Complete Dodgers' 2015 Season Preview

Nick Ostiller@@NickOstillerContributor IIMarch 27, 2015

Complete Dodgers' 2015 Season Preview

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    Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

    As spring training nears a close for MLB teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers can start to focus their attention on Opening Day.

    Besides a completely new front office, half of the infield and about 40 percent of the starting rotation will feature new faces, ones the Dodgers have entrusted to carry the team back to the top of the National League West and beyond.

    Fans heard about the metrics all winter, and now they have finally seen the players on the field instead of on a sheet of paper or computer screen. There have been relatively few disappointments at Camelback Ranch so far as the team molds itself into shape for the real deal.

    Here's everything you need to know about the Dodgers in advance of their first game of the season on April 6 against the San Diego Padres.

Injury Updates Entering Opening Day

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    Hyun-jin Ryu

    The Dodgers' No. 3 starter will begin the 2015 season on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. Ryu reported discomfort in his throwing shoulder last weekend, but a subsequent MRI revealed no structural damage. He suffered similar ailments in his shoulder last season, landing on the disabled list twice but returning within three weeks on each occasion. 

    "I wasn't too worried. It's very similar pain to last year," Ryu said through an interpreter, per Eric Stephen of True Blue LA. "I'm focused on the next two weeks, getting my condition back."

    With Opening Day still more than a week away, the Dodgers may only need to replace Ryu once during the early portion of their schedule if this is indeed the same type of injury the 28-year-old dealt with last season.

    Brandon League

    The light at the end of the tunnel seems further away for right-handed reliever Brandon League, who also suffered a recent injury to his throwing shoulder. He is leaving Camelback Ranch to meet with team doctor Neal ElAttrache, suggesting that whatever is bothering him—the Dodgers have not released a diagnosis following an MRI—could be a long-term issue. League will begin the season on the disabled list.

    Chris Withrow

    Right-handed relief pitcher Chris Withrow underwent Tommy John surgery last June to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow and is not expected to return until after the All-Star break at the earliest. Withrow also went under the knife this past December to correct a herniated disc in his lower back.

Lineup Preview

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected Batting Order

    Player2014 Stats
    1. Jimmy Rollins138 G, .243/.323/.358, 22 2B, 17 HR, 55 RBI, 78 R, 28 SB
    2. Yasiel Puig 148 G, .296/.382/.480, 37 2B, 16 HR, 69 RBI, 92 R
    3. Adrian Gonzalez159 G, .276/.335/.461, 41 2B, 27 HR, 116 RBI, 83 R
    4. Yasmani Grandal 128 G, .225/.327/.401, 19 2B, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 47 R
    5. Howie Kendrick157 G, .293/.347/.397, 33 2B, 7 HR, 75 RBI, 85 R, 14 SB
    6. Carl Crawford105 G, .300/.339/.429, 14 2B, 8 HR, 46 RBI, 56 R, 23 SB
    7. Juan Uribe103 G, .311/.337/.440, 23 2B, 9 HR, 54 RBI, 36 R
    8. Joc Pederson *121 G, .303/.435/.582, 17 2B, 33 HR, 78 RBI, 106 R

    *Minor League Stats (Triple-A)

    Analysis

    Much was made of the potential loss in power when the Dodgers traded away Matt Kemp and let Hanley Ramirez walk in free agency. As it turns out, Los Angeles leads the majors in spring home runs.

    While the team may not continue mashing at the same clip during the regular season, the feared drop in offensive production could very well be a myth. After all, Adrian Gonzalez—the MLB leader in RBI last season—will be back to buoy the offense alongside Yasiel Puig. New addition Jimmy Rollins actually hit more home runs last season than Ramirez, the man he replaced at shortstop, while fellow newcomer Howie Kendrick leads the team in OPS this spring.

    Gonzalez experienced somewhat of a resurgence in 2014, compiling an isolated power metric (slugging percentage minus batting average) of .206. It was the first time he eclipsed .200 in that department since 2011. Overall, Gonzalez hit .276/.335/.482 with 116 RBI and will be tabbed as the Dodgers' No. 3 or 4 hitter in 2015. 

    If there's one hole in Gonzalez's game, it's his approach at the plate against left-handed pitchers. A career .272/.337/.434 hitter against southpaws, he fell off considerably in 2014, slashing just .201/.261/.327.

