25 Mar #SparksNotes: Dodgers Spring Training Report Card
By: Kylie Sparks
With the Dodgers front office making… some choices this offseason, including trading beloved players to shed salary and losing the free agency race, the focus now turns to the new roster and prospects during Cactus League. We traveled to the first week of spring training games to bring you a few reasons to get excited – and be concerned – about the 2019 season.
The Battle for Star Catcher
Russell Martin has returned to the Dodgers after four years with the Toronto Blue Jays, but as we have yet to see him in action this Cactus League due to a sore back, the Dodgers are relying on Austin Barnes, Rocky Gale, Keibert Ruiz, and Will Smith this spring training. Barnes is starting to make a new friend: consistency. Barnes’ hitting has been a real issue for the Dodgers, and with Yasmani Grandal heading to the Brewers after declining his qualifying offer, Austin wants to be the star catcher in a field of top talent. His stats from 2018 leave something to be desired (.205 BA alone should make anyone shiver), but he has started 2019 with a hot bat — with just about half the spring games left to play, he has a .304 BA and eight RBIs, three alone in a Dodgers win against the Texas Rangers.
Ruiz, who MLB.com ranked as the Dodgers’ second-best prospect, had a rough go this spring. The real story is Will Smith — MLB.com’s number five Dodger prospect has been battling with Rocky Gale as the potential third catcher this spring, with two runs and an RBI in his very short tenure so far. And, he has an eye to make difficult catches in foul territory — against the Rockies Feb. 27, Smith flung his mask off and caught a high pop-up so fast, the people in the stands did not realize the ball had been hit. Even though he was sent to minor league camp, Smith is one to watch.
ROSTER PREDICTIONS: Martin/Barnes starters, Gale backup, Smith to Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers/call to #4, Ruiz to OKC.
Alex Verdugo in the Field on Opening Day or we Riot
With our beloved outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp gone to Cincinnati, but not forgotten, the Dodgers have focused on making moves to stack the bench. And with the acquisition of A.J. Pollock and Cody Bellinger moving solely to outfield, the Dodgers have a plethora of lineup choices. Utility men Kiké Hernandez and Chris Taylor have spent their fair share of time in the outfield, with Taylor looking more comfortable outfield than in, but it’s more likely you’ll see Joc Pederson and Cody Bellinger starting with a rotating list of players such as Pollock, Taylor, Hernandez… and Alex Verdugo.
With Andrew Toles now on the restricted list, Verdugo is making a statement — that he deserves a permanent spot on this roster. In 11 games as of March 12, Verdugo has a BA of .280 in 18 ABs, including seven hits and four RBIs. It’s Verdugo’s time to shine, and there is no reason why he should not make that opening day roster.
Non-roster invitees to get excited about include Kyle Garlick, who gambled on a Rockies ball-handling bobble on Feb. 27 and got a thrilling triple out of it, even if his helmet didn’t survive. While he’s now in Minor League camp, he’s definitely one to watch. Then there’s Ezequiel Carrera, who had two solid outings against the Rockies and the A’s on Feb. 26, producing four runs and four hits.
ROSTER PREDICTIONS: Bellinger, Pollock, Taylor, Hernandez, Pederson, Verdugo; Garlick, Carrera, Paulo Orlando, DJ Peters Triple-A OKC/call to majors.
The Return of Corey Seager
It was a rough time for the Dodgers last year when Corey Seager announced he needed Tommy John surgery, and later on, hip arthroscopy. Manny Machado came in to fill the shortstop void, but now that he’s gone, Dodgers fans have been waiting for Corey’s return. Per daily discussions with Dave Roberts, Seager has been getting back in playing shape, playing catch and hitting balls at minor league camp but not yet playing full defense, and he is fully expected to be ready for opening day against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Dodgers may see him in action in the pre-season freeway series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but until then, spring training has been filled with non-roster invitees. Rounding out the infield are old favorites Hernandez, Taylor, Justin Turner, Max Muncy, and David Freese, as well as non-roster invitees and top prospects Matt Beaty, Gavin Lux, Errol Robinson, Omar Estevez, Josh Thole and Cameron Perkins, all taking turns to make up a solid infield. Freese and Muncy have had an OK start to spring training, but the real story is Hernandez, who has improved dramatically this spring after a rough 2018 postseason. In the NRIs and prospects, one to watch is Omar Estevez, who has been playing shortstop and 2B and halfway through spring training, his line is quite solid: BA/OBP/SLG/OPS+ is .316/.350/.737/1.087 in 20 appearances.
