Spring training is under way and the Los Angeles Dodgers have already run into a bit of a problem in regard to the opening day 25 man roster. I suppose that it’s a good problem to have, but the Dodgers have too much current (and future) talent in the outfield and not enough roster spots for all of them. LA has some decisions to be made and they could end up being extremely difficult for Manager Dave Roberts to make. Let’s first take a look at the breakdown of all the other expected roster spots to see what is left available for the crowded outfield.
STARTING PITCHING (5) Kershaw, Hill, Maeda, Urias, Ryu/McCarthy/Wood
BULLPEN (7) Jansen, Romo, Liberatore, Strippling, Dayton, Stewart, and whoever isn’t the #5 SP and remains on the roster
*Kazmir exited his first start with injury, and I suspect he will either spend the season on the DL, get traded or perhaps even released before the season is under way. McCarthy, Wood and Ryu could also be tradeable assets for the Dodgers since all 3 players are competing for the 5th SP spot and one of the three will be and odd man out in LA.
CATCHERS (2) Grandal, Barnes
INFIELDERS (5) Gonzalez, Seager, Turner, Forsythe, Utley
INFIELDER/OUTFIELDER (1) Hernandez
*Hernandez has the versatility to play infield or outfield so I am not listing him as an outfield roster spot candidate and I expect him to make the team as an extra infielder or outfielder.
Based on those projections, that leaves 5 spots for outfielders. LA currently has eight “legitimate” options who are MLB veterans (one of those currently inactive) and five young options with two of those “kids” looking REALLY good so far this spring. Let’s breakdown those choices and take a look at who will be on the 25 man roster for the Dodgers on opening day.
Eithier missed most of last season with injury and only had a few plate appearances in the post season. The LA fan-favorite is the 2nd oldest player on LA (behind Utley) and also the longest tenured LA Dodger. If healthy, Eithier is solid back-up option at RF for the Dodgers and he also has a history of being a very clutch left-handed hitter. His veteran status and voice in the clubhouse should keep him part of this LA team for the entire season. I suppose there is a chance that not being an everyday player could propel Eithier to request a trade, but at age 34 (35 in April), his time in MLB is winding down and staying with LA is likely his best chance at winning a World Series. Eithier will make the 25 man roster as a backup right fielder and claim one of the five available outfield roster spots.
Pederson is a lock to make the roster as the Dodgers everyday starting center fielder. He did have somewhat of a down year last season offensively, but there is still an extremely high ceiling for the 24 year old. Pederson is looking to have a bounce-back year and is expected to be a fixture in the Dodgers outfield for years to come. I have no doubt that Pederson makes the Dodgers roster as an everyday outfielder.
Puig had a roller coaster ride of a season in 2016 and it’s a “make or break” year for the 27 year old. He battled injuries the past two seasons and was also demoted to the minors last year due to a combination of offensive struggles and attitude issues. He returned to the Dodgers after a stint in Oklahoma City but spent a lot of time on the bench the remainder of the season and post season. Puig is currently batting .286 through five games in spring training and also hit a monster home run (that included a signature Puig bat flip) last week and is already looking better at the plate than he had the past two seasons. Puig is aware that his contract is VERY tradeable and LA will not hesitate to move him if his offense or attitude give them reason in 2017. I do remain optimistic that Puig will return to form in 2017 and not only make the 25 man roster, but will also be the Dodgers everyday starting Right Fielder.
Last year’s Cinderella story Andrew Toles is looking to continue his success of 2016. He went from bagging groceries to being a starting left fielder for LA and for the time being, he should retain at that position for the Dodgers in 2017. His numbers in spring training are not that great thus far as he is batting .188 through five games played, but he showed down the stretch of 2016 that he can play and contribute at the MLB level. For the time being, Toles will make the opening day roster and be the Dodgers starting left fielder, but there are a few players in the LA farm system that will be replacing him in the not too distant future (continue reading the article to find out who those players are).
SCOTT VAN SLYKE AND BRETT EIBNER
Scott Van Slyke has been a solid player off the bench for the Dodgers during his major league career, but time will soon be running out in LA for the 30 year old left fielder. Van Slyke will be turning 31 in July and could be trade bait for the Dodgers before the deadline since LA has so much young depth at OF in the system. I think Van Slyke will edge out Brett Eibner for the 5th OF roster spot since he has more MLB experience and familiarity with LA after spending parts of the 5 past seasons with the Dodgers. Eibner is having a terrific spring training and should Eithier, Puig, Toles or Pederson get injured, he is primed to claim a roster spot. However, until that happens, Van Slyke is your 5th outfielder and Eibner will be patiently waiting his turn since I predict Van Slyke and Eibner will both be called up and sent down quite a bit during the 2017 season.
