Dodgers line up prospect Zach Lee against Team Australia

lee_zach_vert_ST 3.12.14

The Dodgers play an exhibition game against Team Australia like … right now, and since I’m the only one awake, here’s the game thread!

WHO’S WITH ME?!

Prospect Zach Lee is getting the ball today, and Don Mattingly said he hopes to get eight innings out of him and Red Patterson.

Australia
Dodgers 
1:00am PT
Sydney, Australia
CF
Dening
2B
Gordon
SS
Harman
RF
Puig
3B
Welch
SS
Ramirez
LF
Hughes
1B
Gonzalez
1B
Walker
CF
Ethier
RF
Kennelly
3B
Uribe
C
Battaglia
LF
Van Slyke
2B
Wade
C
Ellis
P
Searle
P
Lee

Oh yeah, Carl Crawford has the flu back in Arizona.

Crawford was removed in the second inning of a Triple-A game against the Mariners on Tuesday on the back fields of Camelback.

Crawford was at the facility in the weight room, working on upper body conditioning, on Wednesday morning and received antibiotics.

“Since he was feeling a little ill, there’s no reason to rush him back in right now,” the training staff member said.

Crawford started a game on Monday in left field, struck out looking in his only at-bat in the first inning and came out when he told trainers he wasn’t feeling well. He was taken back to the clubhouse on a cart. Crawford did not make the trip to Australia for the Opening Series against the D-backs because he is expected to go on paternity leave.

Four outfielders is always too much!

Also, if you care (I don’t, at all), the Dodgers are apparently being painted as the villains in this series against the D-Backs.

Obviously the Dodgers are evil, cause look how hyped Australia is for this!

Carl Crawford Possibly Hurt His Shoulder, Dodgers Can’t Have Nice Things

carl_crawford_openingday2013

As I told anyone and everyone who would listen to me in Arizona this weekend, the number of 2013 games that the Dodgers had their outfield quartet of Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and Yasiel Puig healthy and available for nine full innings last season was zero. Nada. Not one. There were only two games in which they even started the day with all four available, and in each, Kemp left early, hurting his shoulder on July 5 against the Giants and mangling his ankle on July 21 in Washington.

Remember: last year’s team gave 99 starts to a group of Scott Van SlykeSkip SchumakerJerry HairstonNick BussAlex Castellanos, and Elian Herrera, then five more to Schumaker in the playoffs. While Joc Pederson wasn’t really in the mix yet, there’s no such thing as too many outfielders until there are literally too many outfielders, and so unless anyone’s greatly interested in seeing 50 starts out of Mike Baxter, any presumed pressure to trade an outfielder is premature until it’s not.

You can probably guess by now that no, there are still not too many outfielders:

Obviously, that’s not a concrete diagnosis, but it’s not great. The Dodgers haven’t commented yet, and aren’t expected to until Don Mattingly addresses the media in Australia, which, after figuring in the time difference, should be… in July. (Fine, it’s 10:30pm Pacific. tonight.) 

Crawford clearly wasn’t playing in the two-game Australian set anyway, so this doesn’t change anything as far as the roster goes for the first two games of the season. Ethier will play center, Puig will play right, and just for kicks, Chone Figgins will probably start both games in left while Van Slyke sits, because the world is a cold dark place where joy does not exist. As far as the real season next week in San Diego, we’ll need to wait and hear more. Needless to say, since Kemp has barely even started playing in spring games, any talk of trading an outfielder should be completely shut down for now.

***

Unrelated — probably? — here’s Clayton Kershaw and his wife with a kangaroo, because absolutely.

Chone Figgins likely going to Australia & other notes

"He'll be on the plane."

“He’ll be on the plane, as of right now.” (By: Dustin Nosler)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Not much is happening early at Camelback Ranch this morning, as the players aren’t taking batting or fielding practice. They only just came out to stretch and play some catch.

