What to Expect from Every Dodgers Starter in 2014
After coming within two wins of the World Series last season, the Los Angeles Dodgers decided not to mess with something promising. Most of the team's offseason moves were minor deals that bolstered the bullpen or back end of the starting rotation.
Aside from the loss of second baseman Mark Ellis to free agency and the return of center fielder Matt Kemp from injury, the 2014 Dodgers' lineup will look relatively similar to the one that last year blasted through the summer on its way to winning the National League West for the first time in four years.
Assuming general manager Ned Colletti enters the season with the ultimate insurance of keeping four elite outfielders on the roster in Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier, the starting lineup shapes up to be one of the most formidable in baseball.
The following slides will take a look around the diamond to see what the Boys in Blue have in store for 2014, both offensively and defensively.
A.J. Ellis, Catcher
A.J. Ellis took a slight step back offensively last season after improving his statistics exponentially every year since his debut in 2008. Despite fewer extra-base hits and a lower average, he was still able to tie his career high with 52 runs batted in last season.
Looking past the mediocre .238/.318/.364 slash, Ellis chipped in offensively by wearing down opposing pitchers with long at-bats. He saw more pitches per plate appearance (4.37) than any other player in the National League with at least 425 plate appearances.
As the projected No. 8 hitter in 2014, the Dodgers won't rely on him to drive in runs but will hope that his patented patience at the plate can make it tougher on pitchers looking to breeze through the bottom of the order.
Ellis is also responsible for handling one of the strongest pitching staffs in the league. Whether it's facilitating the development of Clayton Kershaw or adapting to imported guns like Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ellis has become a respected clubhouse leader and effective pitch-caller behind the plate.
And those looking to swipe a bag on the Dodgers in 2014 might want to think twice. Ellis was the best at limiting the running game last season, throwing out an MLB-best 44.4 percent of would-be base stealers among qualified catchers.
Adrian Gonzalez, First Base
The Dodgers know what they're going to get with Adrian Gonzalez.
Last season, the first baseman reached the 100-RBI plateau for the fifth straight season. In fact, he's only knocked in fewer than 99 runs three times in his career—his first three seasons in the majors. Gonzalez also batted .293 in 2013, right on par with his career .294 average.
If that's not consistency, I don't know what is.
As the projected cleanup hitter behind Hanley Ramirez, A-Gon should have no problem adding to his impressive resume in 2014. The key is keeping him behind Ramirez and Yasiel Puig in the batting order, because Gonzalez might be the slowest runner in the league. There were several instances last year when Puig was denied an extra base or a run batted in because the plodding Gonzalez was ahead of him on the basepaths.
On defense, Gonzalez had some trouble last year and was second on the team in errors behind Ramirez. His 11 errors were a career-high, and only Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds made more blunders in the field among first basemen.
Overall, his offensive production has outweighed his defensive shortcomings throughout his career, and the focus in 2014 will once again be his bat.
Alexander Guerrero, Second Base
The Dodgers signed Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero over the winter to a four-year, $28-million contract, according to the Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez.
Los Angeles made the deal just before declining to pick up Mark Ellis' player option for 2014, and the veteran second baseman agreed to terms with the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Dodgers are banking on Guerrero stepping in as the everyday starter at second base, even though the 27-year-old has never played an inning of major league baseball—or even minor league baseball. When the team called up fellow countryman Yasiel Puig last season, he had at least played in the minors for a few months.
Guerrero appeared in only 12 games before suffering a hamstring injury this winter while playing for the Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican Winter League, where Dodgers speedster Dee Gordon has recently been trying his hand at second base, as well as the outfield, in an attempt to reincorporate himself as more than just a part-time player for Los Angeles.
Guerrero seems to be the likely candidate to start at second base for Los Angeles, but the situation is murky, as several scouts have expressed their qualms, according to Baseball America's Bed Badler.
It remains to be seen whether or not Guerrero will be ready for spring training. If he's not, Gordon as a Plan B at second base would certainly be a downgrade from the veteran leadership and fielding prowess that Ellis displayed over the past two seasons.
If one thing's for sure, it's that the Dodgers have plenty of question marks to address at second base heading into the 2014 season.
Juan Uribe, Third Base
The Dodgers made the right move to re-sign Juan Uribe after his successful 2013, but the chances that he improves or even maintains last year's level of play are slim.
When the Dodgers rewarded Uribe with a hefty contract in 2010 after watching him help the rival San Francisco Giants win the World Series, he rewarded them with a .199 average over his first two years in Los Angeles combined.
