GOODYEAR, Ariz. — The narrative in camp surrounding second base so far goes something like this: Alex Guerrero is a project. He didn’t play last season in Cuba, he’s still learning second base, and Triple-A might be the best place for him to get up to speed once the regular season starts. That leaves Dee Gordon as the best option on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster to be the starting second baseman Opening Day. But he hasn’t played much second base either, so Chone Figgins, Justin Turner, Brendan Harris and Miguel Rojas are all getting a long look at the position. (Buster Olney of ESPN.com picked up the Gordon vs. Figgins narrative here, while Ron Cervenka at ThinkBlueLA.com makes the case for Gordon here.)
Meanwhile, Ned Colletti ought to be working the phones, because no respectable team with a payroll in the neighborhood of $240 million ought to be entertaining notions of a platoon involving Gordon/Figgins/Turner/Harris/Rojas at second base. Jim Bowden of ESPN.com recently explored the trade possibilities. (A couple of those scenarios actually make quite a bit of sense.)
With one swing of the bat Wednesday, Guerrero changed the narrative.
His grand slam in the Dodgers’ 10-3 Cactus League victory over the Cincinnati Reds was the first extra-base hit for Guerrero in his seventh Cactus League game. That it came off a left-hander, veteran Jeff Francis, is significant. Gordon has a career .221/.267/.232 slash line against left-handed pitching, compared to .271/.316/.348 against right-handers. (Andre Ethier, by comparison: .235/.294/.351 against lefties.) The Dodgers will take that right-handed slash line from Gordon, maybe with a few walks thrown in for good measure.
The more significant development is that Guerrero, in the words of Don Mattingly, looked “more comfortable.”
“I thought in general, he just looks more fluid and smoothing out a little bit,” the manager said. “For me, early on it was really rough and stiff. It’s gotten better. With Alex, we’re just going to try to keep playing him as much as we can. We’re going to try to keep getting him at-bats.”
Is that progression typical for a player in his first spring training?
“I think it’s typical for a guy who hasn’t played in a while,” Mattingly said. “BP’s a whole lot different from games. As you get in playing every day, I think things just come back to you — more natural. As you get a little tired, you’ve been doing your work and you want things to just come out naturally. That’s what I’m looking for, to see what it’s going to look like when he gets tired taking his ground balls every day.”
If the grand slam was no fluke, and Guerrero has really settled in to the comfort level that earned him a four-year, $28 million contract, it carries an important implication. Namely, that he can be ready for the majors by Opening Day.
That doesn’t bode well for Figgins, Turner, Harris or Rojas. The sample sizes are still small and skewed, but for what it’s worth Rojas — statistically a poor Triple-A hitter in his career — has the best spring batting average of all of them at .417. None of their numbers will matter if Guerrero remains comfortable in the field and at the plate.