kemp_road_grays

2014 Spring Training Preview: Center Field

kemp_road_grays

NameAgeSystemBAOBPSLGwOBAwRC+WAR
Matt Kemp292013.270.328.395.3161030.0
’14 ZiPS.274.339.473.342N/A2.6
’14 Steamer.271.343.464.3471252.8
Joc Pederson222013 (AA).278.381.497.398155N/A
’14 ZiPS.253.314.408.318N/A2.2
’14 Steamer.244.315.389.3111000.1
Nick Buss272013 (AAA).303.363.525.387131N/A
2013.105.150.105.123-31-0.2
’14 ZiPS.239.279.369.281N/A0.0
’14 Steamer.240.289.358.286820.0

WHERE’S EVERYBODY ELSE?

Well, let’s hope the Dodgers don’t have to count on anybody else. Chone Figgins hasn’t dedicated a decent amount of time in center since 2006, Carl Crawford absolutely detests playing there — which is why he hasn’t since 2004 — and Yasiel Puig … well, let’s just say he was a defensive adventure out there last year. Also, Dee Gordon worked on his center field play to increase his value as a potential utility guy, but who knows what they have there as he’s competing for the second base job now.

The one option that could help provide depth is Andre Ethier, who played there in 2013 in Kemp’s stead. While it was relatively clear that he would struggle there over the long haul, he proved that he could cover center in an emergency thanks to his better reads (compared to Puig, or even Kemp at times). Still, with the lack of foot speed, unfamiliarity with the angles, and increased injury risk (like at the end of last year), the hope has to be that the team won’t rely on the 32-year-old full time there.

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As for the main guys, Matt Kemp‘s value to this roster depends completely on his health. While some are actively worrying about the fact that he won’t be playing in Australia, it’s a sigh of relief for me. What he needs is to start a year confident in his health instead of constantly forcing himself to play injured and then acting surprised/angry when he aggravates something. Last off-season, he fooled me with the BS rhetoric about his shoulder being okay and that he just needed to play rust off, so I’m glad that he’s taking it slow this time around.

As far as performance, I know I’m probably in the minority with this, but I’m not especially worried about his hitting. I pointed out the issues he was having last May and the Dodgers soon after started talking about how the shoulder was bothering him. Since he came back in June and implemented mechanical changes, albeit in only 80 PA, he did hit .319/.388/.556/.943. The ability is clearly still there, if he can stay on the field.

Honestly, my three biggest concerns are Kemp’s ability to stay healthy, whether he can still play center field, and whether he’ll have to change the way he plays. I’m not all that concerned about his bat if he remains healthy, and I’m far more concerned about how he may be best suited in left or right sooner than later (maybe now). So while there’s potential candidates behind him in center, there’s really not much you’d prefer relying on yet, so Kemp’s ability to appear in the lineup still looms large, as it always has.

Joc Pederson just might be the worst platoon candidate on the roster for Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier. Pederson can hit, but for now it comes with a split, as he crushes righties (.319/.405/.564/.969 since 2011) and struggles against lefties (.259/.362/.349/.711). He has the ability to play an adequate center field and he profiles as having well-rounded tools, so there’s a major leaguer in him. In fact, Joc just may be the Dodgers center fielder of the future, but for now, he’s a long-shot to make the roster barring a blistering ST in addition to injuries.

As for Nick Buss, he is what he is right now: solid organizational depth. That’s not necessarily a negative, as he’s come a long way to even get that title. And as we all know by now, there’s value in having a 7th or 8th option that can play all three outfield positions and hit adequately.

Next Up: Right Field (AKA All Puig All The Time)