I have one large and personal stipulation for the MVP award in the NL:
After opening the Spring camp with an 8-3 win, it’s time to jump into the YKI Analysis of each of the players either on or contending for a spot on the 25-man roster that will break Camp
The rest of Spring augurs well for the Dodgers, who despite the lack of a big-name addition, still have one of the stronger core groups in MLB. With the exception of the battle for the fourth (and fifth?) outfield slot, as well as the heated competition for the role of fifth starter, the young nucleus + Manny still should enable the Dodgers to remain a top contender for the NL Pennant.
More on that from YKI down the road, but for now, YKI dissects the Roster:
Clayton Kershaw – Will finally turn 22 this year, and already a dominant force. Kept on a very short leash thus far in his major league career by Torre/Honeycutt, Kershaw will be given more leniency this year as the de facto Ace. The lefty has been compared to Sandy Koufax, and his brief-yet-excellent tenure thus far portends positively. That mantle may be a bit too much for a third-year pitcher to carry, though Kershaw’s mature outlook and quiet confidenc belies his youth, and he should end the year amongst the elite arms in the league.
Chad Billingsley – A very frustrating pitcher from the perspective of the fan (and organization). There is no question about his ability or his ‘stuff’ – the lingering concern is about his mentality/approach, and based on his late-season (and playoff) shortcomings the past few years, little hope is offered for his ability to really embrace the role of Ace. Billingsley is slated to be the ersatz Ace this season, as Kershaw is only 22, and may be one of the more dominant two starters down the road. He is only 25, however, and many great pitchers haven’t reached their prime years until their late 20’s. Could potentially be Cain to Kershaw’s Lincecum.
Hiroki Kuroda – Though only a .500 pitcher in his two years as a Dodger, Kuroda is a very consistent and effective pitcher. Not much of a strikeout threat, he does one thing well – get outs. His WHIP has been in the NL Top Ten both of his years, and with the exception of the line drive he took off the face last year, he is a stalwart pitcher, and one of the best third starters in the League.
Vicente Padilla – The maligned and misunderstood Padilla showed last year why he was a feared & underrated pitcher in the American League. Accusations of ‘being a jerk,’ were bandied about, as he was disliked and eschewed by teammates, forcing him out of the Rangers organization and thusly providing a coup for Ned Colletti, who acquired the Nicarauguan for a can of beans last season. The point is, Padilla – as sweaty as they come – is a gamer, and battles incessantly. He gives the Dodgers a great chance to win, and as a former All-Star, is capable of being a number two starter for many teams. For the Dodgers to have him in the Fourth slot is an overlooked advantage, especially come time for the pennant race.
Eric Stults/Charlie Haeger/James McDonald/Ramon Ortiz/Scott Elbert/Russ Ortiz/The Ghost of Kevin Gross – Stults is the long-term favorite, having been up-and-down in the organization for a few years; Elbert is the former prospect that may have peaked in the minors, destined for a AAAA status career; McDonald has the most talent and was on the post-season roster and is YKI’s selection, but has been marred by control issues which always will doom a starting pitcher; the Ortiz boys have both had success in the bigs, and though Russ played for the Panorama City American Legion team half a decade prior to YKI, does not appear to have much left at the big league level; Haeger is YKI’s favorite, but a knuckleballer does not stand a chance if Torre & Honeycutt have their druthers – he may be the last man standing, and will be productive if so, but will most likely have to catch on elsewhere.
Jeff Weaver – Weaver was a former Ace, and aside from the tragic time in New York, has shown flashes of brilliance everywhere. That said, his Xbox-attention span and shoulder-slumping behavior derailed his career at each locale. Relegated to minor league camp and bouncing between organziations, Weaver rededicated himself to the game last offseason and paid season-long dividends to Torre & the Dodgers, filling every role possible from long-reliver to spot starter. Perhaps the most valuable member of the pitching staff, the Simi Valley native needs to be productive again for the Dodgers to win the division.
Ronald Belisario – The rookie was leaned on heavily by Torre last year, and understandably so. Proving to be reliable – and at times, dominant – he was a key member of the bullpen, and should be again in 2010, provided his visa issues clear up and allow him to return to the United States.
