Los Angeles Dodgers: Complete 25-Man Roster Projections for Opening Day
With spring training quickly approaching, several questions continue to linger in terms of how the Los Angeles Dodgers' 25-man roster will shape up once the players arrive at Camelback Ranch to prepare themselves for the long journey ahead.
As a result of acquiring Marcus Thames, the Dodgers outfield becomes much more balanced and loaded with power. Still, a handful of players may find themselves in heated battles in an effort to make the Opening Day squad.
Right now, the buzz around Dodgertown suggests that the team's biggest needs are a number-two hitter in the lineup and a left-handed arm in the bullpen. While Colletti may indeed explore free agent possibilities or entertain trade options, the organization is rich with talent and there are plenty of components to assemble a formidable 25-man roster.
Several roster spots may be determined by individual performances during Cactus League play, most specifically the fifth outfielding spot and the sixth arm in the bullpen. While there will be tight competition to finalize these several spots, the new coaching staff will also look to establish chemistry and generate positive momentum heading into Opening Day.
Assuming that the roster stays relatively the same as the season approaches, the following slides project all 25 players who may find themselves on the 25-man roster, show a handful of players who will be in heated battles to earn a place on the big league squad, as well as recommend a starting lineup for Opening Day on April 1.
Note—This slideshow was edited for content after the signing of outfielder Marcus Thames on January 19. Also, keep an eye out for a revised version of the projections to be published sometime toward the middle of spring training.
Knowing that the free agent market for pitchers was very slim at the beginning of the winter, Ned Colletti acted quickly to assemble an effective starting rotation before the prices skyrocketed and the options dwindled.
Lefty Ted Lilly was inked to a three-year deal first, followed by the signings of Hiroki Kuroda and Jon Garland. Not only did the Dodgers acquire a dependable "innings eater" in Garland, but in doing so they created a hole in the San Diego Padres rotation as well.
Clayton Kershaw continues to progress, and Chad Billingsley's second half in 2010 proved that he is still a top-of-the-rotation arm as the Dodgers move forward.
Injuries can always hamper the production of a solid rotation, and to insure Los Angeles won't be thrown off track, the Dodgers signed Vicente Padilla to a one-year deal for both spot starts and a reliable arm in the bullpen.
The rotation is solid and is easily ranked among the top five in the National League. About the only questions that linger are the actual order that they will pitch and where Padilla fits into the bullpen until he's called upon to start. With all that said, the rotation will look something like this:
1. Clayton Kershaw—LHP
2. Chad Billingsley—RHP
3. Ted Lilly—LHP
4. Hiroki Kuroda—RHP
5. Jon Garland—RHP
Swingman: Vicente Padilla—RHP
It's difficult to imagine that the 2009 Dodgers bullpen was at one point far and away the best relief crew in the entire National League. Last season saw meltdowns of Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Ronald Belisario and Ramon Troncoso, but with the emergence of Kenley Jansen and the arrival of Matt Guerrier, Los Angeles hopes to create a solid bullpen to support a very strong starting rotation.
Management will have the option of using a "closer by committee" approach or, depending on spring training effectiveness, may choose to feature Broxton in the closer role to begin the season. Hong-Chih Kuo certainly has the stuff to be the shut-down man, yet still requires monitoring due to his four previous arm surgeries. Jansen could also conceivably slide into the closer role, but the key with Jansen is to get him as many reps as possible in any game situation.
Belisario looks to rebound after having been placed on the restricted list twice during the 2010 campaign. In 17 appearances in the Venezuelan Winter League, Belisario has logged 18 innings pitched and 14 saves while posting a 1-0 record with a 1.00 ERA, and hopes to stay on track heading into spring training.
The biggest question mark is whether or not the Dodgers need another left-handed reliever in addition to Kuo. Considering all of the potential lefty arms in the entire organization, about the only pitcher who is even close to being Major League ready is Scott Elbert, who had more than his fair share of problems during 2010.
Along with Elbert and Troncoso, Blake Hawksworth, Jon Link, Carlos Monasterios, and Travis Schlichting will all contend for the 12th and final spot on the pitching staff. Come Opening Day, the Dodgers' bullpen may very well look something like this (keep in mind that Vicente Padilla may be used in a relief role as well):
With Brad Ausmus retiring and Russell Martin being non-tendered and ultimately signed by the New York Yankees, the catching spot may be the largest weakness on the entire Los Angeles roster.
Rod Barajas, who was picked up on waivers by the Dodgers last August, signed a one-year deal in December and may see the bulk of action behind the dish in 2011.
Veteran Dioner Navarro was also signed as a free agent to add depth, and may find himself battling with A.J. Ellis during spring training for a roster spot.
All three are more than suitable defensively, but their offensive abilities all remain questionable. Barajas registers a career .284 OBP, Navarro hit .218 in 2009 and .194 in 2010, while Ellis' career slugging percentage is a meager .298.
J.D. Closser and Hector Gimenez will provide additional cover at the Triple-A level.
Although there was a point during September of 2010 that the Dodgers carried three catchers on the 25-man roster, such won't be the case in 2011. Barajas will be the Opening Day catcher, and will most likely be joined by Navarro, who edges out Ellis in a very tight spring training battle.
