Los Angeles Dodgers: Early Reports from Spring Training
The Los Angeles Dodgers entered spring training on the short list of World Series favorites following a 92-win campaign and a trip to the National League Championship Series in 2013. Last year’s success has led to heightened expectations for the 2014 MLB season. However, there’s already cause for concern coming out of the Dodgers camp in Glendale, Ariz.
Here are five storylines from the first two weeks of spring training that Dodgers fans should pay close attention to.
Yasiel Puig Reports to Camp 26 Pounds Overweight
Yasiel Puig's immense talents are matched only by his bravado, unpredictable nature and...waistline? The Dodgers second-year right fielder reported to camp weighing 251 pounds, 26 pounds heavier than his 2013 playing weight.
Los Angeles is certainly expecting big things from Puig in 2014 following a spectacular rookie campaign. Those big things, however, are expected to come in the form of his on-field performance, not his weight.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly doesn't seem overly concerned with Puig's weight, but perhaps he should be.
Los Angeles has a shorter spring training than most MLB teams as it prepares to open its season on March 22 in Australia. The Dodgers will face their NL West rival Arizona Diamondbacks in a two-game series in Sydney.
Along with the shorter camp, the Dodgers are likely to be without star center fielder Matt Kemp for their opening series, and perhaps longer. Los Angeles needs Puig to be in top form if it is to avoid another disastrous start to the season.
Or perhaps Mattingly has already forgotten the 20-32 start in 2013 that had many questioning his job security.
Puig's apparent disregard for his physical fitness adds fuel to the fire for those who have already questioned his maturity. Following a series of on-field antics that irked baseball traditionalists last season, Puig gave up driving this past offseason after a second arrest for speeding in less than a year.
As much talent as the Dodgers have all over the field, Puig will play a crucial role in any push toward a World Series title. The 23-year-old needs to quickly prove that he is as passionate about thriving in baseball as he is about living la vida loca.
Can Matt Kemp Return to Greatness?
A healthy Matt Kemp is one of the 10 best players in all of baseball. The question on the minds of all Dodgers fans—and fantasy baseball geeks like myself—is whether or not we will ever again see the 2011 version of Kemp.
The Dodgers are all but certain to be without Kemp when they face the Diamondbacks in Sydney, and there is no definitive timetable for his return. He is still recovering offseason surgeries on his left shoulder and left ankle and has yet to resume baseball-related activities.
Kemp has been limited to 176 total games played over the last two years, following a breakout 2011 season. He finished second behind Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun in the NL MVP voting that year after delivering a .324/.399/.586 slash line, a 7.8 WAR and falling just one home run shy of the exclusive 40-40 club (home runs and stolen bases).
Kemp was even better at the start of 2012 before a hamstring injury suffered early in May began his recent string of appearances on the disabled list. In April of that year, he hit a ridiculous .417/.490/.893 with 12 home runs, 24 runs scored and 25 RBI.
Kemp is only 29, and none of his injuries are what would normally be considered to be career threatening. He was also a model of durability before 2012, averaging 159 games played from 2008-2011.
With Puig, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford all entering camp healthy, the Dodgers can afford to be patient with Kemp's recovery. If holding Kemp out for all of April increases the odds of him being at full strength for the rest of the season, then that's the approach Los Angeles should take.
If Kemp is just 90 percent of the player he was before the injuries, the Dodgers will still be getting a spectacular baseball player.
How Serious Is Carl Crawford's Strained Hamstring?
Carl Crawford's name has become synonymous with hamstring injuries since he joined the Boston Red Sox before the 2011 season. If his latest hamstring strain lingers or becomes more serious, the Dodgers' outfield depth could become a real issue before the regular season gets started.
According to this tweet from Los Angeles Times beat writer Dylan Hernandez, Crawford is expected to play in the Dodgers' next spring training game on Saturday.
Carl Crawford said his quadriceps feels fine and that he expects to play tomorrow if it doesn't rain. #Dodgers
— Dylan Hernandez (@dylanohernandez) February 28, 2014
Given Puig's questionable conditioning and Kemp's slow recovery from two offseason surgeries, the Dodgers simply cannot afford to lose Crawford for any extended period of time. While he is no longer the dynamic player he was early in his career with the Tampa Bay Rays, Crawford is still an extremely vital cog in LA's outfield rotation and at the top of their lineup.
The Dodgers received some of the worst production in the majors from their platoon of left fielders and leadoff hitters in 2012. Injuries again limited Crawford to just 116 games last season, but he helped stabilize both roles when he was in the lineup.
Zack Greinke Removed from First Spring Training Start
Zack Greinke was removed from his first start of the spring after just four pitches with a strained right calf. Greinke said he would have pitched through the discomfort had it been a regular-season start, per Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com. The Dodgers can only hope that the injury is as minor as Greinke believes it to be.
Greinke was the biggest free-agent pitcher on the market during the 2012-13 offseason before agreeing to a six-year, $147 million deal with the Dodgers. After missing a month early last season with a broken collarbone he proved capable of living up to the big contract.
In 28 starts, the 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner went 15-4 while finishing fourth in the National League with a 2.63 ERA.
With Greinke, 30, pitching behind reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, 25, the Dodgers have arguably the top one-two pitching tandem in the majors. And with Greinke and Kershaw—along with 26-year-old lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu—signed through at least the 2018 season, Los Angeles seems poised to feature one of baseball's best rotations for the foreseeable future.
What Can the Dodgers Expect from 2B Alex Guerrero?
Alex Guerrero's ability to transition into the Dodgers' full-time starter at second base will be one of the biggest stories of the spring. The Dodgers declined to pick up the 2014 option on last year's primary starter, Mark Ellis, leaving Guerrero as the favorite to win the job.
Signed to a four-year, $28 million contract last offseason, Guerrero will be given every opportunity to grow into the job. But given his lack of experience Los Angeles should be prepared to be patient, something the team seems very willing to do.
The 27-year-old Cuban infielder had never played a game in the majors before Wednesday's spring training debut (during which he went 0-2 in his only two plate appearances). Guerrero was also a shortstop during his eight-year career in the Cuban league (2005-2012), so he has the added pressure of learning a new position during an abbreviated exhibition season.
Ellis is one of the best defensive second basemen in baseball. It is not likely that Guerrero will ascend to that level in his first year at the position, if ever.
The Dodgers will be happy if the offensive skills he demonstrated in Cuba translate to the major leagues.
Guerrero averaged 20 home runs and posted at least a .401 on-base percentage during his last four years in Cuba. He also hit over .290 in each of his last six seasons.
Guerrero probably won't deliver that level of production in 2014. However, he won't have much pressure to produce right away as he will likely begin the season batting eighth in the Dodgers lineup.
Guerrero may never emerge as the star that his new teammate—and fellow Cuban—Puig seems destined to become. That would be a tall order for any player to live up to and the Dodgers don't need that level of production from Guerrero.
Los Angeles would gladly accept league-average defense in exchange for above-average offensive production from the second base position.
Just two spring training games into his major league career, we are a long way from knowing what to expect from Guerrero. His development, however, should be fun to watch.