Dodgers 2014 Preview: Key Position Battles Heading Into Spring Training
With one or two moves still possibly in the works, the Los Angeles Dodgers major league camp begins tomorrow when pitchers and catchers report to Camelback Ranch to begin preparations for the upcoming season.
Most of the spots and positions are stable; however, there will be some battles this spring that’ll determine positions and roster spots. Today, we take a look at these position battles and attempt to estimate how they’ll play out:
1. Second Base/Reserve Infielders
In what will be the biggest competition this spring, there will be a handful of players working for three available spots on the infield. The starting position at second base and two backup roles in the infield will all be up for grabs this spring, with Alex Guerrero, Dee Gordon, Justin Sellers, Miguel Rojas, Brendan Harris, Chone Figgins and Justin Turner all expected to participate. One more player may be brought in after it was reported that the team is interested in bringing in a shortstop for positional depth.
Guerrero is the frontrunner for the second base spot and it’s essentially his to lose. If he can prove that he’s ready defensively and hits as expected, then he will be the starting second baseman come Opening Day. Rojas is more of a longshot, but is there because of his defensive prowess, while Gordon could become his greatest competition if he can find a way to get on base. The others may have a chance at the spot with a solid spring, but are more likely to fight for the reserve roles.
For the reserve roles, there will likely be two spots available and nobody is guaranteed to make it. If Rojas doesn’t take the second base spot, then he’ll find himself back in the minors. Gordon should have the best shot of making the team because of his speed and ability to play shortstop; however, the duo of Figgins and Turner could take him out. Turner seems like a lock because of his success last season with the New York Mets and versatility. Figgins is the biggest wild card of the bunch because nobody knows what to expect.
He sat out the entire 2013 season after being cut in the spring and is attempting to comeback for another shot at the big leagues. If he can show a flash of his talents from his days with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, it could push him past Gordon on the depth chart. Sellers was the team’s Opening Day shortstop last season before his inability to hit sent him back down. He seems like the odd man out of the equation because of the others brought in. Harris will get a chance but will need a flawless spring to even be considered for a roster spot.
Prediction: Guerrero should do enough to take the second base position, leaving Gordon and Turner taking the other two spots backing up the infield.
2. Fifth Starter
The second biggest battle this spring will come at the back end of the starting rotation where Josh Beckett, Zach Lee, Stephen Fife, Matt Magill and a potential free agent signing will be trying to get in. If a free agent is brought in, it could tip the scales in his favor depending on who it is.
As of now, Beckett is slotted in the role, but the 33-year-old is coming off surgery to remove a rib and may not be entirely ready. If he’s healthy, then it’ll be hard to take him out of the role because of his experience and contract. Lee is the most intriguing of the group and could turn a few heads with a strong spring. The 22-year-old is one of the Dodgers’ top prospects and is on the verge of making the jump to the big leagues. Fife and Magill are in the same boat: both spent time in the majors last year, both had some good starts and some bad starts and both aren’t expected to make the team out of the spring. The duo will spend the season in Triple-A and be ready for promotion if an injury occurs, much like they did last season.
Prediction: Barring a big-name free agent signing, Beckett will emerge as the fifth starter, but Lee should be seen in Los Angeles at some point in 2014.
3. Final Bullpen Spot
Over the off-season, the Dodgers’ bullpen went from a position of strength to a position of strength and depth after the team re-signed Brian Wilson and J.P. Howell and signed free agent right-handers Chris Perez and Jamey Wright. Assuming the team takes 12 pitchers, all that is left is one spot after Wilson, Howell, Wright, Perez, Paco Rodriguez and Kenley Jansen.
Competing for that final spot will be Brandon League, Chris Withrow, Jose Dominguez, Javy Guerra, Seth Rosin and potentially a few others. Many believe League will get the spot because of the money the Dodgers owe him, even after his 5.30 ERA last season. This may be true, but League will have to show some improvement from last season and can’t implode this spring. Withrow is right on League’s tails after his strong showing in the second half of 2013 with a 2.60 ERA in 26 games. He made the postseason roster and was one reason the Dodgers’ bullpen improved in the second half.
Next Page: Is there a battle brewing over backup catcher?