Eric Gagne – Game Over returns, though minus the performance-enhancing substances. Not a lock to make the club, YKI would thoroughly enjoy a renaissance from Gagne, if for no other reason than he is so darn fun to watch.
Cory Wade – Overworked by Torre during his solid rookie season, Wade spent much of 2009 injured, but should bounce back as an effective 7th inning reliever.
Ramon Troncoso – Not exactly a game-changer, Troncoso nonetheless received the ball three times per week from Torre. Solid at times, Troncoso is not necessarily a favorite of YKI.
Hong-Chih Kuo – The ultimate rebounder, Kuo has returned from four (!?!?) arm surgeries, and is still electric, perhaps now more than ever. When healthy, Kuo is darn near unhittable. . .but that’s a big ‘when’ and if, because Kuo is a threat to have his career end with each pitch.
George Sherrill – Doppleganger to Jeff Kent personality-wise, is at least effective as a left-handed set-up man. YKI is still not sold on his potential to dominate (Orioles closer? Really?), but was effective last year. Keep an eye on him, though – YKI senses a bit of Brian Fuentes/Eddie Guardado in the reliever.
Jonathan Broxton – Aptly nicknamed “Cannibal,” Brox quite literally eats opposing hitters with his fastball. Perhaps the hardest thrower in baseball, the only concern about the Dodgers closer is his mentality – does he have the fortitude to close for an entire (post)season? Hopefully the Cannibal’s appetite is hearty this year, as he should get around 50+ opportunities.
Russell Martin – Beefed up for 2010, Martin had somewhat of a disappointing year both offensively & defensively in 2009. Worried about his declining power numbers, he added 25 pounds of muscle in one (?!?) season, and looks to return to All-Star form. The Dodgers absolutely need a good season out of ‘The Muscle’ if they are to contend for the pennant.
Brad Ausmus – The Ivy Leaguer decided to strap it on for one more season, and the Dodgers coaching staff & youngsters are quite pleased. A savvy veteran that will only appear in 40+ games, he’s a player that accepts his role and utilizes his knowledge to gain his competitive advantage. Great roster guy and future big league manager.
AJ Ellis – Working man’s backup with talent caught in a logjam (read: deadend) behind the young stud and veteran leader, will only appear if injuries occur. If that should happen, he’ll gain valuable experience to become starter and potential star elsewhere.
James Loney – Not quite a star yet, YKI forsees a breakout year for the lanky first baseman. A pure hitter and natural gloveman, Loney is now turning 26 years old, meaning he’s about to enter his prime. That sweet swing will produce more longballs than in previous years, and he’ll hit above .300. Should be a year away from All-Stardom.
Ronnie Belliard – Almost good enough last year to supplant Orlando Hudson in the minds of Dodgers fans (in addition to the lineup of Torre), Belliard provides great pop from the second base position, and is solid enough in the field to contribute positively. Loves the game, and has great chemistry with Furcal.
Blake DeWitt – On the verge of becoming the infield version of Jason Repko, DeWitt is a fan favorite for his out-of-nowhere rise to competence as starting third baseman from opening day a couple years ago. Since then, he’s foundered in the organization, bouncing between Las Vegas and Los Angeles in search for meaningful at-bats.
Rafael Furcal – Furcal is back, and healthy. This is a very good thing for the Dodgers, as Furcal is the engine of the offense, and the captain of the defense. When 100%, Furcal is amongst the best shortstops in the game, bringing speed, a natural hitting stroke and most importantly for the Dodgers, a passion for the game.
Casey Blake – “The Beard” is no more, but Blake is still going to bring his lunchpail and hardhat every day. Count on Casey for .267+, 20 bombs and 75+ RBIs as well as a steady bat and a workmanlike mentality.
Jamey Carroll – YKI isn’t quite sure why the Dodgers acquired this journeyman aside from the bargain basement price tag. Never one to hit for power – or average, for that matter – at 36 years old, he does not possess much upside either.
Chin-Lung Hu/Alfred Amezaga/Nick Green/Ivan DeJesus – Competing for the role of Jose Vizcaino, Hu is the typical 4A player, though still young; Amezaga is versatile and will play a role prior to the season’s end; Green had a breakout year for the Red Sox last year but won’t get much of a look; DeJesus is young and bursting with potential but won’t see much playing time.