ODD MEN OUT
Signed this offseason for his history of success against left handed pitchers, Gutierrez has been awful through five games of spring training. He currently has no hits and seven strike outs with 13 at bats and will be released soon if those numbers don’t pick up very quickly. There are too many outfielders within the Dodgers organization who are all currently outplaying Gutierrez which will make his time with LA short-lived. I expect he will be with another team or a free agent on opening day.
The “throw-in” player from last season’s trade that sent Thompson, Micah Johnson and Frankie Montas to the Dodgers is currently battling injury and not presently active for LA. Thompson will be 27 years old this season and barring a slew of injuries to the LA outfield, likely will spend the season in OKC or with another organization in 2017. He had fairly good numbers the first half of 2016 until injuries started to pile up and eventually ended his season, but he is another odd man out and doesn’t fit into any future plans for LA. On a side note, Thompson is the only remaining player in LA stemming from the three team trade with the Reds and White Sox last season. Frankie Montas was traded to Oakland along with Grant Homles and Jharel Cotton for Rich Hill and Josh Reddick while Micah Johnson was traded to Atlanta for a player to be named. If Thompson is traded away or released, there will be no players left in LA from that transaction and a year removed it appears that the Dodgers were the loser in that three team trade. LA essentially gave Oakland 3/5 of a young starting rotation in the Rich Hill deal and also sent prospect Jose Peraza to Cincinnati in the initial trade where he batted .324 over 72 games in 2016 and looks to be a starting infielder for the Reds for the foreseeable future.
Get familiar with the name Cody Bellinger, because he will be an everyday fixture for LA for years to come. He is listed as a first baseman but he can play outfield as well, which could be his first landing spot for the Dodgers until he takes over the ranks at first base when Adrian Gonzalez is gone (likely after this season). Bellinger is having a great spring training, hitting .278 through eight games and has shown flashes of offensive dominance thus far. The 21 year old was not expected to have a legitimate chance at making the Dodgers roster until 2018 at the earliest, but in the past week he has been killing the ball and also signed with agent Scott Boras (which is usually a sign your pretty close to making it to the “bigs”). It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the Dodgers roster the next few weeks, but it seems very likely that if during the season a roster spot opens up, it might go directly to Bellinger. Although he is still very young, LA is competing for a World Series appearance this season and a bat like Bellinger’s can’t be kept in the minors all season with hopes of championship in 2017. I am not quite sure when or how it will happen, but I expect Cody Bellinger to be part of the Dodgers roster at some point this season, but unlikely it’ll be on the opening day roster.
Alex Verdugo is one of the best left-handed hitting outfield prospects in MLB and is making a very strong case to be part of the Dodgers roster and everyday lineup in the near future. Verdugo is currently hitting .333 through 5 games and the 20 year old is already surpassing expectations as one of the Dodgers top prospects. Like Bellinger, Verdugo will be a part of the Dodgers everyday lineup for years to come once he makes the roster. A player like Verdugo (who can play any of the three OF positions) could force the Dodgers hand at moving Puig, Toles or even Joc Pederson to make room for him and he can immediately take over as an everyday starting outfielder. Similar to Bellinger again, he is just too good to spend all season in OKC when LA is chasing a title and I expect him to be called up at some point in 2017 and contribute right away. To quote Larry David, Verdugo is “pretty, pretty, pretty good” and although not expected to be part of the picture until 2018 or 2019, he is making a very strong case this season to part of the Dodgers roster much sooner than expected.
TYLER HOLT, HENRY RAMOS, O’KOYEA DICKSON
All three of these players are having very strong spring trainings and look to be valid “backup plans” in case a number of players go down to injury during the season or are even traded away. Speaking of trades, all three of these players could very well be trade bait for LA being that Holt and Dickson are both only 27 and Ramos is only 24. None of them would be “marquee” names in a deal, but I could see them being sent someplace to get a relief pitching in return. Holt is currently batting .538 in spring training and has MLB experience with both the Indians and Reds, so a strong spring makes him an attractive addition for many teams, while Dickson is batting .333 and Ramos batting .357 also both have upsides. The flip side of all three players staying put is LA then has options in the minors should they run into injury issues, or perhaps even someone doesn’t behave himself and forces the Dodgers hand at making some changes (I’m looking at you, Yasiel Puig).
Based on those breakdowns, that makes the Los Angeles Dodgers outfielders for the opening day 25 man roster Andre Eithier, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Andrew Toles and Scott Van Slyke. Much like last season, health and injuries will have a lot to do with the decisions that are going to be made heading into the 2017 campaign. Should those players listed remain healthy until opening day, they round out the LA roster and form a solid outfield. The Dodgers do, however, have no shortage of alternative internal options should things not go as planned….with Bellinger and Verdugo awaiting the call in the not too distant future.
By Anthony Dunleavy