Rockies
Dodgers
1:05pm PT
Glendale, Ariz.
LF
Blackmon
RF
Puig
CF
Barnes
LF
Crawford
3B
Arenado
SS
Ramirez
RF
Cuddyer
1B
Gonzalez
1B
McBride
CF
Ethier
SS
Culberson
3B
Uribe
C
Pacheco
C
Ellis
LF
LeMahieu
2B
Gordon
P
Lyles
P
Ryu

Manager Don Mattingly had his daily morning press conference that offered little news. He did officially rule out Carl Crawford for the Australia trip because he the impending birth of his child. Mattingly also said Brandon League would likely stay behind (he’s throwing on the minor-league side today) and Matt Kemp will get the day off before returning to the minor-league side on Monday.

Mattingly said he’d have more information about the 30 players who are going to Australia after Sunday’s game.

“It’s really not going to be that big of a secret,” Mattingly said. “It’s just a matter of getting through the game today.”

He said the Dodgers pretty much know who’s going, but he doesn’t want to announce a player is going only for something to happen between now and the time they get on the plane (midnight tonight) that prevents a player from going.

Mattingly also offered some insight as to what Kemp will do while the team is away for a week.

“As much as anything, just basically having spring training, more along the lines of above else where he’s getting his at-bats every day,” Mattingly said.

Chone Figgins hasn’t been great this spring, but he’s offered on-base ability and versatility, which sounds like it will be enough for him to make this club — at least, make the 30-man cut for Australia.

“I feel like his bat’s been OK, not necessarily have that many hits, but walked quite a bit,” Mattingly said. “His at-bats have been the kind of at-bats we like. He’s shown he can kinda play everywhere on the field. So there’s definitely value there with Figgy. We still feel like the body’s live he’s moving good, and he’s been running good. He’s had no issues … So, if we like what we see, we do feel like at-bats will get better and better.

“He’ll be on the plane, as of right now.”

Players not going to Australia

Carl Crawford
Josh Beckett
Chad Billingsley
Zack Greinke
Dan Haren
Matt Kemp
Brandon League (probably not)

The Australia roster will be more clear following the game. But expect guys like Justin Turner and Chone Figgins to be on the plane, as well as a pitcher to throw in the exhibition game. I’ve heard speculation it could be Zach Lee, which would make sense as the Dodgers are already down 3/5 of their starting rotation and need Paul Maholm to be the long man in case Clayton Kershaw or Hyun-jin Ryu falter.

The main goal for today is to get through the game healthy. Something that didn’t happen for Patrick Corbin of the Diamondbacks. He suffered damage to his UCL and won’t go to Australia. Wade Miley is replacing him and will start the first game.

What it would take for Joc Pederson to make the Dodgers

pederson_bats_arizona-2014-03-08

Soon, but not quite yet.

Joc Pederson is going to be a good baseball player. There’s no denying that. He has a sweet swing, better-than-advertised power and can play good defense in center field (despite letting that popup drop in on Saturday night).

The question many fans are asking is, “Is he going to break camp with the team?” The answer is simply, no. The 22-year-old is plenty talented to start in center field for at least a third of the teams in the majors right now, but there are a lot of things that would have to happen for him to don a Dodger jersey on opening day.

Matt Kemp is going to begin the 2014 on the disabled list. He’s doing more baseball stuff, but he won’t be ready for March 30 — three weeks from today. So, that’s a plus on Pederson’s side. Since Kemp figures to be the center fielder, that spot is technically open. But that spot will also be filled by Andre Ethier, who played a not-terrible center field in Kemp’s absence last year.

Dodgers
Royals
1:05pm PT
Surprise, Ariz.
SS
Figgins
RF
Aoki
LF
Crawford
2B
Infante
RF
Puig
LF
Gordon
1B
Gonzalez
1B
Butler
CF
Van Slyke
DH
Maxwell
3B
Uribe
3B
Valencia
2B
Turner
CF
Cain
C
Ellis
C
Hayes
P
Haren
SS
Escobar

Barring anything unforeseen, Yasiel Puig will play 150-plus games this season, so right field is out of the question. Even Scott Van Slyke has laid claim to the team’s No. 5 outfield spot.

That leaves the left field duo of Carl Crawford and Ethier. Both of them have spent ample time on the disabled list in recent years, but for Pederson to be on the 25-man roster on opening day, Crawford and Ethier would have to be on the DL.