ROSTER PREDICTIONS: Seager, Turner, Muncy, Freese, Taylor, Hernandez, Beaty; Estevez, Lux OKC/call to majors; Robinson, Thole, Perkins to OKC.
Will Kersh Pass the Ace Torch?
The Achilles heel of the Dodgers has been pitching, and it continues to be. While the Dodgers have solid starters like ace Clayton Kershaw, Rich “Dick Mountain” Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and rookie of the year finalist Walker Buehler, the relievers have historically been hit or miss, and right now, the Dodgers are struggling. Ross Stripling has not been able to see a lot of action due to a lingering respiratory illness, Kenta Maeda, who has been straddling the line between starting and bullpen since the middle of the 2018 season, hasn’t found his rhythm yet, Caleb Ferguson is having a disastrous spring so far, Pedro Baez continues to be hit and miss, and JT Chargois has a lot to prove as a reliever, having given up some monster hits. However, Tony Cingrani is back from 60-day DL due to a shoulder injury and Yimi Garcia has been showing progress, so there is hope, as well as some fresh blood in Joe Kelly. Dodgers acquired him in the offseason from the Boston Red Sox, and he is an exciting addition to the Dodger bullpen. But during the matchup against the Colorado Rockies, he seemed inconsistent at best. Hopefully, the hometown kid from Anaheim will shake off the early spring training jitters and deliver as he has before with the Red Sox.
The two biggest stories this spring training in terms of the Dodgers’ rotation are Kershaw and Julio Urías. Kershaw is nursing a sore shoulder and hasn’t been able to throw a bullpen, leaving his opening day starting slot questionable, and many are wondering if this is the beginning of the transition of Ace Power to Walker Buehler, considering Kershaw signed a three-year deal that expires in 2021. Urías, on the other hand, is continuing his rise after being out most of 2018 action due to a severe shoulder injury and surgery, proving he’s ready to join the starting rotation with a perfect inning against the Oakland A’s Feb. 26. He isn’t The Teenager anymore — he’s becoming a Leading Man in the Dodger bullpen.Non-roster prospects to look forward to include Tony Gonsolin and Karch Kowalczyk, who currently have 0.00 ERAs with solid innings under their belts, and Kevin Quackenbush, who had a win and a 4.26 ERA halfway to opening day.
ROSTER PREDICTIONS: Starters: Kershaw, Buehler, Hill, Ryu, Urías, Maeda; Relievers: Maeda, Stripling, Kelly, Cingrani, Kenley Jansen; On the fence: Baez, Ferguson, Chargois; Minors but ones to watch: Gonsolin, Quackenbush, Kowalczyk
- The spring training roster has included Joc Pederson, Shane Peterson, DJ Peters, and Jake Peter, so that’s not confusing at all, in any way.
- Max Muncy is among the team leaders in walks this spring — he’s having a rough go so far, but is still showing off his signature discipline.
- A.J. Pollock is extremely fast — in the Feb. 27 game against the Rockies, he went from first to third in about 10 seconds. It was so quick, many in the stands had to ask who exactly was at third.
- Justin Turner is still using Ed Sheeran as his walk-up music, pleasing everyone in the stands, but as he is a noted Carly Rae Jepsen fan (his walk-up music with the New York Mets was “Call Me Maybe,”) when Carly Rae drops her new album, perhaps Turner will fill Dodgers Stadium with CRJ.
- The rest of the Dodgers have not changed any of their playoff music (Bellinger enjoys rap, while Taylor had country blasting). Meanwhile, the non-roster invitees seem to like 80s and 90s rock. At one point, Ozzy Osbourne was playing, which was fascinating.
- Rich Hill was only supposed to pitch one inning Feb. 27, as the team had many in the bullpen warming up. But after giving up two earned runs, he pulled a classic Rich Hill move and decided he wanted to pitch a second inning to get it right. The Rockies did not score in the second inning.