out a triple, he and A.J. Ellis combined to put on a clinic on how to execute the squeeze. As Ellis squared and bunted the ball toward the pitcher, Ethier hustled down the line and slid by the catcher, avoiding the tag by grazing the plate with his left hand as he went. I seriously don't recall Donnie ever putting on a squeeze play. It was a thing of beauty. In a different game earlier in the weekend, the Dodgers were able to score from third base twice on wild pitches; neither ball scattered particularly far from the plate, but being "ready to go" allowed the runners to get the jump they needed to score.

In Roberts' new system, Puig should be
safe more often than out. In theory.
Don't worry, this philosophy doesn't mean running into Puig-like outs.
There is a big difference between reckless base running and educated base running, and Dodger fans understand this very well after watching Yasiel Puig's first season. What Roberts is promoting will cause some outs that might not have occurred during Mattingly's reign. Aggressive base running does lead to mistakes at times because there is more risk involved. However, the theory is that a team will score more when it runs with purpose. I think most fans will be willing to endure some outs from trying for extra bases rather than watching flat-footed guys get left on base inning after inning. LOB is one of those stats that makes you queasy--just knowing that runs COULD HAVE scored is SO frustrating. You gotta love Roberts for making a push to weed out the American League notion that Mattingly brought with him from his Yankee-playing days; this year, the Dodgers won't be standing around waiting and praying for somebody to hit a home run to score. Heck, maybe this type of proactive baseball will finally lead the team to the promised land again. At the very least, it will be exciting to watch them in their pursuit.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Uh-Oh: Aging & Injured Dodgers

Good ol' father time.
Aging players with nagging injuries must be a concern in the Dodger clubhouse. You won't hear manager Dave Roberts addressing this issue much in the early-going of spring training, but you can bet he and the front office are taking an extra long look at some of the up-and-coming minor-leaguers to hedge the team's bets this season. The Dodgers are definitely either old or injury-plagued at some key positions. 

How does Gonzalez play with a
bulging disk in his neck?
First Base: Adrian Gonzalez is amazingly consistent year in and year out, playing nearly every game with Gold Glove-caliber defense, a solid average, tons of doubles, a more-than-respectable amount of home runs, and usually a top-of-the-league ranking in RBIs. So what's the problem? Well, Gonzalez and the team revealed last week that he has been playing with a bulging disk in his neck for the past five years. It's down right crazy that he has only missed a handful of games and posted his great stats with an injury of this magnitude. Gonzalez told the L.A. Times that surgery is too risky and pain management is the only way to treat it. This is not good news. Gonzalez turns 34 in May, and it's hard to imagine the injury won't start to steadily effect his game. 

Will Cody get the call
this year?
(photo courtesy Cindy Murphy)
But luckily that's where the solid play so far of first base prospect Cody Bellinger comes into the picture. Bellinger has looked great in camp: not only has he opened some eyes with exceptional skill in the field, but he is hitting a sizzling .667 (6 for 9). Even more impressive might be his calm, professional clubhouse demeanor, very reminiscent of young Dodger shortstop, Corey Seager. Bellinger's father, Clay, played pro ball, and the time Cody spent around baseball with his dad is paying off. Bellinger's strong showing in the spring will surely stick with Roberts and the top brass if Gonzalez's neck becomes an issue. He's only 20 years old, but who knows, he might get the call sooner rather than later.

Utley = too old to count on.
(photo courtesy Cindy Murphy)
Second Base: In two out of the last three seasons, second baseman Howie Kendrick missed significant playing time (last year he only played 117 games) due to injury. Last season, it was a sore hamstring, and currently, he is dealing with a sore right groin. No MRI is scheduled, so it appears the team feels this is not a major problem, but the fact that they are limiting his spring work is revealing in itself. Kendrick turns 33 in July, and his main backup at the position, Chase Utley, just hit 37 and has been dealing with a multitude of injuries the past few years. Not only that, these two guys will be subbing for Justin Turner at third base as he takes a measured path back after microfracture knee surgery during the offseason. There's always Kiki Hernandez to help out at second or third base, right? Well, not exactly. Jack-of-all-trades Hernandez is expected to be the main fill-in at shortstop for Corey Seager if he falters and for Joc Pederson in centerfield against tough lefties, if need be (this guy is going to be busy). With the potential for injury so high with these older players, it seems likely the Dodgers will at least have to consider carrying another infielder on the roster with the most likely candidate being Micah Johnson. They picked up the 25-year-old rookie in the winter trade with the White Sox, and he is busy trying to make a case for himself in camp, hitting .286 in the early-going. 