While Pederson is arguably as talented as those two (probably more so), he isn’t going to win a job over them in spring training. We all know spring training stats are generally useless, let’s remember Puig hit .514/.500/.828 last year and began the season at Double-A. Pederson is hitting .250/.423/.600 in 12 games this spring. If he were Puiging this spring training, he might have a more solid case.

The Dodgers’ top three outfielders would have to be on the DL for an extended period of time for Pederson to make the team. It wouldn’t make sense to have him up for only a handful of games, just to send him down to Triple-A.

Pederson will make his debut in 2014, because the likelihood of all four outfielders making it through the season unscathed is minimal. When Pederson comes up, it will be — at minimum — for a 10-15 game stretch in which he plays every day. That will be fun to see.

But until that time, spend the $20 on MiLB.tv and watch him hit in the Pacific Coast League. That will pay for the service by itself.

It Must Be Baseball Season, Because Carl Crawford Is Hurting

carl_crawford_openingday2013There’s no such thing as “too many outfielders.” We’ve been saying that forever, but can we finally agree on that, please? We already know that Matt Kemp isn’t going to Australia, and until we hear about the results of his MRI test, we won’t even know when he’ll be cleared to run at full speed — which, remember, he has not done yet. There’s not currently a date for him to get into spring games.

And now, Carl Crawford is already dealing with “tightness in his right quad,” as relayed by Eric Stephen from Don Mattingly, which he felt was tight “all day” yesterday. It will keep him out of today’s game and tomorrow’s as well, with hopes to get back in on Saturday. The usual platitudes apply: It’s Feb. 27, there’s no need to rush anyone, even guys like Mike Baxter need to play in spring, etc. If this were the regular season, maybe Crawford would be fine to play. (Or maybe he’d push through it and injure himself further, which is usually what happens.)

Just remember: “too many outfielders” isn’t a problem until it’s a problem. Last year, when Skip Schumaker, Scott Van Slyke, Jerry HairstonChili Buss, Alex Castellanos, and Elian Herrera combined to start 99 games in the outfield, the problem was not enough outfielders. Until further notice, it’s still the same problem. If and when it is “too many” — if that ever happens, which I’m skeptical of — it’s a good problem to have. It’s better than this one.

***

D’Backs (ss)
Dodgers
12:05pm PT
Glendale, Ariz.
CF
Campana
2B
Gordon
2B
Pennington
CF
Ethier
SS
Owings
SS
Ramirez
1B
Jacobs
1B
Gonzalez
RF
Tuiasosopo
RF
Puig
3B
Lamb
LF
Baxter
DH
Duncan
3B
Uribe
LF
Dorn
C
Federowicz
C
Gosewich
DH
Guerrero
P
Delgado
 
P
Greinke

Your lineups for today’s home opener against Arizona at right, with no A.J. Ellis, who is down with the flu, potentially from eating too much “Volcanic Jalapeno” jerky, which is a real thing. As with every other non split-squad game, the SNLA broadcast is available with no blackout concerns on MLB.tv.

Via J.P. Hoornstra, the reserves expected to see time today:

Miguel Rojas, Brendan Harris, Scott Van Slyke, Justin Turner, Miguel Olivo, Drew Butera, J.C. Boscan, Chris O’Brien, Griff Erickson, Chone Figgins, Joc Pederson, Chili Buss, Clint Robinson // Chris WithrowRed Patterson, Pedro Baez, Carlos Frias, Sam Demel, Jarret Martin, Daniel Moskos.

2014 Spring Training Preview: Left Field

carl_crawford_openingday2013

Age   BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Carl Crawford 32 2013 (Dodgers) .283 .329 .407 .322 108 2.9
’14 ZiPS .266 .308 .412 .314 N/A 1.5
’14 Steamer .274 .324 .414 .322 108 2.1
Andre Ethier 31 2013 (Dodgers) .272 .360 .423 .340 120 2.9
’14 ZiPS .261 .340 .405 .319 N/A 1.5
’14 Steamer .269 .348 .431 .338 119 2.3
Scott Van Slyke 27 2013 (Dodgers) .240 .342 .465 .353 129 0.9
’14 ZiPS .249 .325 .420 .325 N/A 1.6
’14 Steamer .245 .332 .408 .327 111 0.2
Joc Pederson 21 2013 (AA) .278 .381 .497 .398 155 N/A
Jeremy Hazelbaker 26 2013 (AAA – Pawtucket) .257 .313 .374 .311 90 N/A

During our spring training preview series, the general refrain has been “(Insert starter name here) really can’t get injured, because the options behind him aren’t very good.” Finally, as we get to the outfield, things are starting to look up a bit. The Dodgers still don’t seem interested in trading an outfielder, so they aren’t exactly lacking depth.

