Los Angeles Dodgers: 3 Players Who Are in Danger of Being Cut or Demoted
March has arrived, and spring training is in full swing.
For most teams, the start of the regular season is still a month away, and final roster decisions won't come for awhile. But for the Dodgers, their preseason and accompanying player evaluations will have to be fast-tracked in advance of the team's season-opening series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Australia on March 22.
Los Angeles will break camp on March 16 and take 30 players to the Land Down Under. Of those 30, only 25 will be eligible to play against Arizona. The remaining five will be potential injury replacements, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
With the compressed spring training and a crop of new players on the 40-man roster, not everyone is going to make the Dodgers' final cut and fly across the Pacific Ocean in two weeks.
The following slides take a look at the players who are in danger of being either cut outright or demoted before the 25-man roster is set.
Honorable Mention: Javy Guerra and Drew Butera
Javy Guerra, RHP
Javy Guerra was the Dodgers' Opening Day closer in 2012, but he eventually lost the job to Kenley Jansen and only made nine appearances with the big club last season. Currently out of options, he is faced with the challenge of landing a bullpen job amid the likes of Brian Wilson and Chris Perez.
Looking for openings beyond the former All-Star closers, Brandon League hasn't been much better than Guerra over the past year-and-a-half but is still under a hefty contract and isn't going anywhere. Without a recent body of work and only two weeks to prove himself, making the 2014 roster is going to be a long shot for Guerra.
Drew Butera, C
Drew Butera is currently the third-string catcher behind starter A.J. Ellis and backup Tim Federowicz. The Dodgers fared just fine with only two catchers last season and only called up Butera in September when the rosters expanded from 25 to 40 players.
He had just one hit in 10 at-bats and has played in only two of the team's five spring training games so far. Butera is one of the Dodgers' most expendable position players and will almost certainly be left off the Opening Day roster.
3. Scott Van Slyke, LF
Scott Van Slyke made the most of his opportunities last season, initially acting as a stopgap replacement for injured outfielders Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford in May before ultimately earning a spot on the postseason roster when Kemp once again went down with an injury.
Although he was demoted and promoted several times between the Dodgers and Triple-A Albuquerque in 2013, Van Slyke played a solid bench role for Los Angeles and finished with seven home runs in 53 games.
But heading into 2014, Van Slyke's status on the 25-man roster is primarily dependent on the "Big Four" outfield alignment of Kemp, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier. When all four are healthy, the best outfielder off the bench becomes Ethier and the team does not need Van Slyke's services.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (via Wire Reports), Kemp was recently cleared for on-field activities, including running on his surgically repaired ankle. The progress Kemp makes over the next two weeks should determine whether or not Van Slyke joins the team in Australia.
Even if Kemp isn't ready for MLB's Opening Series, an April return is very realistic. When the center fielder does make his return to the starting lineup, Van Slyke might be headed back to Triple-A unless he proves his worth as a backup to Adrian Gonzalez at first base. Of all players on the 40-man roster, Van Slyke is the only one besides Gonzalez with significant experience at first base.
2. Chris Withrow, RHP
After making his major league debut last June, Chris Withrow quietly became one of the Dodgers' most effective relievers.
The converted starter found success using a variety of breaking pitches to complement his high-90s fastball and eventually earned a spot on the postseason roster. He finished 2013 with a 2.60 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 34 innings.
Despite his solid rookie campaign, Withrow is in danger of being left off the 25-man roster for the same reason that may doom Javy Guerra.
The Dodgers bullpen is even more crowded than the outfield, which puts Withrow at greater risk than Van Slyke of failing to make the cut.
Los Angeles already has six relief pitchers under contract, including a spot most likely reserved for left-handed specialist Paco Rodriguez. The starting rotation is just as crowded, meaning either Josh Beckett or Paul Maholm will move to the bullpen.
This leaves Withrow as the odd man out, at least for the first few weeks of the season. The hard-throwing righty will probably be the first pitcher called up from Triple-A in the event of an injury. Since 2009, no Dodgers team has made it past the first three weeks of April without being forced to call up a fresh arm from the minors.
1. Alexander Guerrero, 2B
The Dodgers signed Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero over the winter in the hopes that the natural shortstop could step in as the everyday second baseman after the departure of veteran Mark Ellis.
Injuries during winter ball derailed Guerrero's development at the position, and he has been far from impressive five games into spring training.
According to ESPN's Jim Bowden, Los Angeles believes Guerrero needs more time to develop in the minors, and Dee Gordon has emerged as a front-runner to open the season as the starting second baseman.
In 13 at-bats so far this spring, Guerrero has four singles and three strikeouts. This past Saturday in a split-squad game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Guerrero made some blunders that suggest he isn't quite ready. After Gordon reached base on a bunt single, Guerrero did not let him try to steal and instead flew out on the first pitch. Gordon stole second on the next pitch, already his third swipe of the spring. Later, representing the tying run in the ninth inning, Guerrero was picked off at first base.
Still, it's difficult to fully get behind the idea of Gordon as the starter at second base when he compiled a weak .234/.314/.298 slash last season. He has put on 13 pounds of bulk since last season, which is significant considering he only weighed 162 pounds in 2013. The Dodgers value Gordon for his speed, but his inability to reach base in the first place has hindered him throughout his career.
Despite his struggles at the plate, Gordon has remained confident in his abilities.
The sample size is small, but Gordon is playing well. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for Guerrero to make a name for himself before the 25-man roster is due a 1 p.m. PT on March 21.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.