Can't keep a good player like
Thompson down for long.
(photo courtesy Cindy Murphy)
Outfield: Provided he hits more like he did in the first half of last season when he clubbed 20 home runs, Pederson should have centerfield locked down. Same with Puig in left field IF his hamstrings hold up, a big problem for him last year. But left field is more uncertain with Andre Either turning 34 next month and Carl Crawford 35 this summer. Ouch. Especially, Crawford, who hasn't played a decent number of games in a season since 2011 when he appeared in 130 for Boston. Even if these two manage to avoid any major injuries, the nagging type creep into an older player's life and limit his time on the field. Sure, there's 29-year-old Scott Van Slyke that Roberts can pencil into the outfield, but he has also been tapped as the main backup for Gonzalez at first base. And his durability came into question last season when he fought wrist and back injuries. 

Five outfielders is about the limit a club can carry, but waiting in the wings will be Trayce Thompson, who also came in the winter trade with the White Sox. Thompson is an excellent athlete (his brother is NBA standout Klay) who can't be kept down long. In just 122 big league ABs last season he hit .295 with 8 doubles, 3 triples, 5 home runs and 16 RBIs. He's 25 years old and should be playing at the big-league level, but the Dodgers will have trouble finding a place for him. If Crawford ends the spring healthy but unproductive, could the team cut their huge losses with him ($20,750,00 this year, $21,000,000 in 2017) in favor of a young gun like Thompson? That is a BIG question, one that I am glad I don't actually have to answer. But if I did, I would say YES.

Father time may force the Dodgers to make some big decisions at the end of spring training.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Tim Lincecum...Um, No Thanks

I seriously had to laugh while listening to a Bay Area sports radio program (shall remain nameless) yesterday. The host suggested that the Dodgers should seriously consider signing former Giants' pitcher, Tim Lincecum, to fill the void left by Brett Anderson's back injury. This is one of the "treats" I get as a Dodger fan living in Giants' country. I have a few things to say about why the Dodgers should never pick up "Timmy."

One of the few times Schmidt pitched for
the Dodgers
The Jason Schmidt Rule: 
Of course, there isn't officially a Jason Schmidt Rule, but there should be; never, ever, sign your rival's trash. Former Dodgers GM, Ned Coletti, having left his assistant GM position with the Giants to join the Dodgers in 2005, decided it would be a great idea to bring Schmidt to the team for three years and $47 million dollars. The problem was that Schmidt was old, damaged goods (the team knew he had a partially torn rotator cuff when they signed him), and only played six games over two years after tearing his labrum. So, would the Dodger front office dare to go down a similar minefield-laden road with Lincecum? The Giants gave up on Lincecum this offseason because he underwent surgery to repair a torn left hip labrum and a hip impingement. If the Giants don't think he has anything left, why would the Dodgers? Not to mention the fact that Lincecum and his agent keep pushing back the showcase for teams wanting a look at him. Something smells here.

Lincecum's right arm should be the definition of "hard miles.
Probably time for Lincecum
to wipe that smirk off his face.
Setting aside the issue with his hip, Lincecum's arm has slung 1,700 innings (including 56 in the playoffs) in 9 seasons. While that is a fairly moderate average of 188 innings per season, there has always been a lot of concern that Lincecum's unorthodox throwing motion (they don't call him "the freak" for nothing) puts extra strain on his arm and body. His recent hip problems and the steady decline of his numbers since the 2011 season seem to bear out this theory. It's a shame Tim and his father wouldn't listen to the team about his weird motion when he was coming up through the minor league system. But I digress. Plain and simple, Lincecum's arm and injury history suggest he would be a bullpen player, if anything at all.

The Dodgers have plenty of in-house options:

Brandon Beachy is on the inside
track for the #5 slot...
(photo courtesy Cindy Murphy)
...But not if Mike Bolsinger can help it!
(photo courtesy Cindy Murphy)
It's both annoying and amusing for a Dodger fan to listen to these Bay Area talking heads. Clearly, many (I am not saying all) of them don't do much research outside of the local teams. If they did, they would understand that Lincecum is not even on the Dodgers' radar because of the depth the team has been busy building since the new front office took over. The Dodger minor league system is stacked with potential replacements for Anderson, including Mike Bolsinger, Brandon Beachy, Zach Lee, Jharel Cotton, Ross Stripling, Yasiel Sierra, Jose De Leon, and Julio Urias. Some of these young guys are more likely to be tapped for 2017 (standouts Urias and De Leon), but the other six are considered targets to take the #5 slot in the rotation until either starter Hyun-Jin Ryu or Brandon McCarthy return in May or June. 
Yasiel Sierra could also play
his way into the #5.
(photo courtesy Cindy Murphy)

Bolsinger did a nice job filling in last year and may have the inside track, but several of these other guys have huge upsides and are considered major-league-ready. Beachy and Strippling were on the fast-track before needing Tommy John surgeries, but both are recovered and ready to go. Sierra is another one of the team's recent Cuban signings; he is 24 and experienced from pitching parts of four seasons for Cuba. Cotton is another pitcher who has been putting up solid numbers in the Dodgers' minor league system. Also in the mix is Lee, who pitched two great innings in his first spring start last week and has worked his butt off climbing the minor-league ladder. This type of competition will bring out the best in these young pitchers--one of them will surely rise to the challenge and take the #5 slot. 

