The Los Angeles Dodgers' Spring Training to-Do List
Spring training is finally upon us! The Los Angeles Dodgers have reported to camp, and baseball is underway. The Dodgers head into March with several legitimate questions that they must figure out, as well as a couple issues that they must monitor.
Many of these questions are health-related. The lineup is likely set, and in an ideal world, the Dodgers would probably know all but one or two spots of their Opening Day roster at this point.
But it is not an ideal world. Instead, people like Matt Kemp and Josh Beckett exist, so therefore uncertainty exists.
Note: All advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.
Evaluate Alexander Guerrero
Second base is the one big empty spot in the Dodger lineup. They signed Alexander Guerrero to a relatively big deal (for an unproven international free agent) this offseason, but reports from ESPNLA suggest that they have concerns about his ability to play second base (h/t NBC Sports' Hardball Talk).
The same Mark Saxon post linked to above claims that “the Dodgers expect Guerrero to be an above-average offensive contributor,” which is a positive and would likely make up for many of his defensive shortcomings.
If Guerrero was indeed a successful shortstop, I don’t really see a reason that he wouldn’t be able to transition to second base—especially if he spends spring training working at the transition.
Monitor the Health of Josh Beckett
The Dodgers are likely counting on Beckett to be their fifth starter (behind Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu and Dan Haren). However, he is attempting to recover from a career-threatening injury, so he cannot be considered a sure thing.
Beckett has a long track record of success: He has a career 3.94 ERA over 13 seasons, which is good for a 91 ERA- (meaning he has been nine percent better than average). But he is coming off consecutive difficult seasons, so he has to battle performance questions in addition to health ones.
A recent report from Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times states that Beckett expects to be ready for the season. There is certainly no reason to doubt that, but the Dodgers and their medical staff will be wise to keep an eye on Beckett throughout the spring.
Monitor the Health of Matt Kemp
This, obviously, is the big question. The outfield is a problem—the Dodgers have four starting outfielders, and they only have three spots to fill. At the moment, this is not a concern, as buried within this USA Today piece is the declaration that “his availability for Opening Day is unknown.”
As of a couple weeks ago, Kemp had not yet begun to actually run, which really emphasizes the questions. He can undoubtedly be an impact player when healthy, but no one is entirely sure (or can be, to be honest) whether or not he will ever return to the level of his 2011 season.
Spring training will be a golden opportunity for the Dodgers to ease Kemp back into game action and see if he shows the power/speed combination that made him one of baseball’s most devastating players.
Evaluate Dee Gordon
As mentioned earlier with regard to Alexander Guerrero, second base is a bit of a tossup. The key alternative option appears to be Dee Gordon, as the Dodgers are said to be discussing a platoon with the right-handed-hitting Guerrero and the left-handed-hitting Gordon.
In parts of three big league seasons, Gordon has showed the promise that made him a highly regarded prospect, but he has also demonstrated many of the flaws that made him such a risky proposition.
This 2011 scouting report from Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein mentions that Gordon “has good bat speed and a knack for contact” but that “he needs to develop a more patient approach at the plate.”
We’ve seen that borne out: In addition to his famous speed (66 career stolen bases in 181 games), he has struck out less often than the major league average. However, he has a career .056 ISO and has really struggled in the field.
The idea of him turning his career around at second base is not unreasonable, especially if he can figure out a way to return to the contact rates from his rookie year. If he does not impress in spring training, though, he’ll probably begin 2014 in Triple-A.
Figure out the Top of the Lineup
Early in February, Ken Gurnick of Dodgers.com reported that manager Don Mattingly is interested in installing Yasiel Puig in the leadoff role and flipping him with Carl Crawford. I have already detailed here why I believe this is a good idea (suffice it to say that Puig’s walk and on-base numbers are better than one might expect), but we will learn a lot from Puig’s approach this spring.
If the Dodger right fielder does not show a patient approach and instead reverts to everyone’s worst fear, then Mattingly will likely have no choice but to place Crawford at the top of the lineup come Opening Day.
An extreme long-shot possibility is that Dee Gordon impresses and makes the team, and then Mattingly decides to utilize his speed by leading him off—which would likely result in dropping Puig to the middle of the lineup or Crawford to the bottom.
Sort out the Back of the Rotation
The final question surrounding the Dodgers is the rotation. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-jin Ryu are the top three members, and they make up one of baseball’s best trios.
After that, though, are a few question marks. Dan Haren will likely be the fourth starter, but he has struggled with both injuries and performance the past two years. And Josh Beckett will likely be the fifth starter (from the same Lyle Spencer piece linked to with regard to Haren above), but he is coming back from a catastrophic injury.
Therefore, the Dodgers will have to monitor several other pitchers who are potential candidates for the rotation: new signee Paul Maholm, Stephen Fife, Matt Magill and potential top prospect Zach Lee—although he is not yet on the 40-man roster.
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