With their most recent acquisition of outfielder Marcus Thames, the Los Angeles Dodgers not only achieved an addition of power to the roster, but they also balanced the bats in the process. Thames will join a solid corps of outfielders who individually feature power, speed, and reliable defense.
Some fans across Dodgertown have very high hopes for 2011, yet many factors will come into play that determine the level of success during the upcoming campaign. Team chemistry, attitude, and coaching are just several aspects of the game which need polished in order for the Dodgers to be contenders.
Other fans are focusing their attention on the long haul, and based on the high level of talent on the farm, envision a bright future for the Boys in Blue during the years to come.
The outfield is just one of several areas that's packed full of potential—both from the veterans and the future stars. Spring training will play a large role in determining who plays where and which players see the bulk of action this season. Depending on injuries and the level of production from certain players, a number of new faces may be making their Dodger debuts.
In no particular order, the following slides showcase the top 10 outfielders in the entire Los Angeles Dodgers organization and offer a bit of commentary on each player. Also included is a special bonus slide which features an additional 10 players in the system who range from Single-A farmhands up to several outfielders who have numerous years of MLB experience.
After missing most of May with a broken finger, Andre Ethier was never really able to pull things together for the remainder of 2010. In the 84 games after his injury, he hit only .252 with nine home runs, 34 RBI, and a .708 OPS. Still, as a result of his sizzling start to the year, he managed to record impressive overall numbers nonetheless. With a .292 average, 33 doubles, 23 home runs, and 82 RBI, Ethier ranked among the team leaders in a number of offensive categories.
Depending on which primary lineup new skipper Don Mattingly decides to utilize, it's conceivable that Ethier may shift back to his more natural position of left field. Now with plenty of both right-handed and left-handed bats available, Andre may even see fewer starts, depending on certain pitching match-ups and his own success against left-handed pitching.
Regardless, Ethier looks to duplicate his early season success from last year which was instrumental in him earning a starting spot in his first career All-Star game. Heading into 2011 Ethier will be in a contract year, and for some mystifying reason these types of seasons sometimes elevate a player's caliber of performance.
After earning Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards in 2009, there's no question that Matt Kemp regressed last year. Kemp clearly struggled in the stolen base department, having been successful in only 19 of 34 attempts. His 170 strikeouts led the entire squad in that particular category.
Still, despite his seemingly sluggish approach, he did lead the Dodgers in RBI (89), extra-base hits (59), runs scored (82) and home runs (setting a career high with 28). New batting coach Jeff Pentland and new first base coach Davey Lopes both hope to maximize Kemp's level of talent. With his highly coveted five-tool skill set, Kemp undoubtedly has the potential to become one of the most productive players in Major league Baseball.
Again, several positional scenarios are possible over the course of 2011, and Kemp may possibly see time in the right field corner. He has the ability to cover all three spots, and right should be no problem at all. Kemp's rifle of an arm is easily rated tops in the entire organization.
Like Ethier, Kemp's current contract expires at the end of this season, and Kemp will be on a mission to prove that he is among the most valuable outfielders in the game.
For the entire winter, the biggest concern for the Dodgers was not having the presence of a right-handed power bat on the roster. With the addition of Marcus Thames, Los Angeles not only fills that void, but also gains valuable veteran leadership as well as a potent pinch-hitting bat off the pine.
As mentioned before, several different positional angles may be utilized by Mattingly. Thames' offensive strengths are undeniably his success against left-handed pitching, and may find himself in a left field platoon role for most of the season.
In only 110 games played, Thames' signature season came in 2006 for the Detroit Tigers, when he set career highs in home runs (26), RBI (60) and doubles (20). Last year for the New York Yankees, he hit .288 with 12 HR and 33 RBI while appearing in 82 games.
His new contract with the Dodgers includes a base salary of $1.0 million, and he stands to make an additional $800K if he exceeds 237 plate appearances—the number he tallied last year with the Yankees.
After Jay Gibbons' alleged involvement with HGH and being named in the Mitchell Report in 2007, he was released by the Baltimore Orioles before the 2008 season even began.
He was bumped around in both the Milwaukee Brewers and Florida Marlins organizations in 2008 and 2009, and prior to signing a minor-league contract with the Dodgers before the 2010 season, he played for the Newark Bears in the Atlantic League.
While playing with the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes for the first part of the season, Gibbons was named to the 2010 Pacific Coast League All-Star team, after batting .347 with 19 home runs.
Last year, the Dodgers finally began to sort out their roster in late summer, and Gibbons was finally called up on August 8. In 37 games and only 75 at-bats in a Dodger uniform, Gibbons hit .280 with five home runs, 17 RBI, and an OPS of .819.
There's a chance that he may see the bulk of his time in left field splitting time with Thames, but he also provides a strong bat off the bench and has to the ability to cover at first base if needed. Gibbons' career line against right-handed pitching is .259/.319/.464, while he posts a line of .265/.300/.423 against lefties. 105 of his 126 career home runs have come against right-handed pitching.
Tony Gwynn Jr. was acquired by Dodgers GM Ned Colletti in one of the earlier moves during the winter. His best assets are his phenomenal glove work and above-average speed, both in the field and on the base paths.
Last year for the San Diego Padres, Gwynn batted a disappointing .204 with a .287 slugging percentage after appearing in 117 games. 2009 was his best year to date, as he hit .270 with an OBP of .350 in 119 games for the Padres.
Prior to landing Marcus Thames, Colletti had hinted that Gwynn could possibly see starting time in the outfield in 2011, however he would need to post extremely impressive offensive numbers in the Cactus League. His career offensive numbers of .244/.323/.314 certainly suggest he has his work cut out for him. In 366 total games and 1000-plus plate appearances, Gwynn has 5 career home runs and a total of 43 extra-base hits.
