Mar 10, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Andre Ethier (16) hits a three run home run in the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Andre Ethier is Quietly Having a Great Spring

Among all the Dee Gordon/Alexander hubbub and the fifth rotation spot question mark, one long-tenured Dodger is once again having a fantastic Spring in preparation for the season. Andre Ethier, who has been a punching bag of sorts as many called for his trade and often is criticized for his lack of offense off left-handed pitching and his defense, is hitting well this Spring.  Here we are just days away from the start to the season, and Andre Ethier is one of the most prepared players on the team right now.

Andre Ethier, starting center fielder. It was supposed to be temporary. Andre Ethier would slide back over to right field or over to left field once Matt Kemp came back. Matt Kemp hasn’t been healthy since 2011. Last season, Andre Ethier proved the naysayers wrong by admirably filling in and playing a not so surprising to me solid center field. Once again Matt Kemp is going to end up on the disabled list, and Andre Ethier is the reliable and versatile outfielder which the Dodgers have gone to after their superstar center fielder slammed into that Coors Field outfield wall.

Andre Ethier is so underappreciated. Sure, he has trouble hitting lefties. So do a lot of players. It’s hard to hit against lefties, just ask anyone

Mar 2, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Andre Ethier (16) catches the ball against the San Diego Padres in the fifth inning at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

who has tried to get ahead of Clayton Kershaw. Ethier is not an elite outfielder and lacks speed and range. Yet he does have a good eye out there, and Don Mattingly has said in the past that he reads the ball the best out of all his outfielders. I’ve seen Ethier make some spectacular catches in the outfield over the years. While the advanced statistics may not reflect an elite defensive outfielder, my own personal experience watching Ethier play every game since he came up with the Dodgers in 2006 is that he is better than average.

Joc Pederson may be the future, but he hasn’t played above AA. Andre Ethier will be manning center field to begin the season until Matt Kemp is or if he returns healthy. Carl Crawford‘s rustiness remains consistent. Yasiel Puig has had shoulder issues this Spring. Andre Ethier has been the constant. He usually shows preparedness during Spring Training, and this Spring is no exception.

Dre has appeared in 10 games going into Thursday, and he is hitting .357 with 10 hits including a double and a homerun. He has collected 6 RBIs, but he has also struck out 6 times in his 28 at-bats. Even though Spring numbers are meaningless, it is apparent that Ethier is ready for Opening Day while others don’t look as polished just yet.

Last season, Ethier played in 142 games for the Dodgers. He hit .272 with 12 homeruns and 52 RBIs. He also hit 33 doubles and became the first player in Dodger history to record seven seasons with 30 or more doubles. Not too shabby. His offensive numbers may have been down a little, but without a doubt Ethier contributed to the Dodgers epic summer run and NLCS berth. Unfortunately Ethier was hobbled during the playoffs, but Hanley’s rib injury was ultimately the biggest factor in the Dodgers’ defeat to the Red Birds.

Mar 7, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Andre Ethier (16) hits in the fifth inning against the Texas Rangers at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Ethier is not a fourth outfielder. Like I have thought all along, the Dodgers were not going to trade Ethier this offseason or during the previous offseason. This Spring there hasn’t been much offensive fireworks from the Dodgers, and that is a bit worrisome since offense seems to be a problem for this team in recent years. Yet Ethier has been playing like he has something to prove.

Dre began his offseason workouts a week after the Dodgers were eliminated in the NLCS instead of taking time off like he usually does, and it shows.

“Who knows where I’ll be playing when the season starts,” Ethier said. “I’ll have to move around and give guys breaks in left and right. I’m making sure I can play each one at a major-league level.”

Ethier’s versatility at all three outfield positions also makes him very valuable to the Dodgers. Carl Crawford’s arm should only be tested from left field, and Yasiel Puig’s antics have all but barred him from playing in center field even though I feel Puig would ultimately be a fantastic center fielder if given the time and coaching. Matt Kemp is playing in intrasquad games at Camelback, and he will likely be remaining in Arizona to continue his rehab. Joc Pederson is a delight to watch, but the rookie outfielder will be beginning the season in AAA unless a roster surprise pops up.

I hope that Ethier’s Spring success continues into the start of the season, and I’m looking forward to watching him play this season. Even though he was pegged as a “fourth outfielder” when Spring Training started, after the soreness and strains emerged amongst his co-outfielders, Ethier may be the most prepared outfielder the Dodgers have right now.

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