Daily Distractions: ‘Analyzing’ the Dodgers-Diamondbacks ‘rivalry.’

The rivalry between the Dodgers and Giants has coasted for more than a century on a steady undercurrent of organic circumstances. There have been personal grudges (Wilbert Robinson vs. John McGraw), geographical allegiances (Manhattan vs. Brooklyn; San Francisco vs. Los Angeles), beanballs and brushbacks (Juan Marichal vs. John Roseboro). The fan violence is beyond unhealthy but there it is, holding up the ugliest corner of the narrative. It’s raw. It’s real.

And really, what says “raw” and “real” more than this:

The Arizona Diamondbacks have a pool to protect when the big, bad, overpaid Dodgers invade Chase Field for three games starting Friday. You know, when they “renew a rivalry” that has already been renewed three times in spring training and twice in Sydney. To protect the pool, the good people of Phoenix deployed their finest … mermaid, flanked by another woman dressed as the Jolly Green Giant and a dude wearing a Neptune costume. We can only hope that Arizona Sen. John McCain approves.

How seriously can we take a “rivalry” symbolized by a woman wearing a dolphin’s tail?

Seriously enough that MLB.com ran with the headline “Dodgers, D-backs return to ‘pool party’ scene.” The topic will probably get some airtime on Phoenix sports-talk radio. Maybe in Los Angeles too, unless the Lakers decide to “relieve Mike D’Antoni of his coaching duties” (or however someone gets fired these days … do coaches still get fired?).

Here’s a better storyline: Who wants these games more, a 3-8 Diamondbacks team that has been outscored 67-45, or a 6-4 Dodgers team that just split a pair of 10-inning burners against arguably the most talented club in the American League? It’s early April, not an important juncture in the baseball season. Though, for what it’s worth, no team is farther out of first place in any division than Arizona (four games).

Maybe that matters. Maybe it doesn’t. Until someone drops a shark in the pool, let’s not dwell on the pool.

In the meantime, here is the Diamondbacks’ PR director doing some kind of shoulder-shake dance. Or something:

 

Some bullet points for a Siblings Day:
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Daily Distractions: Julio Urias gets his Mexican food, and Dodgers fans in Rancho Cucamonga get their prospects.

Julio Urias

Julio Urias struck out Will Venable and Yonder Alonso and got Chris Denorfia to ground out in his only spring training inning. (Associated Press photo)

This is a rough map of all the Mexican restaurants in Rancho Cucamonga.

Julio Urias is waiting.

On March 15, after he pitched a scoreless inning against the San Diego Padres — something Brian Wilson couldn’t do last night — Urias still didn’t know where he would begin the regular season. At least the Dodgers’ prized pitching prospect had no trouble identifying the hardest part of being uprooted to the United States at 16.

“It wasn’t really hard except for the food,” he said in Spanish. “The food was probably the hardest part for me.”

Fortunately for Urias, now 17, there are many options in the neighborhood of the Dodgers’ Single-A affiliate in the California League.

As we reported yesterday, Urias will be assigned to Rancho along with 2013 first-round draft picks Chris Anderson and Tom Windle, along with Corey Seager, the Dodgers’ first-round pick in 2012.

In case you’re counting at home, that’s four of the club’s top 10 prospects (per MLB.com) playing in one spot, about an hour east of Los Angeles.

Urias, Anderson and Windle all finished last season with Class-A Great Lakes, and each saw action in one Cactus League game. The Dodgers drafted Anderson and Windle in the first and second rounds of the 2013 draft, respectively, out of college. Urias was signed as a free agent out of Culiacan, Mexico.

Pitcher Zach Lee and outfielder Joc Pederson will begin the season with Triple-A Albuquerque. So will Matt Magill and possibly Onelki Garcia once he’s healthy.

Some bullet points for a Cesar Chavez Day:
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Dodgers 5, San Diego Padres 4: Julio Urias debuts, and the Dodgers hold on for a win.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The story of the game was Julio Urias, the 17-year-old prodigy who needed 14 pitches to mow down the San Diego Padres’ first three batters. Mike Brito, the scout who signed Urias, had a cigar hanging from his mouth as he walked the Dodgers’ clubhouse after the game.

Don Mattingly said Urias will be in the rotation by May “at the latest”: “For me, with young guys, you know it’s going to be a little while. You have to build him up. He hasn’t thrown that many professional innings. To me, you can like him all you want but you really need to grow up, and part of that is the expectation for a 17-year-old. You’re always going to get a lot better. Well, he has to get a lot better, right?

