Spring Training 2013 is finally in the books & the Dodgers eagerly anticipated regular season debut at the gorgeously pimped out Dodger Stadium, the 3rd oldest park in all of MLB, is underway. Kershaw takes the bump vs the 2012 WS champion SF Giants, and could Dodger Nation possibly be more giddy? The calendar has turned to April, it’s time to evaluate my impressions of camp and look at determining factors that will be key in shaping the Dodgers 2013 “Hunt for October,” today will be the outfield.
Post Camp Impressions: What a Difference a Year Makes
First of all let’s all take a moment, bow our heads, and give thanks that after years of completely mismanaging the franchise straight into bankruptcy in a manner that major professional sports has really never witnessed; MLB finally made Frank McDork get his greedy paws off the Dodgers, one of professional sports most iconic franchises? Could Guggenheim Baseball Management, the Dodgers front office and its overhauled scouting and player development program, the genius of the planning & development folks and everyone behind the absolutely stunning remodel of beloved Dodger Stadium, the players hard work especially those returning from injury, and basically anyone in the entire organization possibly have done a better job in a shorter amount of time properly & literally rebuilding the club? I don’t think so.
Injuries played perhaps the biggest role in the demise of the 2012 Dodgers. Every team suffers injuries it’s part of the game, but honestly did any club suffer as many injuries, to as many key players, at the worst possible times, than the Dodgers? Not to make excuses cause in spite of all of the dramatic changes and maddening misfortune, really going back to Beast Mode putting up silly numbers in April only to miss one-third of his season, the Dodgers were in the hunt until the last week of the season.
Remarkably in just 12 months under GBM the talent and depth on the Dodgers roster is light years improved, with a corp group of All-Stars who are ALL 31 years old or less and locked up thru 2014 except for Kershaw & Hanley who are eligible to hit the Free Agent market after that season. Hopefully Stan & Ned & Kershaw and his people are close to crossing him off that list, really does anyone expect them not to? Add to that crucial depth that is MLB ready, AAA Albuquerque will have a bullpen that is potentially as deep and productive as some MLB teams, at least Florida, with more in the pipeline several years sooner than expected.
GBM truly did give Dodger Fans A Whole New Blue with smart baseball people making the smart choice of catching up with most of MLB and expanding their scouting program with more smart people who look like they made smart decisions choosing how they spent their influx of seemingly endless new resources. It’s still early but Yasiel Puig looks like he could trigger a Puig Alert that turns Chavez Ravine into a frenzy, a phenomenon not seen since Fernando Mania & Puig Alert Sirens may be sounding off at a disturbing rate for Dodgers opponents. Hyun-Jin Ryu also has performed like he belongs, contrary to many so called experts who scoffed at the Dodgers signing of the two. Yes they are both young and with prospects you cross your fingers and hope, but seriously have the fans seen anyone as electric as Puig…aside from Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp, the 16 Dodgers rookies of the year, a list that doesn’t include Koufax, Drysdale, Campanella…anyway the point is Puig Mania looks promising and Ryu’s stated goal is to become the 13th LA Dodger ROY.
The Dodgers Outfield Could be as Good as any in MLB:
MLB fans and writers alike seem to have forgotten just how special Carl Crawford aka CC was for the better part of the past 9 years. He worked his tail off to be ready for opening day and was due some good karma after what he endured the last 2 years in Boston. He finished camp strong just 7 months removed from Tommy John Surgery & 15 months from wrist surgery on his injury plagued, dominant left arm. From 2003 thru 2011 CC had 7 of 9 seasons with an avg of .300 AVG…15 HR…50 SB 80 RBI…90 Runs…add in 4 All-Star selections as well as winning a Gold Glove & Silver Slugger award in 2010. He also rates as one of the top defensive outfielders, currently the #2 rated LF in terms of Range Factor, I think Dodgers fans will take that. He hits RHP at a .305 clip in over 1,200 AB’s and .263 vs lefties in 400+ AB’s.
