Yesterday we talked about the possibility of trading one of the Dodgers four outfielders. While I am clearly in the don’t trade Andre Ethier club, the reality is the Dodgers are still lacking in depth for the position of center field. Matt Kemp, who underwent two offseason surgeries recently, is expected to be ready for Spring Training. After these two past disappointing seasons from Matt Kemp, my expectations are beginning to wane. I sure do hope Matt Kemp comes back with a vengeance in 2014, but if he should still be battling injuries the Dodgers need to have a backup plan.
Andre Ethier filled in admirably in center field this past season, but it was clear that he was not able to make the same plays a great center fielder should. Ethier made some fine plays in center field, and he also made some mistakes as well. We can’t be too critical about the situation, because no one thought that Matt Kemp would hit the disabled list so many times. Without their center fielder healthy, the Dodgers had to make do with starting Ethier 70 games in center. Matt Kemp started in 68 games in center field. Skip Schumaker also got 17 starts in center field.
Yasiel Puig made 6 starts in center field this past season, and he played center field in 10 games. He made one error out in center during those 10 games. Yasiel Puig, who has the speed and powerful arm should be readied to play center field if Kemp shall fail to remain healthy. Although Puig’s inexperience showed during his few starts out in center field and right field at times, the Dodgers have few options for center field beyond Andre Ethier or Skip Schumaker who has yet to be re-signed for 2014. Puig, who I’d rather keep in right field, would be the most logical choice to move into center field if the Dodgers should face that issue next season again.
Puig’s defense definitely has flaws. Puig routinely missed the cut-off man, and his powerful arm is not 100% accurate hence that NLCS Game 6 air mail. Puig also fails to communicate properly with his center fielder or other fielders, and this has caused near collisions several times during last season. Yasiel is also still learning the ball parks, and I feel that now that he’s experienced different parks in the league and interleague, he will be more aware of outfield walls (which he frequently runs into thinking he can run right through them) and each park’s intricacies.
With some coaching and perhaps some increased time in center field this Spring Training (I have a strong feeling that the Dodgers will play Puig in center a lot more this Spring Training as Kemp continues to rehab), Puig could be a great center fielder. The 22-year old doesn’t lack the energy or athleticism for center field, and with few other options for the Dodgers it could be a viable idea.
Dee Gordon has also been playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, and the shortstop has been playing some
outfield interestingly. Gordon is playing for the Tigres del Licey, and in 7 games he is hitting .414 with 12 hits and 2 stolen bases. Gordon’s outlook is a bit murky now, and the Dodgers are now looking at other options for Gordon.
Scott Van Slyke has no center field experience in the Majors except for that brief defensive substitution in the NLCS. Tony Gwynn Jr., who played for the AAA-Isotopes last season, is a minor league free agent. Other than Kemp, TGJ was the only true center fielder in the Dodgers system who had Major League experience. Matt Angle is also a free agent. Nick “Chili” Buss, who started one game in center field for the Dodgers in 2013, will be back in AAA for 2014. Buss played well for Albuquerque last season with a .303 average, 17 homeruns, 100 RBIs, and 139 hits in 131 games played. He only played 19 games in right field for the ‘Topes, but he did play all three outfield positions.
21-year old Joc Pederson hit 22 homeruns for AA-Chattanooga last season. He played 106 games in center field for the Lookouts, but he looks to be more of a corner infielder when he reaches the Majors. Of course I would love the Dodgers to give Joc a shot, but I also fear that he may be one of the biggest trade tokens the Dodgers have this winter if they should not move one of their four main outfielders. With Pederson essentially blocked, the Dodgers will have to decide whether to go with the youth or trade him away in order to bolster another area of the roster.
With the uncertainty of the outfield for 2014 which depends on Matt Kemp’s health, the Dodgers can’t afford to let go one of their center field backups within the system especially if Tony Gwynn Jr. finds another opportunity. Playing Puig in center field more could allow the Dodgers to ensure a plan B should Kemp bow out to injury again and also open the door to trading Ethier and allowing Pederson to play.
I certainly would love to see Matt Kemp come back and take back center field in 2014, but the Dodgers will still need to look at other scenarios for center field which don’t involve Nick Buss or Skip Schumaker like ever.