Manny Ramirez – Drugs or not, Manny is a fan favorite, and will prove that last year’s second half debacle was a fluke. YKI is not expecting a return to 35+ HR, but a reasonable .285, 29hr and 99 RBI should be expected, and enough to warrant a happy farewell tour around the City of Dodgers.
Matt Kemp – Kemp is being portrayed as The Next Big Thing (GQ Magazine?!?!), but isn’t quite ready to attain the 40/40 season some are predicting for him. His rapid ascent to All-Stardom last year surprised even Joe Torre, and he may have one more ‘very good’ year before catapulting to true superstardom.
Andre Ethier – The surly and irritable Ethier was the Dodgers offensive MVP last year, and is bent on still being an A-hole. That’s not a concern of YKI, though, as he hit his way into a guaranteed job coming out of Spring for the first time in his career, and also won more games than any player in the big leagues. At 28 years old, Ethier will be a stalwart in the middle of the Dodgers lineup for years to come.
Garret Anderson – YKI’s sentimental favorite, the Valley native is a non-roster invitee, and will hopefully win the Jim Thome role of lefty of the bench. Anderson has 2,501 career hits and could chase 3,000 as a DH in the AL, but wanted to come back home and have a chance to win the World Series again. Here’s hoping he does.
Brian Giles – Formerly a good player. Now, too old.
Jason Repko – After numerous incarnations as 25th man on the Dodgers roster, now is his time to prove he can stick around. If not, can go be a Cody Ross for a second tier team.
Reed Johnson – Though YKI was initially sour on this signing, it seems Johnson’s game is suitable for the role of fourth outfielder as he can hit a little bit, run a little bit and field a little bit.
The L.A. Live played host to a magical event on Saturday night; An Evening with Sandy Koufax and Joe Torre at the Nokia Theatre, moderated by T.J. Simers of the L.A. Times. I attended with The Count (my pops), who was misty-eyed at the thought of even seeing Koufax (a notorious ‘recluse’) speak freely & publicly.
Turns out that the acerbic & endearingly annoying Simers was a perfect facilitator for this event, just as he was last year during the John Wooden/Vin Scully event. Immediately making himself the butt of jokes – while poking fun at the two legends – he enabled Koufax to feel comfortable, as the gregarious Torre played along, contributing anecdotes and color to Koufax’s somewhat brief initial ripostes. One thing clear from the beginning is that Sandy was going to tell the truth, and would answer questions adamantly, if not a bit tersely as well.
I was very surprised to hear that neither of Koufax’s two major injuries occurred while pitching, meaning that the era of starters throwing 300+ innings was more beneficial for players as I’ve been saying. . again, buttressing my long-running stance on ‘pitch counts’ ruining a generation of pitchers; i mean honestly, why is pitching the only physical activity that maintains the philosophy of ‘less’ is better for you? The fact is, though, with Sandy – one of his injuries occurred when he was hit by pitch as a batter and an artery exploded; the other when he was sliding back into second base and landed on his elbow awkwardly.
Another inspirational moment occurred when Clayton Kershaw was pulled on stage – the lefty having been previously compared to Sandy Koufax by none other than Torre – and stood side-by-side with Koufax, at one point comparing hand size. Koufax – legendary for his huge hands – dwarfed Kershaw’s hands, but admitted that the kid is a damn good pitcher and is obviously making due with his more average-sized hands.
Additional highlights included:
*Vin Scully video tribute to Koufax, including his ‘final out’ call of the perfect game vs. the Cubs, and some good-natured ribbing of Torre from Vin.
*Torre discussing his childhood and abuse, and being a ‘portly’ kid that was motivated by his brother’s haranguing to get in shape and fulfill his potential.
*Koufax dismissing any thoughts about him being ‘soft’ and saying that a quality start “ended with me shaking hands with the catcher.”
*Tommy Lasorda video tribute to being the man cut so Sandy could take his place on the roster.
Great, great evening – I look forward to next year’s event (hint, hint – TJ) – hopefully featuring Tommy Lasorda in person.