In the early stages of 2010, Dodger fans everywhere thought for certain that Xavier Paul, the Dodgers' fourth-round draft pick in 2003, was the heir apparent to Manny Ramirez's starting outfield spot. However after a sub-par offensive performance during the 44 games he saw on the roster, and yet another late-season injury, Paul's stock seemingly plummeted.
There's no question he has the potential to succeed. In 2008 with the Las Vegas 51s, Paul appeared in 115 games while batting an impressive .316/.378/.463. He also added 28 doubles, nine home runs, 68 RBI and 17 stolen bases. His OPS calculated to .841, which is exceptional for someone hitting out of the one or two holes.
Although a natural center fielder, Paul has the ability to cover all three outfield positions. Without question, the X-Man has the second-best outfield arm in the franchise behind the rifle of Matt Kemp.
Heading into 2011, Paul is now out of options as a result of his frequent call-ups last year. His lone shot of making the 25-man roster is beating out teammate Tony Gwynn Jr. If he finds himself unable to earn a roster spot by Opening Day, a trade to another team may be inevitable.
At 19 years of age, Jamie Hoffmann was originally signed by the Dodgers as an amateur free agent in 2003. Since that time, he has made appearances in both the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees organizations before returning to the Dodgers in March of last year.
Some scouts thought that Hoffmann may have the potential to contend for a spot on the 25-man roster heading into 2011, however the experience just isn't there. Ultimately Ned Colletti decided to add Gwynn for his glove work and Thames for his right-handed power bat to strengthen the roster.
Hoffmann's best season in the minor leagues came in 2008 for the Jacksonville Suns, when he appeared in 133 games an posted an average of .278 with 20 doubles, 10 home runs, 71 RBI and 28 stolen bases.
Considering the number of outfielders already on the roster and the level of talent on the farm, chances of Hoffmann donning Dodger Blue in 2011 are very slim. Similar to Paul, it's conceivable that a trade may be a possibility if other squads express interest.
At only 17 years of age, Trayvon Robinson was selected by the Dodgers in the 10th round of the 2005 draft. After having steadily improved in each of his five minor league seasons, he's undoubtedly the most major league-ready of all the Dodgers prospects.
Robinson possesses a rare blend of both speed and power and the fact that he hits from both sides of the plate only adds to his value. In the pitching dominated Southern League last year, Robinson hit .300 while adding 23 doubles, nine home runs, 57 RBI and 38 stolen bases while hitting primarily from the lead-off spot.
In 117 games with Inland Empire in 2009, he hit .306 while adding 28 doubles, nine triples, 15 home runs, 54 RBI and 43 stolen bases.
Robinson may spend the largest part of the 2011 season with Triple-A Albuquerque, but could be considered for a roster spot at spring training. Regardless, barring injury, he will make his big league debut at some point in 2011. Odds suggest that time may arrive when the roster expand in September.
Selected in the 25th round in 2009, few players have climbed through the rankings of the Dodgers farm faster than Jerry Sands.
In the first part of 2010, Sands put on an offensive show in the Midwest League. In only 69 games for Great Lakes, he hit an impressive .334 with 16 doubles, 18 home runs, 46 RBI and 14 stolen bases. During the second half of last year in the pitching dominated Southern League, Sands hit .270 while tallying 12 home runs, 17 doubles, two triples, and 47 RBI while appearing in only 68 games.
If Sands continues to impress in Double-A, if not earlier, he may be ready to make the jump to Triple-A by the summer of 2011. Like Robinson, Sands may possibly see major-league action when the MLB rosters expand in September.
To add to his value and versatility, Sands has been receiving instruction at the third base spot and appeared in a handful of games there toward the end of last season.
Kyle Russell was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third round of the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft, and one thing comes to mind when mentioning his name—power.
Russell, 24, is 6'5" and 220 lbs, and is best known for his place in the University of Texas record books for producing far and away the most home runs in school history.
He has excellent speed for his size both defensively and on the base paths, and scouts rate his arm strength above average. In 2009 for Single-A Great Lakes, he produced 26 home runs, 102 RBI, 90 runs scored, 39 doubles, seven triples, and 20 stolen bases.
Last year he made the jump to Double-A ball after a 53-game Single-A stint with Inland Empire. His combined stats for 2010 showed 129 games played with a .291 average, 34 doubles, 7 triples, 11 stolen bases, 26 home runs and 81 RBI.
His only weakness right now at the dish is his high number of strikeouts, but coaches are being patient, as his contact skills continue to develop. His 61 walks in 2010 are an indication that he's becoming more disciplined at the plate.
A reasonable ETA for Russell's arrival to the bigs is the fall of 2012.
In an effort to bolster depth in the outfield in terms of players who are actually major league-ready, Ned Colletti signed veteran free agents Gabe Kapler and Eugenio Velez over the course of the winter.
Kapler brings 12 years of MLB experience to the table. In 1104 career games, Kapler tallies a career .268 average with 82 home runs and 386 RBI. At age 34, Kapler appeared in 59 games for the Tampa Bay Rays last year while batting .210 with two home runs and 14 RBI.
Velez, a four-year veteran, played both infield and outfield for the San Francisco Giants in 2010. His career hitting line is .256/.300/.388.
Neither player is expected to see much action in the bigs unless they fly off the charts at Triple-A Albuquerque, or several string of injuries occur on the Dodgers' roster.
Heading up the class of outfield prospects are Leon Landry, Brian Cavazos-Galvez, Nick Akins, and Jonathan Garcia. Several other players worth keeping an eye on are Joc Pederson, Angelo Songco, Blake Smith, and Alfredo Silverio.