“I had a kid a couple years ago in the (Arizona) Fall League who was a can’t-miss, can’t do anything (wrong) and he’s still not in the big leagues,” Mattingly continued. “I think it’s just easier to let him grow up. He looked really good. For 17, 18, 19 or 20 he looked really good, but I still think we have to let him grow up.”

So we shall. The game that followed Urias’ debut was a good one for a number of Dodgers. Dee Gordon tripled, scored a run, and laid down a bunt for a base hit. He also stole his ninth base (in nine tries). Miguel Rojas went 2 for 3, raising his average to .440. Hanley Ramirez singled, stole second base and scored on an RBI single by Adrian Gonzalez.

The major-league portion of the Dodgers’ bullpen had no trouble. Javy Guerra, J.P. Howell, Kenley Jansen and Chris Perez combined to throw three scoreless innings.

San Diego rallied for four runs in the eighth inning off minor-league right-hander Romulo Sanchez. Sanchez got out of his own bases-loaded jam by striking out former Dodgers farmhand Alex Castellanos to end the inning.

Mattingly said after the game that Guerra, and possibly Jansen and Howell, would pitch in tomorrow’s game against the Colorado Rockies.

The box score is here.

There’s another game here starting in 80 minutes.

Some notes and observations:

Mike Baxter had a busy day in the field. He played right field, center field and first base in the game. He hasn’t played first base to this point in spring training but he told me that he played the position in college (Vanderbilt) and has been taking ground balls with the other infielders throughout camp.

• Gordon’s bunt hit was not a drag bunt, just a 10-footer between home plate and the mound that made the Padres scramble. He beat the throw by a step.

• The Dodgers drew seven walks in the game. Andre Ethier had two.

Carl Crawford went 0 for 3, lowering his Cactus League batting average to .138. More from the bad batting average department: Joc Pederson (0 for 1), .192; Hanley Ramirez (1 for 4), .229; Tim Federowicz (0 for 3), .077.

• I wonder which can’t-miss prospect Mattingly was referring to. Could it have been this guy?

Seventeen-year-old Dodgers starter Julio Urias: ‘I was not nervous at all.’

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Julio Urias‘ first appearance in a major-league game Saturday was practically over before it started.

The 17-year-old lefty threw 14 pitches in a 1-2-3 first inning against the San Diego Padres at Camelback Ranch. He struck out Will Venable swinging after falling behind 3-0 — all on fastballs — then got Chris Denorfia to ground out and struck out Yonder Alonso swinging on a slider. Three up, three down, 14 pitches, nine strikes.

Urias threw all three of his pitches for strikes. His fastball was clocked in the 93-96 mph range; his curveball in the 75-80 range and his changeup in the 75-79 range.

“I felt really happy. I was under control and not nervous at all,” Urias said through an interpreter.

With his father, Carlos, and an uncle in attendance, Urias garnered as much attention as anyone from the announced crowd of 13,232.

“It’s always been a dream of mine,” Urias said. “I’m happy to be with the Dodgers.”

Sam Demel was originally listed as the starting pitcher for the game. Urias was informed Saturday morning that the plans had changed. That only made him more comfortable; Urias started each of the 18 games he pitched last season for Low-A Great Lakes. By starting instead of reliving he had a full bullpen session before the game to get loose.

Dodgers scout Mike Brito, who signed Urias as a 16-year-old in August 2012, said the plan calls for Urias to begin the regular season at High-A Rancho Cucamonga. Based on the early returns, Urias might not need to be in the California League for long.

“I was not surprised,” Brito said. “He was very impressive.”

Brito, who also signed Fernando Valenzuela as a teenager, doesn’t think it will take long for Urias to be ready for the major leagues. Valenzuela debuted at 19 years old.

Urias said he’d like to be in the majors by the end of the season. The Dodgers have only suited up six 18-year-olds in their history and two 17-year-olds, none since Charlie Osgood in 1944. Urias turns 18 on August 12.

Dodgers prospect Julio Urias, 17, will start and throw one inning against the San Diego Padres.

When Albert Einstein was 17 years old, he was studying math and physics in a teaching diploma program in Zurich. Mozart was working as a court musician in Salzburg at 17.

Left-hander Julio Urias is starting for the Dodgers against the San Diego Padres today, and that might not be too big a leap for the 17-year-old prodigy. The Dodgers signed him as a free agent in August 2012, when he was 16. By the end of last season, he was pitching in low-A Great Lakes.

