There’s immense potential among this group, but questionable depth beyond the three starters – and an immediate need for depth. Remember when Shane Victorino and Torii Hunter were being mentioned as potential fourth outfielders? It’s because the need existed: Carl Crawford had Tommy John surgery on his left elbow and arthroscopic surgery on his left wrist in 2012, Matt Kemp had surgery to repair his left shoulder last October, and Andre Ethier can’t hit left-handed pitching. More on that in a bit.
In lieu of any big-name acquisitions, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Skip Schumaker — utility infielders who make occasional cameos in the outfield – might begin the season as the fourth and fifth outfielders. Crawford might well begin the season on the disabled list. With so many question marks, there will be plenty of focus on this group in the spring, beginning with the heart and soul of the Dodger lineup.
Kemp has promised to be ready by opening day, but he shouldn’t rush his left labrum less than four months after it was surgically repaired. He rushed a hamstring injury last year — even if he didn’t know it at the time — and it cost him an extra six weeks on the disabled list. The Dodgers need him healthy as long as possible, a lesson learned the hard way. They were 15 games over .500 (60-45) with Kemp in the lineup last year, five games under (26-31) without him.
Kemp’s progress during spring training will be a constant focus, and there’s no telling when he will be getting regular at-bats and innings in the field. He’s the everyday center fielder once he’s ready. Until then, keep an eye on some of the names further down this list who are auditioning for fill-in duties.
For the most part, Don Mattingly seems willing to put up with Ethier’s .238 career batting average against lefties (it was .222 last year) so long as he brings his gold glove on the field. But for how much longer? The Dodgers would love for 22-year-old Yasiel Puig, an athletic right-hander with power, to be their fourth outfielder and spell Ethier on occasion. That’s not realistic for this year – maybe not next year, either.
Ethier will be what he is. For now he is healthy, and that should be enough for the Dodgers considering the state of their outfield.
So many questions. When will he be able to play the field? When will he be getting at-bats in games? How’s the elbow? How’s the wrist? Will he lead off? How will he fare on a new team in a new league?
Optimistically, Crawford will benefit from the change of scenery in the same manner as Josh Beckett, but he needs to get healthy first. This will also be a huge focus this spring.
Jerry Hairston Jr.
Don Mattingly suggested late last year that Hairston could be more of an outfielder/infielder than an infielder/outfielder in 2013. That’s OK — Hairston has played every position in his career except pitcher and catcher, and his outfield defense is adequate. The makeup of the Dodgers’ roster means he probably won’t see much time on the infield for now.
Health is also an issue for Hairston. He chose not to play for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic because of the hip surgery that ended his 2012 season in August. Before then, he was a productive hitter (.273/.342/.387) in 230 plate appearances. The Dodgers will take that again.
Schumaker was the Dodgers’ only position-player acquisition this off-season – not much of a splash if you expected Josh Hamilton, Victorino or Hunter. But he fills a need: At 33, he’s younger than Adam Kennedy and more versatile in the field, able to spell a 35-year-old Mark Ellis at second base and all three outfielders on occasion. Schumaker doesn’t hit for much power but doesn’t strike out much, either, giving Mattingly a good option off the bench late in games.
The 28-year-old journeyman was a feel-good story and an above-average replacement with Ellis and Juan Uribe on the DL early last season. The switch hitter had a .328 batting average by June 2 but couldn’t keep it up, finishing the season at .251. At worst, Herrera brings good speed, versatility in the field and the ability to pinch hit (4-for-10 in 2012) – but little else. At best, he will recapture his May magic and steal an opening-day roster spot.
The 25-year-old made his major-league debut in 2012 after tearing up Albuquerque with a 1.010 OPS in his first season at the Triple-A level. Either Castellanos wasn’t ready for prime time or his power numbers were fueled by a hitter-friendly league – he had four hits, no walks and eight strikeouts in 25 plate appearances with the Dodgers. The team will merely be looking for progress in spring training. A good Cactus League season might put him in line for another midseason promotion.
The Cuban defector, who signed for an eye-popping $42 million last June, is a mystery no more. His raw skills impressed many during 23 minor-league games last season, but his hustle and smarts on the basepaths (eight steals in 13 attempts) did not. Forget making the opening-day roster – the goal for Puig is to absorb the major-league environment and work ethic of his teammates. Was bothered by a staph infection that cut short his Fall league season. If healthy, Puig should be fun to watch.
Tony Gwynn Jr. (NRI)
You sort of feel for the 30-year-old outfielder. His 2012 batting numbers were not that much worse than the year before, and he is arguably the Dodgers’ best defensive outfielder. Yet by September Gwynn found himself designated for assignment and playing in Triple-A for the first time in three years. Now he’s on the outside looking in, trying to prove that he’s worthy of an opening-day roster spot. With Crawford and Kemp’s health in question, and little team speed if either player begins the season on the DL, Gwynn at least stands a fighting chance.
Jerome (Jeremy) Moore (NRI)
Moore, 25, is a left-handed hitter with plus speed. He’s managed to hit at every stage of the minor-league ladder, including a 15-homer, 21-steal, 18-triple 2011 campaign for the Angels’ affiliate in Salt Lake. Moore missed all of last year following hip surgery and comes to the Dodgers on a minor-league contract.