Playing for a new contract once again in 2013, he had a productive season with a .278 average, 12 home runs and 50 RBI. But if history repeats itself, Uribe, now 34 and paid, will not have as much motivation to perform at a high level.
Looking at the glass half-full, though, he can be an integral part of the 2014 Dodgers if he focuses his mind on winning a ring rather than winning a new contract.
The Dodgers value Uribe not only for his stellar defense at third base, but for his clubhouse presence as well. He was the one player who really took Yasiel Puig under his wing in order to help the rookie acclimate to the big leagues last season, and he will most likely be the same type of mentor to Alexander Guerrero in 2014.
Expect Uribe to contribute somewhere between eight to 10 home runs and 40-50 runs batted in while continuing to make all of the plays at the hot corner.
Hanley Ramirez, Shortstop
Who knows what the Dodgers could have done with a healthy Hanley Ramirez in the National League Championship Series. After being hit with a pitch and cracking his rib in Game 1, he was a shell of his former self for the rest of the series against the Cardinals.
Ramirez will be back and ready to roll in 2014, hungry to help the Dodgers climb over the hump that they so swiftly ascended last season.
The shortstop also missed significant time at the beginning of last season, but the Dodgers surged upon his return and he finished with a .345 batting average and 20 home runs in only 86 games—or just over half a season. Before his injury in the NLCS, Ramirez tore up the postseason as well.
He will form the crux of the Los Angeles batting order in 2014 alongside Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp.
At shortstop, Ramirez led the team in errors but does not face any competition for the position, as the current backup is the light-hitting Dee Gordon. He made enough tough plays to avoid being labeled as a defensive liability, and most of his miscues seemed to occur in non-pressure situations.
If he can remain healthy for an entire season, Ramirez's 2013 sample should be evidence enough that he has MVP potential in 2014.
Carl Crawford, Left Field
Carl Crawford will be called upon to ignite the Dodgers offense in 2014 as the team's primary leadoff batter.
The former Tampa Bay Rays All-Star was able to stay relatively healthy in his first full season in Los Angeles and should be in line for another solid campaign if he can stay on the field.
While Crawford is no longer the speed demon of years past, his .736 on-base percentage from last season suggests he still knows how to get aboard, and it will be important for him to do so with the parade of big bats that follow him in the lineup.
Crawford only hit six home runs in 2013, but he displayed some surprising pop in the playoffs with four long balls. If he can regain the modest power stroke he had in Tampa Bay, where he averaged 15 home runs from 2009-2011, the Dodgers' lineup will be all the more threatening.
Los Angeles must also deal with Crawford's weak arm in left field. Now more than a year removed from Tommy John surgery on his elbow, his throws from the outfield may be a bit stronger in 2014, but expect opposing third base coaches to continue waving runners home with regularity.
Matt Kemp, Center Field
The Dodgers are hoping 2014 will be a year of redemption for Matt Kemp, who has missed 145 games over the past two seasons due to various injuries. Kemp last played a full season in 2011, when he erupted for career highs in home runs (39), RBI (126), runs scored (115) and stolen bases (40).
General manager Ned Colletti recently said that Kemp's winter rehab is coming along well, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue LA.
The past hamstring and ankle injuries will hamper him both on defense and on the base paths. Gone are the days of 40 stolen bases; a more realistic number would be 15-20 swipes in 2014. His mobility in the outfield will also be limited. It won't be surprising to observe Kemp playing a conservative style of defense until he learns to trust his lower body again.
Assuming he does not get traded and shows up to spring training without any ailments, Kemp will be the team's Opening Day center fielder and has the potential to put up MVP-type numbers as he did just three seasons ago.
It won't be a lock for him to reach those heights after missing so much time over the past few years, but having the likes of Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez nestled around him in the batting order can only help Kemp as he attempts to return to prominence.
Yasiel Puig, Right Field
Yasiel Puig took baseball by storm in 2013, helping resurrect a listless Dodgers squad and becoming an overnight celebrity in the process. While his first three months in Los Angeles were spectacular, Puig faded down the stretch, batting only .214 in September and October.
2014 will be his first full season in the big leagues, and the young star will need to continue to prove himself, especially with Andre Ethier seemingly relegated to the bench for the time being.
Despite the late-season hiccup last year, the Dodgers expect Puig to take another step forward in 2014 as he continues to learn the game and make adjustments both on and off the field. There will be some growing pains along the way, but the core group of veterans on the roster should be able to keep him in line and help him excel.
Starting the season on Opening Day rather than in June means that Puig is primed for career highs in almost every offensive category. The pressure of Ethier breathing down his neck from the bench will also keep the volatile youngster focused on the field instead of the distractions off of it.
Note: All stats courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.