Los Angeles Dodgers: 7 Role Players That Must Step Up in 2012
The Los Angeles Dodgers are currently experiencing one of the worst seasons in the history of the storied franchise.
Not only has the club’s owner Frank McCourt filed for bankruptcy and refused to sell the team, despite Bud Selig’s urgent request, but as of August 5, the Dodgers are 10 games below .500 and 11 games out of first place in the NL West. To make things even worse, the team’s average attendance is one of its worst in years and the fans are even beginning to boycott the games.
Despite all that has gone wrong in Los Angeles, there have been a few bright spots for the Dodgers this season.
All-Star center fielder Matt Kemp is in the midst of one of the greatest seasons in the history of baseball offensively. He ranks near the top in the National League in home runs, RBI’s, batting average, and stolen bases. Add the fact that the 26-year-old Kemp is also playing Gold Glove ball in the outfield and the Dodgers have a superstar that they could rely on for many seasons to come.
However, the age old fact of baseball is that pitching wins championships, or at least that is what determined last year’s title for the Giants.
The Dodgers have always had some of the best arms in the game throughout the years, and this year is certainly no exception, as Clayton Kershaw is putting up Cy Young worthy numbers for the boys in blue. The first time All-Star selection and NL Pitcher of the Month in July, Kershaw is already mentioned with the most dominant pitchers in the league at just 23 years old. Not only is Kershaw running away with this year’s strikeout title, but he is also among the leaders in almost every other pitching category.
Now that the Dodgers have a few players that they can center their team around, the club should be headed in the right direction once their ownership situation is settled. In order to do so, the Dodgers superstars must get support from this list of seven role players, to help bring the team back into the win column.
Javy Guerra was promoted from Double-A Chattanooga to the majors on May 15 to help out in the Dodgers injury-stricken bullpen.
Even though Guerra has played a number of different roles over the course of his 26 appearances with the club, he has been the Dodgers primary closer for the majority of the season. While he did not get much ninth inning experience during May and June, Guerra has seen a slight elevation in his work over the past month and has a lot to show for it, as he is perfect in nine save opportunities.
Even though Guerra may never be the flame throwing closer that the Dodgers have grown accustomed to over the course of the last decade, he has shown that he can be called upon when the team needs him most.
Do not be surprised if Don Mattingly gives Guerra the nod as the teams closer out of spring training next season, as his 1.78 ERA is no fluke.
The son of 21-year MLB vet pitcher Tom "Flash" Gordon, Dee, just 23, has shown glimpses of glory over the course of his two stints in the majors this year as the clubs shortstop.
First called up to the big leagues on June 6 to fill the void of the injured Rafael Furcal, Gordon has already made his name known as one of the fastest players in the league. He is 10-for-13 in stolen base attempts and on July 1 he became the first Dodger since 1928 to swipe second, third, and home in the same game.
However, the disturbingly slim 150 lb. shortstop has been rather inconsistent and must improve in a number of spots. Now that Furcal has been traded to the Cardinals, Gordon must raise his .232 batting average and work on his shaky glove work before he takes the role of an everyday starter for good.
Currently on the 15-day DL due to an irregular heartbeat, Kenley Jansen has been decent in the rare time that he has been healthy this season.
Primarily used as a setup man, Jansen has been almost unhittable since he made it to the majors in the second half last season.
Formally a catcher for the Netherlands, he was converted to a pitcher in 2009 because of his inability to hit. After about a calendar year since he was called up to the majors, Jansen should be glad that he made the switch, as he has already thrown 102 strikeouts in just 64 innings pitched dating back to last season.
If Jansen proves that he can stay healthy for a good period of time, than the Dodgers should make sure to keep this 23-year-old flamethrower, with a .155 career batting average against, in their arsenal.
It is unclear whether underachieving first-baseman James Loney will be back in Los Angeles next season, so the team might have to start looking for a plausible option for his replacement as soon as possible.
While the Dodgers would normally be able to fish a player out of free agency, the club's rough ownership has put them in no place to sign anyone substantial better than Loney. Therefore, the club must look for their next first baseman inside of the organization, with Jerry Sands being the man that best fits that description.
Even though Sands is currently playing for the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque after a rough couple of months in the majors, primarily as an outfielder, he has the potential to be one of the league's top power hitters.
If the Dodgers were really smart, they would give Sands a chance to prove that his 19 home runs and 56 RBIs this season in the minors can transfer over to the big leagues.
Rubby De La Rosa
After beginning his career with three consecutive wins, Rubby De La Rosa went 1-4 before he was placed on the disabled list this past week.
De La Rosa, just 22 years old, was originally called up to the majors on May 24 as a reliever, but quickly took a spot in the Dodgers rotation after Jon Garland went down with an injury.
While De La Rosa could probably be a consistent starter for any team in the majors, he might be better off taking his talents to the bullpen as a long reliever. The Dodgers do not really have anyone who can pitch long distances in their pen currently and he could certainly be that guy.
And by the way, De La Rosa can throw 100 MPH on any pitch and has struck out 60 batters in just 60.2 innings pitched.
From his four Tommy John surgeries to his career threatening anxiety disorder, Hong-Chih Kuo has not been the most reliable left-handed specialist this season. Even though Kuo was an All-Star in 2010 his 12.46 ERA this season is completely unacceptable for a pitcher at the major league level.
Besides Kuo, the Dodgers only have one other lefthander that has spent substantial time with the club, Scott Elbert.
While Elbert has a rather high career ERA of 5.48, he has not been given enough time in the majors to prove that he can reach the potential that led the Dodgers to select him in the first round of the 2004 draft.
Elbert does not have to be the player that one the team's Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award in 2009, but he can be the Dodgers go-to guy against lefties.
Now that Russell Martin is spending his days in pinstripes, the Dodgers do not have any catcher that they can call upon on a daily basis.
While Rod Barajas is their second best power hitter and Dioner Navarro is a former All-Star, the Dodgers need a fresh face that can cement a consistent spot behind the plate in Los Angeles for years to come. A.J. Ellis could have been that man, but the team has given him too many chances and is probably going to give up on him sooner or later.
Therefore, it looks like recent acquisition Tim Federowicz could very well be the Dodgers' next catcher. Federowicz was part of a last second trade deadline deal that involved Erik Bedard going to Boston and the Dodgers giving up their top prospect, Trayvon Robinson, to the Mariners.
While Federowicz may not be the most dominant batter, as his career average in the minors is just .274, he has a supreme ability to call the game behind the plate. With the right coaching and a little bit of tweaking, Federowicz could become a great battery-mate for the young Dodger arms.
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