He will obviously not be ready to unleash throws past the cutoff man, but he’s not Juan Pierre‘ish either, when healthy he has 51 career OF Asst. However, his greatest asset his legs should be fresh, and him wreaking havoc on the bases and running down outs in the OF is his game, and when he’s healthy he’s a game changer. Let’s give him a mulligan during his time with the Red Sox. His background and personality did not fit there. He was injured but his pride tried to make up for it by playing through it which is impossible, plus the good folks in Beantown are not really known for their patience and understanding when it comes to a struggling player who in 144 games against the Red Sox hit .300 with 12 HR…62 SB…4 CS…79 R…61 RBI…& a .772 OPS. Basically Red Sox fans were used to CC’s regular brilliance and he tormented Boston as an opponent as well as a Red Sox. Again it’s still early but if he has his worst season, obviously 31 games last year doesn’t count, then the Dodgers would get 109 games of approx .275 AVG…10 HR…70 R…60 RBI…30 SB… and an OPS over .700, that’s worst case dealing with injuries. He’s 31 I think he plays 140+ games and contends for comeback player of the year. If he is forced to miss chunks of games then sound the Puig Siren and an Alert will be issued. Needless to say things look better in LF than the no so glory days of the Thames/Gwynn/Gibbons trio, no offense to any of them.
Back to the Bison, had he not had the unthinkable happen with his hamstrings after his torrid April, then attempt to prove his manliness to his new teammates by running face first at full speed into the outfield wall in Colorado, the result of which was “he fought the wall and the wall won,” the Dodgers very well may have made the post-season last year. So while the resulting shoulder injury from the “Colorado Crash/Clash” led to KeMVP getting off to a slow start this Spring, he finished strong. He also lost around 10 lbs and his best season he played at 208 lbs. He’s ready to take the next step and lead this club back to the post-season and my gut tells me he makes a serious run at 40-40, and could score 120 runs and drive in 120 with his lineup protection and AB’s he should have with guys on base, it’s all systems go for the former MVP runner-up…Gold Glove & Silver Slugger…All-Star. BTW Kemp is the longest tenured Dodger having arrived as a 6th round pick in 2003 along with Chad Billingsley (1st round) & AJ Ellis (18th round)
No one was vilified quite like Andre Ethier for the Dodgers failure to make the playoffs a year ago. Critics point to his .222 BA vs LHP which lowered his career AVG to .238 against lefties. Let’s not forget that Ned Colletti pulled a rabbit out of his hat when he sent annual malcontent Milton Bradley to Oakland for Ethier in December 2005. He has 1 season of 30+ HR’s, 100+ RBI and has hit over .300 just twice, yet expectations seem to always be higher each year for Dre, possibly because he has had so many heroic walk off hits. If he can simply improve vs lefties to something like .250 (Uh Hum Mark McGwire) then pencil in Dre for a .290 BA…25 HR…90 RBI…90 Runs….830+ OPS…and a half dozen walk off winners, again what’s so bad about that? Ethier does have something he’s never had before this year, lineup protection and should see numerous AB’s with runners on base. Instead of protecting Kemp and being pitched around so teams could get to James Loney, Ethier will worst case have Luis Cruz protecting him and possibly Hanley when he returns. With Gonzalez, Kemp, Ellis, Crawford all getting on base in front of him, Ethier could pass his career high 106 RBI this year with likely more AB’s with RISP than at any point in his career.
With Jerry Hairston Jr, Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker filling in during days off and Puig waiting in the wings should injury befall a starter the Dodgers have talent, depth and an exciting prospect chomping at the bit. With Mark McGwire bringing over a proven track record of success as hitting coach, just look at STL batting stats last year, the Dodgers hitters have yet another source that could potentially provide significant improvement for the club offensively. The Dodgers main competition for the NL West figures to be the Giants and looking at both outfields the Dodgers clearly look to have the superior group, on paper. Crawford vs Andres Torres/Gregor Blanco a .250 career hitter with no power and defensively is average as well. Advantage Crawford. In CF it’s Kemp vs Pagan. Pagan has Kemp has surperior talent across the board. Pagan is a very solid defensive CF but Kemp is one of the best all around players in MLB, advantage Kemp. Finally RF Hunter Pence aka Captain Underpants vs Andre Ethier is close to a stalemate. Their career 162 game averages are extremely close, both have a Gold Glove & Silver Slugger award…we’ll call this one a draw.
On paper the Dodgers look to have the leg up on their arch rivals. However the games aren’t played on paper, and the Giants have what the Dodgers desperately want a World Series Ring. Having assembled the most talented OF the Dodgers have had in many years, CC…Matty…and Dre staying healthy and producing will go a long way towards determining if the Dodgers can take step 1 in their quest for a title and that is winning the NL West. Once you are in the October party anything can happen, the Dodgers just hope they earn themselves an invite to the party.