3 Things We've Already Learned About the 2014 Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers are less than two weeks away from their season-opening series in Sydney, Australia against the Arizona Diamondbacks. While a handful of mysteries remain unsolved, the first three weeks of spring training have told us quite a bit about this year’s team.
And most of the news is rather encouraging.
We still don’t know who will start at second base, who will earn the fifth spot in the starting rotation or when Matt Kemp will be ready to play. But here are three things we have learned about the Dodgers in spring training so far.
The Dodgers Have a Surplus of Pitching
If you followed the Dodgers’ offseason moves throughout the winter, then you knew the team would enter camp with a dearth of pitching. But that was also the case this time last year before injuries decimated the starting rotation.
Last year’s injury woes were apparently fresh on general manager Ned Colletti’s mind when he signed free agents Dan Haren and Paul Maholm this offseason. However, Colletti doubled down on pitching depth by fortifying the bullpen as well.
After re-signing Brian Wilson and adding former closer Chris Perez in free agency, the Dodgers now have four relievers who have saved at least 36 games in a season since 2011. Having that amount of late-game experience, leading up to incumbent closer Kenley Jansen, has to put manager Don Mattingly at ease.
As for the rotation, Josh Beckett looked great in his spring debut after missing most of 2013. He pitched two scoreless innings against the San Diego Padres last Sunday, allowing just one hit while striking out three batters and walking none.
Maholm has yet to make a start this spring (although he has pitched two scoreless innings of relief) and Chad Billingsley is still recovering from Tommy John surgery. That gives Beckett the inside track on earning the final spot in the starting rotation, especially if he continues to pitch well during the spring.
Alex Guerrero Is Making Notable Progress
Alex Guerrero is still a work in progress in the field, as he continues to make the transition from shortstop to second base. However, he is clearly getting more comfortable at the plate, as evidenced by his fifth-inning grand slam in Wednesday’s 10-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds.
Guerrero also drew his first walk of the spring during Wednesday’s contest.
Guerrero has now hit safely in three of his last four spring games, going 3-for-9 during that time. While the grand slam was Guerrero’s first extra-base hit of the spring, he has only struck out once in the last four games.
The improved plate discipline and contact rate are encouraging, especially after Guerrero struck out three times in his first eight at-bats of the spring.
There is still a chance that Guerrero could begin the season at Triple-A Albuquerque to continue working on his defense. But given the Dodgers’ other options at second—which include Dee Gordon, Chone Figgins, Justin Turner and Brendan Harris—Guerrero may not remain in the minor leagues for long.
Hanley Ramirez Is Poised for an MVP-Caliber Season
With Matt Kemp still recovering from two offseason surgeries and Yasiel Puig still maturing, both on and off the field, Hanley Ramirez may be the Dodgers’ best position player. If that proves true by season’s end, Ramirez will soon be paid like it as well.
Ramirez is entering the final year of a six-year, $70 million deal that he originally signed with the Miami Marlins. At age 30, he is still young enough to secure an eight-figure contract; one that he hopes will keep him in a Dodgers uniform for the rest of his career.
If Ramirez stays relatively healthy and hits the way he did in 2013, he’ll more than likely get his wish. Despite playing in just 86 regular season games last year, Ramirez produced a spectacular .345/.402/.638 slash line while adding 20 home runs, 57 RBI and 62 runs scored.
In a little more than half of a season, Ramirez had an oWAR of 5.2 (according to baseball-reference.com), his highest total since 2009.
Ramirez’s revival at the plate carried over into the postseason. He led Los Angeles to the National League Championship Series by hitting .500 with six RBI during the Dodgers’ three-games-to-one victory over the Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series.
Since winning the 2009 NL batting crown and finishing second in that year’s MVP race, a variety of injuries have derailed Ramirez’s rise to superstardom. However, he reported to camp this year healthier than he’s been in years.
MLB Network’s Dan Plesac raved about Ramirez during his Dodgers report for the network’s 30 Clubs in 30 Days series, which aired last Tuesday night.
With any luck, Ramirez will appear in 150-plus games for the sixth time in his nine-year career. If he can play that much while producing near his 2013 level, Ramirez will find his name at the top of quite a few NL MVP ballots next fall.