Urias was dominant. In 18 starts, he allowed 44 hits, walked 16 and struck out 67 batters in 54 ⅓ innings. His 2.48 earned-run average and 1.104 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitch) are the signs of a pitcher who won’t be in the Midwest League long.

Today, Urias was originally scheduled to pitch an inning out of the bullpen. Club officials decided it would be better for Urias to start and pitch a full pregame bullpen session as he’s accustomed to doing, rather than possibly warm up on short notice if scheduled starter Sam Demel encountered trouble in the middle of an inning.

A scout recently clocked Urias’ fastball at 98 mph in a minor-league game. We’ll see how he fares against the San Diego Padres.

There was discussion yesterday about Brandon League possibly pitching an inning out of the bullpen one day after he threw in a minor-league game. Instead League will pitch in a minor-league game tomorrow. He seems unlikely to make the trip to Sydney, Australia, but the Dodgers haven’t made that announcement yet. Here’s what Don Mattingly did announce this morning.

The lineups for both teams for the 1 p.m. game:
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Daily Distractions: Dodgers infielder Miguel Rojas has a message for the protesters in Venezuela.

Miguel Rojas

Dodgers infielder Miguel Rojas is a non-roster invitee to spring training. He is closely monitoring the political protests in his native Venezuela. (Associated Press)

Miguel Rojas is watching the news reports from his native Venezuela closely. His wife, Mariana, lives about five minutes from the capital of Caracas. At least five have died in the course of the political protests that began Feb. 12 and turned violent not long thereafter. Here are some videos of the gunfire that erupted last night in Caracas.

“That stuff is pretty scary,” Rojas said Thursday, “because all my family is there.”

Rojas has seen the videos. He said his wife is fine, and she’s planning to fly out tomorrow morning.

“She told me in the afternoon is when things start getting bad,” Rojas said. “At night is when the motorcycles go out because they (the citizens) can’t recognize them.”

As much as anything, Rojas is frustrated by his own feelings of helplessness. At a time when independent news outlets have been muffled by the Venezuelan government, Twitter is soaring in popularity as a medium for protest. The government is trying to block images posted to Twitter from within the country.

Rojas isn’t on Twitter, but he has a message for his countrymen.

“I want to get my word to every Venezuelan guy in the street to keep doing that,” he said. “Make us feel like we can be proud of them, that everything’s going to end in a good way. I send my thanks to them because I can’t do anything right now.”

Some bullet points for a World Social Justice day:
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Daily Distractions: Which non-roster invitees have a chance at making the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster?

Clint Robinson

Who is non-roster invitee Clint Robinson, and does he have a chance of making the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster? (Answer: Not really) (Getty Images)

With the addition of Justin Turner on Wednesday, the Dodgers have extended spring training invitations to 17 non-roster players:

Infielders: Turner, Chone Figgins, Miguel Rojas, Brendan Harris, Clint Robinson
Outfielder: Joc Pederson
Catchers: JC Boscan, Griff Erickson, Chris O’Brien, Miguel Olivo
Pitchers: Sam Demel, Carlos Frias, Zach Lee, Daniel Moskos, Red Patterson, Chris Reed, Ross Stripling

Two years ago, Jamey Wright made the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster out of camp as an NRI. Last year, no non-roster invitees made the roster — though you figure Kevin Gregg was close. The Dodgers’ surplus of starting pitchers squeezed Gregg out of a job in Los Angeles, and he eventually became the Chicago Cubs’ closer.

So recent history says that the 17 NRIs are competing for one job at most. Not all have a realistic chance of making the team. In most cases, injuries will dictate the winner of the logjam. That’s particularly true for Pederson, the catchers and the pitchers.

The Dodgers are carrying four outfielders (Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig) with large guaranteed contracts. The fifth is Scott Van Slyke, who has value as a corner outfielder/first baseman with power off the bench. Pederson, who turns 22 on April 21, can turn heads in camp if his .912 OPS in the Venezuelan Winter League was no fluke, but that might be all he can do. There’s no job for him without another significant injury hitting the outfield — and remember that Kemp still isn’t running on his surgically repaired ankle.

Among the catchers, all A.J. Ellis and Tim Federowicz need to do to reprise their 2013 Opening Day jobs is stay healthy. Olivo, who’s played in more than 1,100 major-league games since 2002, knew that when he signed with the Dodgers on Jan. 17. He’ll try to push Drew Butera for the primary catcher’s job at Triple-A Albuquerque.

