It’s about that time of year again! The sun is out, the grass is trimmed, and baseball is back! Okay maybe not for the Los Angeles Dodgers yet as pitchers and catchers don’t report until tomorrow while position players report on February 13th. It’s been a busy offseason for the Dodgers: Giving an extension to Mattingly, bringing the beard back to LA, signing another Cuban, and much more! But as they boys in blue get set to start on hopefully a championship year, what are some storylines to watch during Spring Training.
1. What is the health status of outfielder Matt Kemp?
Probably the biggest question regarding the Dodgers right now is how healthy is Matt Kemp. During FanFest last Saturday, Kemp admitted that he came back too soon from his injuries last year and he wouldn’t play this year until he was 100% healthy. I believe that his shoulder is fine and that as long as he avoids running full speed into the centerfield wall at Coors Field, he will be ok. What I, like many Dodger fans are concerned about, is his ankle? He is not able to run full speed yet and according to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, he hasn’t been able to run outside. I think Kemp has learned that he needs to take his rehab day by day and that if he doesn’t play in the opener in Australia or in San Diego, that it is okay because the Dodgers would rather have a healthy Kemp in October than have him rush to play right away.
2. Who will be the starting 2nd baseman?
The Dodgers signed Cuban 2B Alex Guerrero to a $28 million dollar contract in the offseason with hopes of having Guerrero be the starter on opening day after cutting ties with Mark Ellis in the offseason. I have seen little film of Guerrero but from what I have seen, I liked. Guerrero spent the winter playing in the Dominican League but suffered a hamstring injury that cost him a lot of the season. Entering Spring Training, I see six guys that can realistically be staring at 2B when the Dodgers take on the Diamondbacks in Australia on March 22nd. The signed Chone Figgins, Brendan Harris, and Justin Turner to minor league contracts in the offseason with invitations to Spring Training. All three of these guys have played 2B in their careers. Miguel Rojas is also an interesting name because although he is a sub-par hitter, he is a great defender and has been compared to the great Omar Vizquel. Guerrero will be the leader entering Spring Training but the competition will be wide open. And of course, you can’t forget about Dee Gordon.
3. The Bullpen
General Manager Ned Colletti did a fantastic job regarding the bullpen in the offseason. The Dodgers re-signed J.P. Howell and Brian Wilson and signed Chris Perez and Jamey Wright to add depth to their bullpen. The bullpen is so deep that we can easily forget that Brandon League is still on the team and might not make 40-man roster. Jose Dominguez, Onelki Garcia, and Yimi Garcia are all young guys who can challenge some of the veterans such as Scott Elbert and Javy Guerra for roster spots. Add Kenley Jansen and his Mariano-like cutter and the Dodgers might have one of the best bullpens in all of baseball in 2014. If and when the bullpen is needed in the regular season, Mattingly is going to have plenty of options.
4. The 5th starting pitcher
The Dodgers had one of the best rotations in baseball last year and should be just as good this year. But the big question is who will be the 5th man in the rotation? I think signing Bronson Arroyo is highly unlikely now as Arroyo is looking for about $10 million a year according to sources. If the season were to start today, Josh Beckett would be the 5th starter. That is very scary. We know that Chad Billingsley is expected back between mid May-June after missing last season due to Tommy John surgery. Two guys I am really going to watch during Spring Training are both young guns, Zach Lee and Ross Stripling. Both spent time last year in Double A and look to be close to making their major league debuts. Lee was the Dodgers Minor League Pitcher of the Year last year and if I had to guess, he has a higher chance of making the team than Stripling.
These are just a few storylines to watch during Spring Training for the boys in blue. It’s almost time for Dodgers baseball!