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.
Dylan Hernandez sat down with a surly and attitudinal Andre Ethier, apparently doing his best Jeff Kent impression. Hernandez started with a simple & routine question, as in how he projects to build upon last year’s breakthrough season: “How do you expect me to answer a question that I don’t have the answer to?” Ethier said without a trace of a smile.
On a more positive note, workhorse Hernandez explounds upon Hong-Chih Kuo‘s continuous rebounds from surgery after surgery. Kuo is a dynamite pitcher – a flame-throwing lefty that can strike batters out, but every pitch could be his last. He’s a joy to watch out of the bullpen and the Dodgers season will be much less Rockie (haaa) if Kuo can provide that stability out of the bullpen.
On the South – way, way south – side of Los Angeles, the Angels’ Jeff Mathis justifies his doubled salary was a result of his airtight defense, as opposed to the .583 he hit in the Division Series last year. . .
I was initially leery at the Dodgers’ attempt to pretend their financial situation is well with the ‘signings‘ of Matt Kemp and Chad Billingsley. The respective two-year and one-year deals did nothing to assuage concerns about the club’s financial wherewithal and viability.
That said, today they tacked on two-year deals for both Andre Ethier and Jonathan “Cannibal” Broxton, as well as avoiding arbitration with organizational stalwart Russell Martin, and homegrown talents Hong-Chih Kuo and James Loney.
While the offseason ‘big move’ has yet to come to fruition, Colletti is doing his best with limited resources (and literal handcuffs) to at least keep the Dodger foundation intact for another couple of years.