The pitching staff is also surprisingly stacked with veterans who are difficult to displace. Lee, Stripling, Reed, Patterson and Frias are competing to make an impression and learn the ropes in their first camp, not land an Opening Day job. Demel and Moskos have major-league experience but are slotted for roles in the Albuquerque bullpen and rotation, respectively.

So that leaves us with the infielders. Second base is an open competition until Alex Guerrero learns the position defensively. Until we see him in camp, it’ll be hard to pin down Guerrero’s learning curve. Other than starting third baseman Juan Uribe, and light-hitting utilityman Justin Sellers, Dee Gordon is the only player on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster with experience at second base. He only learned the position last year. There’s a reasonably wide opening here.

Rojas will go as far as his bat will take him – historically, he’s struggled to hit at the Triple-A level.

The same goes for Figgins, whose 68 OPS+ the last three seasons isn’t enough to justify a 40-man roster spot. Figgins will have to prove in camp that his bat speed at age 36 is as major-league ready as his foot speed and defensive versatility — he’s played 647 career games at third base, 274 at second and 27 at shortstop. No other player in camp is quite as versatile, and the longtime leadoff hitter will help his cause if he can steal a base.

In some ways, the 33-year-old Harris is a slower version of Figgins. He’s able to play third base, shortstop and second base, and carries a light bat (.695 career OPS).

Robinson is a 28-year-old first baseman whose career consists of 3,337 at-bats in the minors and four in the majors. With at least two first basemen ahead of him on the depth chart in camp, Robinson’s chances of getting a major league at-bat this season range from slim to none.

Turner is an above-average fielding second baseman and has been for parts of five major-league seasons. What really makes him stand out in this group is his track record at the plate. Turner is the definition of an average hitter, as a 100 OPS+ and 0.9 oWAR last season attest. Baseball-reference.com’s version of oWAR rated Turner a 1.6 in 2011, his only full major-league season.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti have agreed that second base can be a defensive position in 2014. But if they want to give the second-base job on Opening Day to an above-average fielder and an average hitter, Turner might be the only man in camp who fits that description.

Some bullet points for a Ronald Reagan Day:
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Daily Distractions: Because it’s never too soon, sizing up the Dodgers’ 2015 rotation.

Zach Lee

Zach Lee will attend his first spring training this weekend. Will he be in the Dodgers’ rotation in 2015? (Associated Press photo)


Today, we look ahead to next fall because, well, why not?

Josh Beckett, Dan Haren and Chad Billingsley — if the Dodgers decline his option — will become free agents after this season. Do the Dodgers have two pitchers in their system who would be ready to fill the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation by 2015?

Maybe. Zach Lee continues to be ranked as a top-100 prospect with middle-of-the-rotation potential. Ross Stripling could be closer than Lee to reaching the majors, depending on who you talk to in the organization. Julio Urias is 17, so probably not. The jury’s still out on the potential of Matt Magill, Seth Rosin and a few others.

The jury’s still out on all of them, actually, since you simply never know how much time a prospect needs to reach his potential. And if the Dodgers’ transactions log over the past two years indicates nothing else, it’s that they prefer proven performance to potential.

So who’s in the next wave of free-agent starters? The list could include Max Scherzer, James Shields, Justin Masterson, Homer Bailey and Jon Lester. Even if Scherzer gets a big extension from the Detroit Tigers, as expected, that’s still a strong class — stronger than this year’s, certainly. All of the Dodgers’ free-agent decisions this year were made with potential 2015 free agents in mind. (That principle applies every winter.)

In the linked piece, FanGraphs.com’s Dave Cameron concludes that Scherzer, Lester and Bailey are the most likely to re-sign long-term extensions. That potentially leaves Shields and Masterson as the cream of the 2015 crop. Depending on their health and performance in 2014, they would almost certainly be the best fourth starters in baseball if they joined the Dodgers.

Cameron predicts that Shields could command a five- or six-year contract “and probably close to the $25 million AAV that many of the better pitchers have attained recently.” Shields turned 32 in December. Despite his career WAR of 28.0 in eight seasons, that’s still quite a bit of risk to take on.

But so is giving the job to a prospect.

Taken together, who do you like in the group to fill out the 2015 rotation?

Some bullet points for a Tuesday morning:
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Daily Distractions: California Superior Court judge tosses class-action lawsuit against Dodgers, Lakers, TWC.