    The Dodgers are banking on Puig to make an offensive leap in his third year with the team. The young Cuban who plays with an unparalleled reckless abandon regressed at the plate last season. After hitting 19 home runs in just 104 games as a rookie in 2013, Puig tallied 16 home runs in 148 games last year. He slashed just .270/.353/.420 over the final four months of the season but has hit five home runs this March and is focused on improving his work ethic and reining in his limitless talent.

    "I have a greater commitment to myself, to the team, to the public," Puig said, per Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.

    Los Angeles received switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal as the main haul in the trade that sent Kemp to San Diego. The Dodgers are expecting Grandal to provide a bit more pop from the position (15 homers last year playing in spacious Petco Park) while forming a platoon with A.J. Ellis.

Rotation Preview

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Rotation

    Player2014 Stats
    LHP Clayton Kershaw 27 G, 27 GS, 21-3, 1.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 239 K, 198.1 IP
    RHP Zack Greinke 32 G, 32 GS, 17-8, 2.71 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 207 K, 202.1 IP
    LHP Hyun-jin Ryu*26 G, 26 GS, 14-7, 3.38 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 139 K, 152.0 IP
    RHP Brandon McCarthy32 G, 32 GS, 10-15, 4.05 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 175 K, 200.0 IP
    LHP Brett Anderson8 G, 8 GS, 1-3, 2.91 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 29 K, 43.1 IP

    *Will begin season on 15-day DL

    Analysis

    The Dodgers are projected to once again feature one of the best starting rotations in baseball this season, beginning with the lethal one-two punch of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

    Clayton Kershaw, the undisputed ace of the staff and the world, has picked up where he left off last season. The defending National League MVP and Cy Young Award winner has compiled a 1.86 ERA in 19 innings this spring. His ERA in 27 starts a year ago: 1.77. Not surprisingly, Kershaw has struck out twice as many batters as any other hurler at Dodgers camp.

    Zack Greinke would probably be an ace on any other team, but on this staff he is as lethal a No. 2 as there is in the game. The right-hander won a career-high 17 games last season for the Dodgers while reaching the 200-strikeout plateau as well. This season will be an important one for Greinke, who can opt out of his contract at the end of the year. He is owed $23 million in 2015, the third season of his six-year deal.

    Ryu will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list after experiencing shoulder inflammation in spring training. Although he doesn't receive as much attention behind Kershaw and Greinke, the Korean left-hander might be one of the best No. 3 starters in the league when healthy. He pitches with a reliable finesse and demonstrated improvement by increasing his strikeout rate and lowering his walk rate in 2014. Ryu's durability has always been a concern, so it's safe to say 2015 has not started off on the right foot.

    According to Hernandez, right-hander Joe Wieland—acquired in the Kemp trade—is the most likely candidate to replace Ryu for at least one start in early April.

    Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson were brought in during the offseason to round out the back end of the Dodgers' rotation in 2015.

    McCarthy signed a four-year, $48 million contract in December but has underwhelmed so far in spring training. His eight earned runs allowed are tops on the team and opponents are hitting a crisp .342 against him. As the projected No. 4 starter, McCarthy will be under pressure to prove to the Dodgers that he can put together back-to-back healthy seasons, let alone an effective one. He has made seven trips to the disabled list over the course of his nine-year career.

    Anderson is another pitcher with a rickety past in terms of staying healthy. The southpaw was limited to just eight starts in 2014 with the Rockies because of a broken left index finger and lower back surgery. Anderson's spring has been mediocre, compiling a 4.05 ERA over three starts.

Bullpen Preview

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Projected Opening Day Bullpen

    Player2014 Stats
    J.P. Howell68 G, 27 H, 3-3, 2.39 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 48 K, 49.0 IP
    Joel Peralta69 G, 18 H, 3-4, 4.41 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 74 K, 63.1 IP
    Sergio Santos26 G, 28 H, 0-3, 8.57 ERA, 2.19 WHIP, 29 K, 21.0 IP
    Chris Hatcher  52 G, 6 H, 0-3, 3.38 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 60 K, 56.0 IP
    Juan Nicasio 33 G, 14 GS, 6-6, 5.38 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 63 K, 93.2 IP
    Paco Rodriguez19 G, 4 H, 1-0, 3.86 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 14 K, 14.0 IP
    Dustin McGowan53 G, 8 GS, 5-3, 4.17 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 61 K, 82.0 IP

    Analysis

    The above list does not include League and closer Kenley Jansen, both of whom will begin the 2015 season the disabled list. Jansen is expected to be back in late April or early May while League's timetable is more murky.