In one of the biggest signings of the winter, veteran infielder Juan Uribe joins the Blue Crew providing versatility with his glove and a bit of punch offensively. Uribe has the ability to play a strong shortstop, second base, or third base, and provides several options in terms of infield combinations.
Offensively, the success of the Dodgers could very well depend on the health of shortstop Rafael Furcal. 2010 saw Furcal play in only 97 total games, and without an option of a true lead-off hitter to replace Furcal if another injury occurs, the Dodgers may find themselves scrambling for options.
Besides the lack of cover for Furcal at the top of the order, the number-two spot in the lineup also remains a huge question mark. Most folks across Dodgertown view Jamey Carroll as a vital component off the bench, but realistically he may be the best option on the entire roster to fill the number two hole. Carroll's .379 OBP last season led the entire team, yet with his lack of power isn't overly effective as a pinch hitter late in games. This could very well be the most interesting facet of the lineup come Opening Day.
Last year the Dodgers didn't have much punch off the pine when needed in tightly contested games, but with the versatility of Uribe and Carroll, it may give Casey Blake the opportunity to be used in critical late game pinch-hitting situations.
Needless to say, Don Mattingly will have plenty of options.
James Loney will man the fort at first base, and hopes to develop the power stroke that many fans in Dodgertown know he is capable of showing. Russ Mitchell and Ivan DeJesus will battle for the final roster spot in the infield. Although this spot will most likely be determined by production at spring training, chances are good that Mitchell gets the nod because of his power capability as well as his ability to cover third, second, and first base defensively. DeJesus could get called up with the first infielder hitting the disabled list.
The infield may shape up to look like this:
1B—James Loney (bats left)
2B—Juan Uribe (bats right)
SS—Rafael Furcal (bats both)
3B—Casey Blake (bats right)
PH/2B/SS—Jamey Carroll (bats right)
Utility—Russ Mitchell (bats right) or Ivan DeJesus (bats right)
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.
Thames is set for a platoon role with Jay Gibbons in left field. It's conceivable that Thames will see most of the action against left-handed pitching, while Gibbons figures to be utilized against right-handers.
As for other options that Mattingly may explore, Andre Ethier is probably better suited than any other Dodger to handle the responsibilities in left field. Matt Kemp has all the tools to cover right, while Tony Gwynn and Xavier Paul are both natural center fielders. In this scenario, both Gibbons and Thames would provide formidable forces off the bench.
The corners in left and right field at Dodger Stadium are known to be deadly, even for the most sure-handed outfielders in the major leagues. In in 283 career games played in the outfield, Gwynn has only played a total of five in left and a total of 23 in right. And if Paul is given a fair opportunity to prove his skills in center, he may fall into a comfort zone and show the talent that many fans believe he possesses. Kemp and Ethier have the experience at Dodger Stadium to handle the caroms and nuances in the corners more than the newcomers.
It's also been mentioned that blue-chipper Trayvon Robinson may have the chance to earn a roster spot come spring training. Although he has the tools to complement Ethier and Kemp perfectly, he's probably just one full season away, and will more than likely spend at least the first half of the year at Triple-A Albuquerque.
All that being said, the fourth and fifth outfield spots will come down to a heated spring training competition between Jamie Hoffmann, Gwynn, Paul, and Robinson. Gwynn may have the edge in terms of experience, however he'll need to prove that he's up to the challenge offensively.
Nevertheless, the battles in spring training will certainly be heated, and several different outfield options may be explored. Here's what the Dodgers may utilize in the end:
LF—Marcus Thames (bats right)
CF—Matt Kemp (bats right)
RF—Andre Ethier (bats left)
PH/Platoon Role—Jay Gibbons (bats left)
Defensive Reserve—Tony Gwynn (bats left) or Xavier Paul (bats left)
Opening Day Lineup
With Opening Day almost three full months away, anything can happen in the moments in between—Ned Colletti may orchestrate a blockbuster deal which changes the complexion of the club, or a free agent could be signed to address one of several problem areas.
The new coaching staff of Don Mattingly, Trey Hillman, Jeff Pentland, Tim Wallach, Davey Lopes, Rick Honeycutt, and Ken Howell will not only be faced with the challenges of gelling together as coaches and developing team chemistry, but will also have the huge task of choosing the best 25 players available to fill the roster.
For the first time in several years, there are at least a handful of roster spots that are completely up for grabs in Dodgertown, and spring training 2011 will be more important than ever. We also can't forget that if the Dodgers can manage to hang in the NL West race until the end of July, there will be additional opportunities to strengthen the roster at the trade deadline. Power hitters who are facing free agency become more abundant, just as the pitching market is typically strong in the winter.
Anything is possible, but here's a batting order and full 25-man roster that just may be utilized come April 2011:
1. SS—Rafael Furcal (S/R)
2. CF—Matt Kemp (R/R)
3. RF—Andre Ethier (L/L)
4. LF—Marcus Thames (R/R)
5. 1B—James Loney (L/L)
6. 2B—Juan Uribe (R/R)
7. 3B—Casey Blake (R/R)
8. C—Rod Barajas (R/R)
Reserves: Jamey Carroll, Jay Gibbons, Russ Mitchell, Tony Gwynn or Xavier Paul, Dioner Navarro
Starting Pitchers: Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda, Jon Garland
Bullpen: Vicente Padilla, Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih-Kuo, Kenley Jansen, Matt Guerrier, Ronald Belisario, Scott Elbert