With this many options, the Dodgers have absolutely no reason to break the Jason Schmidt Rule or do the Giants any favors with Lincecum.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Dave Roberts Read My Mind

Roberts just might have ESP, haha!
Dodger manager Dave Roberts just made his first great move of the spring, and it makes me wonder if he has ESP (see my post from yesterday). I'm kidding. This move was pretty obvious, but one that former manager Don Mattingly refused to make the past two seasons, much to the detriment of the team. Left fielder Carl Crawford was told he should expect to be coming off the bench this season as primarily a pitch hitter or spot starter. So, Andre Ethier, it looks like you can unpack your suitcase--you finally have a manager that believes in you.

Stick it, Mattingly!
(photo courtesy of Cindy Murphy)
While Roberts hasn't officially named Ethier his regular left fielder, for all intents and purposes he has done just that by telling Crawford he is going to be a role player this season. As Scott Van Slyke has primarily been working out at first base, the assumption is that when he plays, it will be to spell Adrian Gonzalez or take over for Ethier when the team faces a tough left handed pitcher (Van Slyke bats right handed). Apparently, Crawford took the news well, understanding that Ethier earned the starting position with two solid years of play when Crawford was out healing from a multitude of injuries. 

The fact Crawford is okay with the decision and Ethier is getting his due should give Dodger fans a reason to to relax a bit, maybe even feel good. It's a strange feeling, after the last few years, to be sure. Clearly, in his short time managing the team, Roberts is going about the job in the right way. Despite playing his way into the left field starting job last season, Ethier never seemed to be able to earn Mattingly's respect, culminating in that ugly dugout shouting match during last year's playoffs with the Mets. Roberts, on the other hand, is already showing Ethier he believes in him by giving him the nod. Even more importantly, Crawford's positive reaction to the demotion speaks to the idea that the team's chemistry under Roberts is on its way to thriving for the first time in, well, decades.

This is the first of many high-fives I hope to be giving Roberts this year. 

Come one, come all!
One last item for today: For those of you reading my blog for the first time and found me through, a very hearty WELCOME to you--really glad to have you along along for the ride. For my readers that haven't checked out Ernest Reyes', then get on over there right now, especially if you are interested in checking out Dodger collectibles.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Dodgers Lineup: Early Projections Part 2

Out of the cage into the line-up.
(photo courtesy of Cindy Murphy)
Yesterday, we took a look at the first-half of the potential Dodger batting order; today, let's talk about the second-half of the line-up. Yes, it's early, but I do love a good speculation!

Yasiel Puig getting laced for #5?
Fifth: Here's where I see right fielder Yasiel Puig, if he doesn't slot fourth to replace Justin Turner on days his knee is barking. This is the year that Puig should settle in offensively. Though this will be his fourth season, he has really only completed one full season, in 2014. That year, he batted close to .300, had 16 home runs, 37 doubles, 9 triples, and 69 RBIs in 558 at-bats, all statistics that prove he would thrive in the middle of the Dodger batting order. But what about last year's dismal showing you ask? Shouldn't Puig bat lower? No. The expectations for Puig have been unfairly high since he stormed the league in 2013, so naturally, he tried to return from his two hamstrings injuries too soon, marring his 2015 season. The hiring of new manager Dave Roberts might be the best thing that ever happened to Puig. Roberts smartly talked to Puig straight away and gave him a "clean slate." His talent and potential are unquestionable, and with the support of his manager, the middle of the order is where Puig belongs. Watch out MLB.

Yasmani Grandal powering
up the catcher position.
(photo courtesy of Cindy Murphy)
Sixth: Before hurting his shoulder last season, catcher Yasmani Grandal brought a power boost the Dodgers haven't seen at the position since Mike Piazza. He won't hit as many homers as the newly minted Hall-of-Famer (One of the worst trades in Dodgers history--I literally screamed profanities all day when Piazza was traded by those Fox News Corp. idiots in 1998), but, barring injury, he could hit around 20-25. Perfect guy to protect Puig.

