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!

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