SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Someone asked me today what (or who) is the “story of camp.” There might be a few contenders, and I’ll get to those in a minute.
Something every club is trying to square away this time of year is its contracts with players who have 0 to 3 years’ service time. I’m told the Dodgers have finalized those, though I’m not sure when the ink dried on the last of them.
Seventeen players on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster fall into this group:
Yasmani Grandal, Paco Rodriguez, Scott Van Slyke, Chris Hatcher, Chris Withrow, Pedro Baez, Austin Barnes, Mike Bolsinger, Daniel Coulombe, Carlos Frias, Yimi Garcia, Kike Hernandez, Zach Lee, Adam Liberatore, Joc Pederson, Chris Reed and Scott Schebler.
They’re all under contract now. This isn’t the story of camp, but it’s something we get to report this time every year.
So what is the story of camp? Here are the early contenders:
1. The bullpen. It was going to be a story in camp no matter what, with so many new faces. But with Kenley Jansen out for up to the first month of the regular season, it’s become a daily focus. A bad inning spiraled into a disaster today for Brandon League. He faced six batters in the fifth inning and retired one. Chris Hatcher and Yimi Garcia each threw a scoreless inning against mostly borderline major-league hitters. These things matter, but each pitcher can only help or hurt himself incrementally at this point in camp. Don’t read too much into the numbers — especially with League and his 33.75 ERA. He’s as streaky as they come.
2. Yasiel Puig. If Puig was a story two years ago for how much he stood out on and off the field, he has to be considered a story now for blending in. Just watch this spoof “interview” video he shot with Van Slyke. Speaking very generally from observations, for some reason Puig just seems a bit calmer. At the same time he’s already been thrown out once on the bases, three days ago against the Brewers when he rounded first base aggressively. He also had two walks and a single in that game, and Monday he hit his first Cactus League home run — a bomb to left-center against Ryan Vogelsong. Puig’s most impressive play Monday might have come in the first inning, when he cut off a line drive headed for the right-center gap and held Matt Duffy to a single. Starting pitcher Brett Anderson specifically mentioned that play after he exited, saying “the first time pitching in front of the defense was awesome.”
3. The defense. Howie Kendrick committed the Dodgers’ second error of the spring today (in 63 innings), on a throw from second to first that would have completed a double play if it hadn’t bounced into the stands. It was a tough play. A runner was bearing down on him. Besides, Adrian Gonzalez picks that throw half the time. Independent of all these things, the caliber of official scoring in the Cactus League is atrocious. A fielder practically has to kick the baseball 10 times before an error is called — or, say, throw the ball clear into the stands. So don’t look too much into the error count. (Here’s a corollary: Three wild pitches were recorded today, and that doesn’t reflect so well on catcher Yasmani Grandal’s ability to block a pitch in the dirt. He might have gotten crossed up too. Either way it cost the Dodgers some extra bases, which all falls under the big “defense” umbrella.) Maybe the Dodgers’ fielding percentage is high but it should be, since improving the defense was such an integral part of the club’s off-season makeover. So it’s a story for better or worse, and you saw a little of both today. Listen to Don Mattingly heap praise on Puig’s defense in the video above.
Today’s box score is here.