Andre Either: Best option at
#7 and left field.
Seventh: There are three options with slot #7, and it's all about left field, just like last year. Option #1 depends on whether Andre Ethier is able to overcome his annual trade rumors. This would seem to be the year for the Dodgers to finally deal him because his value is as high as it will ever be coming off a very solid 2015 campaign. The team may also want to get rid of him with his 10/5 rights around the corner (can't be traded without his consent). Option #2 is Carl Crawford, but his injury record is almost as bad as his throws from the outfield (sorry, Carl, just keeping it real), so the occasional starts and pinch-hitting duties seem like a better fit. Same with Option #3's Scott Van Slyke, kind of an always a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride type of player, unless of course, the Dodgers ever trade him, in which case, he will become the next Paul Konerko, who went on to hit 425 home runs after the team traded him. It is a luxury to have a solid, professional hitter like Either in the seventh slot, and Roberts will not be happy if the front office trades him. He is by far the best bet.

Eighth: As I pointed out yesterday, I believe Dodger rookie Corey Seager will eventually take over the big 3-spot in the lineup one day soon. However, until he is ready, Roberts will stash him in a place he won't feel any pressure. Hello, number 8, a place where no hitter really wants to live since he doesn't see many good pitches to hit with the pitcher on deck. Joc Pederson began his rookie season in this spot and managed to hit a ton of homers. Seager showed a patient approach in his successful stint last September, so it figures that he can start the season here. If he picks up where he left off, he will swap places in the lineup with somebody who is struggling or the lineup will get reshuffled to accommodate him. The most likely scenario is Pederson not thriving in the lead-off role, pushing Kendrick up to the first slot, Seager to the second, and Pederson down to the eighth.
#8 but not for long for Corey Seager.
So that's how I see the Dodger lineup potentially shaking out. Again, it is very early, with about a month to go and many spring games for Roberts to tinker with. Sound off in the comments section and tell me what you think.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Dodgers' Lineup: Early Projections

Whose bat will go where this season?
With a new manager at the helm, it figures that the 2016 Dodger starting lineup will take on a new look. There is no doubt that rookie manager Dave Roberts wants to excise the ghost of Don Mattingly and make his mark. It's still very early, but let's take a look at the potential starting lineup that Roberts could trot out on opening day. We'll begin with the first half of the lineup today and tackle the second half tomorrow.

Is Joc preparing for lead-off?
(photo courtesy of Cindy Murphy)
Lead-off: I made the case a couple of days ago that Roberts could be leaning towards centerfielder Joc Pederson for this all-important role. Mattingly slotted Pederson here for a good part of 2015, but with not much success. The problem was that Pederson was thrust into this role part way into the season without the proper preparation, which he seems to be getting in training camp right now. I witnessed him working on bunting with batting coach Turner Ward long after practice ended for the day. We all know Pederson struck out a ton last season (170 times!), but he also lead the team in walks with 92. He also has good speed. And he appears to have eliminated his high leg-kick and long swing in favor of hitting line drives to all fields. Add all of these factors together and the signs seem to point to a proper grooming for the lead-off role. I believe it is Pederson's to lose, but we'll see; I have heard rumblings that second baseman Howie Kendrick is in the mix, but that seems crazy. Yes, Kendrick is a solid, very professional hitter, but he only walked 27 times last season, by far the lowest of any regular on the team.

Kendrick is tailor-made for the 2.
Second: If Kendrick doesn't bat leadoff, I see him in the #2 hole. He spent a lot of time here last season, and he seems to be a good fit. He is a line-drive singles hitter for the most part and can therefore move Pederson over to third and get things going for the big boys.

Adrian Gonzalez: Can he hold on to #3?
(photo courtesy of Cindy Murphy)

There is some intrigue here. Logic says the big 3 spot will be filled regularly with first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. He is the team's most consistent batsman, and arguably one of the game's best. Gonzalez led the team in home runs and RBIs last year, but his ability to shorten his swing with two strikes and get the key base hit is what makes him so good. He is clutch and #3 is designed for him. However, IF rookie shortstop Corey Seager is able to pick up where he left off last September (.337 avg., 4 homers, 17 RBIs, 17 runs scored, in only 27 games), and Gonzalez falls into one of his famous slumps, look for Roberts to pencil in Seager at #3. At some point in the next two seasons, this will be Seager's home.

JT has earned the 4.
Clean-up: Gonzalez needs protection and that means third baseman Justin Turner--IF his balky knee holds up. Turner is a relative late-bloomer who will thrive under Roberts because they have the grit and grind of coming-from-behind in common. Roberts knows how hard Turner worked to bring his game up to a high level, and I believe he will reward him for it with the clean-up spot. He is a power/RBI guy with a solid average and a nose for the key hit. If he needs time off to rest his knee, Roberts could turn to right fielder Yasiel Puig at #4.

Check back tomorrow for the second half of the lineup, and chime in your thoughts in the comments section!