    The Dodgers' central weakness last season was their bullpen. Los Angeles relievers combined to surrender more earned runs than 18 other bullpens around the league. It also ranked 22nd in ERA, 20th in FIP and 27th in walk rate.

    President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi began retooling the relief corps by acquiring relievers Joel Peralta from Tampa Bay and Juan Nicasio from Colorado prior to the winter meetings.

    Regarded as a positive clubhouse presence, the 39-year-old Peralta turned in a 3.40 FIP in 69 innings last season for Tampa Bay. He has allowed three earned runs in five innings this spring but is nearly a lock to make the Opening Day roster alongside last season's lefty specialist, J.P. Howell, because of their guaranteed salaries.

    The hope with Nicasio is that by removing him from Coors Field, he might be able turn his career around pitching in Dodger Stadium. He also has the ability to make spot starts if necessary. Nicasio has a non-guaranteed $2.3 million salary and owns a 5.40 ERA in 10 spring innings.

    Right-hander Sergio Santos (pictured above), a non-roster invitee, has been a pleasant surprise this spring. His nine strikeouts in just seven innings have highlighted a solid performance that may earn him a spot on the Opening Day roster. 

    However, the reality is that most of these pitchers are reclamation projects. The inherent uncertainty has allowed the competition to widen, and there are essentially 14 realistic options for seven slots, excluding League and Jansen. True Blue LA's Stephen created a comprehensive flowchart illustrating the battle. Other names include Yimi Garcia, Pedro Baez, Adam Liberatore and David Aardsma.

    It's looking increasingly likely that the Achilles' heel of the 2015 Dodgers could once again be the bullpen.

Defense Preview

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    Infield

    The Dodgers will feature an entirely new middle infield this season after trading away All-Star second baseman Dee Gordon and letting Ramirez walk in free agency.

    The replacements, Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins, have something in common: better defense.

    A traditional barometer used to value a player's defense is a metric called defensive runs saved (DRS). Zero is considered average, 10 is great and minus-10 is poor. Per Fangraphs, Ramirez ranked 29th among all shortstops who played at least 500 innings at the position last season with minus-nine DRS.

    Rollins ranked 10th in DRS among shortstops with at least 500 innings under their belt, per Fangraphs

    The story was the same with Gordon and Kendrick. According to FanGraphs, Kendrick's defensive runs saved ranked seventh among all second basemen with at least 500 innings played last season. Gordon's minus-five DRS ranked 25th.

    Holding down the hot corner for the Dodgers in 2015 will once again be Juan Uribe, fresh off leading National League third basemen with at least 850 innings in DRS last season. He just turned 36, and injuries may be a concern this season. Uribe was limited to just 103 games last year because of multiple hamstring issues.

    As insurance, the Dodgers this week won the bidding war for Cuban defector Hector Olivera, signing the 29-year-old to a six-year, $62.5-million contract, per Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com.

    Gonzalez was rewarded with his fourth Gold Glove Award and second Silver Slugger at first base last season while Los Angeles is eager to benefit from the elite pitch-framing ability of new catcher Grandal.

    Outfield

    The Dodgers are primed for better defense in the outfield as well. That's what happens when the worst outfielder in baseball leaves the team.

    It's true. According to Fangraphs, Kemp registered a minus-23 in DRS in 2014, the worst among qualifying MLB outfielders.

    Replacing Kemp in right field is Puig, who will slide over from center field. Not only does this move allow Los Angeles to better utilize Puig's excellent throwing arm, it opens the door for top outfield prospect Joc Pederson—whom manager Don Mattingly considers the "best defensive center fielder" in the organization, per Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times.

    However, the weak link remains in left field with Carl Crawford and his below-average throwing arm. The veteran outfielder still has enough range to help track down balls in the gap, but don't expect many outfield assists from Crawford.

Bench Preview

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    The Dodgers return several key bench players in 2015, most notably Justin Turner and Scott Van Slyke.