SportsNet LA

The Dodgers’ new network, SportsNet LA, is launching Feb. 25. (Photo courtesy of SportsNet LA via Facebook)

A California Superior Court judge tossed out a class-action lawsuit filed against the Dodgers, Lakers, and Time Warner Cable on Tuesday, citing federal laws designed to protect the rights of cable providers. Judge Amy D. Hogue ruled that California’s Unfair Competition Law couldn’t be invoked to relieve Time Warner subscribers of the burden of unwanted fees or channels.

This blog space has focused on the Dodgers’ $8 billion, 25-year television contract to the extent that it impacts the team and its fans — the Time Warner subscribers who are bracing for a rate hike, and non-TWC subscribers who are being asked to “Demand Your Dodgers Now.” That makes sense. This is a Dodgers blog, after all.

But what about the non-Dodger (and non-Laker) fans who don’t want to pay for two channels they don’t plan to watch? That’s the group who filed the class-action suit. Their lead attorney, Max Blecher, summarized their position: “People should have the right to say ‘no.’ ”

Here’s how that position was eloquated in Judge Hogue’s nine-page ruling:

1. TWC plans to pass some the cost of its licensing deal with the Dodgers to its enhanced basic cable customers by increasing the cost of service by an estimated $4 to $5 per month. The Dodgers … knew and consented to the fact that the costs of the licensing agreement would be passed on to TWC enhanced basic cable customers without an opportunity for customers to opt-out of including those channels in their enhanced basic cable subscription.

2. TWC customers who subscribe to the enhanced basic cable package have no way of unsubscribìng from the costs of the Dodgers and Lakers networks, despite the fact that up to 60 percent of customers would do so if given the choice.

In response, TWC contended that the plaintiffs “entirely fail to address the ‘safe harbor effect’ of the CCA” — the federal law that allows cable providers to “bundle” channels in the same manner as SportsNet LA and TWC SportsNet (the Lakers’ network). The federal “safe harbor” law takes priority over California’s Unfair Competition Law. The judge agreed.

Blecher said he might file a notice of appeal if it can be argued that the judge’s ruling went too far. So this fight might not be over. The plaintiffs have at least one strong ally in Congress.

Some bullet points for a hump day:
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Daily Distractions: Four Dodgers make MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list; what that means.

Corey Seager

Dodgers prospect Corey Seager ranked 34th on MLB.com’s list of the top 100 prospects in baseball. (Associated Press photo)

If you’re looking for a sign of progress from the Dodgers’ farm system, here’s one: MLB.com released its annual list of the top 100 prospects yesterday, and the Dodgers occupied four spots.

Four decent spots, too: Shortstop Corey Seager came in at number 34, outfielder Joc Pederson at number 36, and pitchers Zach Lee and Julio Urias at 63 and 64.

Compare that to a year ago, and the Dodgers’ system seems to be inching up. Pederson was the highest-ranked Dodger in 2013 at number 44, Seager at 48. Lee slipped a bit — MLB.com had him ranked 57th in 2013 — but Urias vaulted 25 spots from 89th overall.

Don’t get bogged down too much in the specifics. One quick general takeaway is that, in a perfect world, 30 MLB teams would have an average of 3.33 prospects ranked in the top 100. On the high end, then, the Dodgers are still only slightly above average. The Astros, who picked first in the June draft each of the last two years, had seven prospects among MLB.com’s top 100. The Angels, who haven’t had a first-round pick since 2011, had none.

Upward movement is always good. In 2011, the first year that MLB.com ranked prospects, the list ended at number 50. The final slot belonged to a Seattle Mariners pitching prospect from Yucaipa named Taijuan Walker. Walker jumped up to number 4 in both 2012 and 2013, then slipped to number 6 in 2014 — after posting a 3.60 ERA in three starts in 2013. He’s slotted to start this season in the Mariners’ rotation.

MLB.com’s number-45 prospect in 2011 was Matt Harvey. If a 6.1-WAR season at age 24 is what the Dodgers can expect from Pederson or Seager (and not Tommy John surgery), they’ll take it. That’s an extreme example of course, and it’s too soon to issue passing or failing grades on any 2011 prospects. Paco Rodriguez was in college in 2011.

So the immediate meaning of this list is that several teams are in better position to trade for David Price than the Dodgers. The long-term meaning? Who knows.

Some bullet points to tide you through the weekend:
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