The Dodgers are about to wrap up their 2012 spring training schedule in Camelback Ranch, coming back to Los Angeles to take on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for a quick preseason Freeway Series. The Dodgers have looked better than expected this season at times, with the reemergence of Andre Ethier as a slugger and the back end of the starting rotation pitching very well. Skeptics were worried about the fragility of having Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano fill out the rotation with ace Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, but the new signings have done nothing but impress.
The team is most set in terms of its main roles and starting lineup. The bench of utility men Jerry Hairston Jr. and Adam Kennedy, backup catcher Matt Treanor and outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. are all locks and have specific roles for the club. However, the last bench spot was thought to be a lock for prospect Jerry Sands, but Sands struggled this spring and was optioned to minor league camp. Even though Sands showed promise in his two stints with the Dodgers last, especially in the second stint where he was second on the team in average in September.
So now, the final bench spot is between a myriad of non-roster invites and low-profile names. The popular pick is non-roster right-handed infielder Josh Fields, who has bounced around with numerous teams but was a staple in the Chicago White Sox lineup only a couple years ago. Fields brings some power to the team, as he can back up Juan Uribe at third and be versatile enough to play first and the outfield. Batting .300 this spring, Fields might be considered the power-hitting backup to Juan Rivera, the current left fielder. Since Fields could walk away and become a free agent if he does not make the squad, I think the Dodgers will weigh that heavily and probably put him on the Opening Day roster.
Justin Sellers is the middle infielder option that could be the final man on this 2012 Dodger roster. Sellers is a 26-year-old second baseman and shortstop that is a very good defensive option, but not a consistent offensive threat. Slightly undersized, Sellers ended up in the Dodgers organization a couple years ago and has impressed coaches with his work ethic, but failed to turn heads with his production. He performed well defensively in his call-up last season, but only batted .203 which is unfortunately not too far below his career average. Currently, Sellers is batting .333 in spring training, so perhaps he is making positive adjustments that can earn him the last roster spot.
Other options are speedy outfielder Matt Angle, who is too similar to Tony Gwynn Jr. to really garner attention. Angle was acquired for Dana Eveland this winter and is a light hitting, solid defensively outfielder who will be good depth at Triple-A.
Shortstop Luis Cruz is a good defensive shortstop, but has little major league experience and could not even stick with an organization last year as he ended up in the Mexican League. Cruz is batting .230 this spring, not impressive enough for more than an opportunity to continue being a member of the Dodgers organization at Triple-A Albuquerque.
Trent Oeltjen is another name that has managed to stick around this spring. Oeltjen made his debut in 2010 and saw a little bit of time in 2011, but for the most part was passed by younger and more powerful prospects such as Jerry Sands. Oeltjen, at 29 years old, is just about on his last chance to crack the team—his .230 spring average has not helped his case.
Alex Castellanos, acquired in the Rafael Furcal deal, is another dark horse that is versatile and has a high ceiling. At 26, he is not a young prospect but has some power and has produced at every level. Bating .375 this spring with two home runs, Alex impressed Dodger coaches and will be amongst the top of the list of first Dodgers called if injuries riddle the team. Expect him to be in a Dodgers uniform by the All-Star break for some reason or another, and for him to have a serviceable major league career along the lines of Jerry Hairston Jr.
Scott Van Slyke, a young slugging outfielder, is not supposed to have a shot at making the team, but to me, he shows more promise than older guys like Oeltjen. Expect Van Slyke and Sands to see time in Los Angeles this summer though, as they are the future in the outfield next to Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp.
For the last spot in the bullpen, it seems to be a tossup between non-roster invite Scott Rice or Dodger homegrown arm Josh Lindblom. Lindblom has been solid for the last few years, and looked good posting a 2.73 ERA in almost 30 innings out of the Dodgers bullpen last season. Lindblom, with options remaining, might be the odd man out since Scott Rice is a non-roster invite and another left-handed arm. Even though Lindblom has a 4.50 ERA with solid numbers, he is probably stuck behind Rice on the pecking order.
Currently, Scott Elbert is the only lefty in the bullpen and has little experience being a lefty specialist. Rice has yet to break into the major leagues, bouncing around organizations such as the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox. Rice does not throw especially hard, and has posted a 4.71 ERA this spring. He has shown promise as a guy who can get outs in the middle innings,
Potentially, Ted Lilly might be placed on the disabled list which would open up spots for both men to open the season with the big league club. Nathan Eovaldi is supposed to open up the season anchoring the rotation with Double-A Chattanooga, but he is the first in line for a spot in the rotation should any starter really fail or get injured.
Other names such as Fernando Felix and Fernando Nieve are outsiders looking in to the opening day roster, but serve as excellent depth for the entire organization. Nieve has pitched well this spring, posting a 3.12 ERA in nine innings. Neither Fernando are young, both around 28 or 29 years old, but have had success at pretty high levels. Nieve debuted back in 2006, while Felix threw 71 innings for Triple-A Albuquerque last season. Felix has not impressed this spring, but has a good live arm.
Overall, the Dodgers have some good serviceable options to fill out their 2012 roster. It will be interesting to see what direction management and Don Mattingly decide to go, either young and unproven or slightly older with more non-roster pickups. No matter what, the last guys picked will have to produce in their limited time or quickly be demoted in favor of different guys pining for a chance at helping the big league team.