    Turner made the 25-man roster as a utility player last season and proceeded to turn in a career year. He slashed .340/.404/.493 in 109 games, and he helped spell teammates by filling in at all four infield positions throughout the summer.

    The Dodgers brought him back when both parties avoided arbitration and agreed to a $2.5 million deal for 2015, per Hernandez. Turner hasn't disappointed so far this spring, slashing .486/.513/.857 with three home runs and eight RBI.

    Van Slyke has outplayed newcomer Chris Heisey and will likely make the team over him as the platoon outfielder who starts against left-handed pitchers. Last season, Van Slyke led Los Angeles with .524 slugging percentage and .910 OPS in 130 plate appearances. He's batting .250 with two home runs in spring training.

    It's become quite clear that Pederson has won the battle for center field, relegating Andre Ethier to the bench for the second straight season. The veteran has made it known that he is expecting a different role this season, according to Dilbeck, but it's going to be difficult for Los Angeles to move the $56 million he is owed over the next three seasons.

    Defensive wiz Darwin Barney looks like the odd man out with Alex Guerrero able to refuse a demotion to the minor leagues (more on Guerrero in a bit). Then, there's the Olivera signing. He plays third base but will probably spend most of this season in Triple-A unless Uribe is forced to miss extended time with an injury.

Prospects to Watch

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    SS Corey Seager (ETA: 2016)

    The consensus No. 1 prospect in the Dodgers organization went 4-for-12 this spring before being reassigned to minor league camp in an expected move. The younger brother of Seattle Mariners All-Star Kyle Seager also drew six walks, demonstrating plate discipline and turning heads with his willingness to learn.

    "The way Corey handles himself makes the other guys want to help him any way they can," said Mattingly, per Stephen. "If they're honest, pretty much everyone in there can see this kid is special, and he has a chance to be really good."

    SP Julio Urias (ETA: 2017)

    The Dodgers' top pitching prospect put together a 2.36 ERA over 20 starts last season at Class-A Rancho Cucamonga. Saddled with a five-inning limit, Urias was still able to mow down 109 opposing batters during his time on the mound.

    He walked just 37 batters in 87 innings. Besides his 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings, the most impressive number attached to Urias is his age: 18.

    Urias pitched two innings for the big club this spring, allowing one earned run on three hits while striking out two and walking three.

    Other Notable Prospects

    RP Adam Liberatore, RP Pedro Baez, IF/OF Enrique Hernandez, RP Chris Reed, SP Zach Lee, OF Scott Schebler, IF Darnell Sweeney, RP Daniel Coulombe, RP Carlos Frias, OF Kyle Jensen, IF O'Koyea Dickson.

Breakout Candidates

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Joc Pederson

    If his spring sample is any indication, the Dodgers' top outfield prospect could be a major breakout candidate for the team this season.

    Entering Friday, Pederson is batting .400 over a team-high 45 at-bats. He has slugged four home runs, and his 1.193 OPS trails only Howie Kendrick so far this March. The rookie has all but officially locked down an everyday job in center field with his performance this spring.

    Yimi Garcia

    One several pitchers vying for the limited bullpen slots, Yimi Garcia is making a strong case this spring. The right-hander has pitched eight scoreless innings and is second on the team behind Kershaw with 10 strikeouts. It appears Garcia is picking up where he left off last season. As a September call-up, he compiled a 1.80 ERA in eight games.

    "Yimi just kind of keeps doing what he's been doing and, obviously, pretty impressive," said Mattingly, per Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles.

    Alex Guerrero

    Previous general manager Ned Colletti signed the Cuban infielder to a four-year, $28 million contract in November 2013. Built into the deal was a clause that allowed Guerrero to refuse a demotion to the minor leagues.

    "I'm not going down," said Guerrero, per Sanchez. "I feel like I can get better here at this level and play every day. I think that's what every player wants. You want to be in the Major Leagues and play as much as you can."

    Guerrero has hit .364 with two home runs this spring, and there is simply too much potential there for the Dodgers to outright release him (the only alternative to giving him a spot on the Opening Day roster).

    He slashed 329/.364/.613 with 15 home runs last season at Triple-A, even with the infamous ear-biting incident costing him several weeks on the shelf.

    All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise linked/noted.