We start in left field. Carl Crawford saw the most time there last season, and will again this year if he can stay healthy. Crawford’s 2013 season was pretty strange. In the middle of it, he missed over a month with a hamstring injury. Before the injury, he hit .301/.358/.470, and was one of the few bright spots during the miserable opening months. After returning from the injury, he hit .270/.307/.361. He hit five home runs before May 7th, didn’t hit another until September 27th, then hit four in the playoffs.

Crawford only stole 15 bases last season, below what would be expected given his playing time. He was still worth 5 baserunning runs above average, which isn’t too far from his average his average of 7.8 during his time in Tampa (especially when rated on a per game basis). Hopefully Crawford will be more comfortable stealing bases next season, but his continued health issues probably means that his seasons of 40+ steals are a thing of the past.

Crawford’s 2014 projections are pretty mixed. ZiPS projects for his value to be halved from last season due to a reduction in plate appearances and offensive value. Steamer is more positive, projecting him to produce offensive numbers nearly identical to those he produced in 2013. Steamer’s WAR reduction between 2013 and 2014 can almost completely be explained by a 7 run decrease in defensive value.

A good portion of Crawford’s offensive value next season will depend on how he’s used. Crawford has a big platoon split (career 82 wRC+ vs LHP, 114 against RHP). If the Dodgers can take advantage of their outfield crunch to limit Crawford’s usage against lefties, he’s likely to produce better offensive numbers. However, given Ethier’s similar (and more severe) platoon issues, this could prove to be difficult.  

If Crawford isn’t playing, Andre Ethier will probably be the next choice. Ethier has only played 52 innings in left since 2008, all of which occurred last season, mostly with Kemp in center and Puig in right. My guess is that this will continue to be the preferred alignment with that combination of outfielders. Since Ethier isn’t primarily a left fielder, we’ll discuss him in more depth in a later preview.

Scott Van Slyke seems likely to make the roster out of spring training. He can play both left field and right field (and some think he can play center, too), but he’ll probably play left more consistently in 2014. Van Slyke didn’t have any issues with PCL pitching last season (hitting .348/.479/.627), and had pretty decent results in the majors as well. His season was a pleasant surprise after he cleared waivers in 2012.

Van Slyke has a career UZR/150 of 13.0 in the outfield, which rates him as nearly elite. This conflicts a bit with the “eye test.” He only has 383 innings worth of sample size, which is nowhere near enough to get an accurate measurement. His defensive value will probably regress next season, which is backed up by conservative defensive projections for next season.

The projection systems are also predicting Van Slyke’s offensive numbers to regress, but not by much. ZiPS still projects Van Slyke to have the best wOBA (and WAR) of any of the left field options. Despite Van Slyke’s improvement in 2013, he remained buried on Don Mattingly‘s depth chart, rarely making high-leverage pinch hitting appearances. If Van Slyke is going to make an impact in 2014, Mattingly will need to trust him more.

Joc Pederson is the minor league prospect most likely to play outfield for the Dodgers this season, though it isn’t particularly likely unless something has gone wrong (other than a potential late season call-up). He’s primarily a center fielder, but if Ethier and Crawford are injured for a long period of time (not an unrealistic possibility) Pederson could see some time in left.

Jeremy Hazelbaker is the least familiar name on the list. He was acquired from Boston in exchange for Alex Castellanos after Castellanos was designated for assignment. Hazelbaker isn’t really a prospect, and isn’t going to make the major league roster. He’s likely to play left for the Isotopes this season.

Even though left field has a few question marks, the Dodgers have the depth to overcome at least one serious injury. If the Dodgers end up with two simultaneous injuries, then things will get more interesting. That kind of depth is usually tough to come by, so the Dodgers are in a pretty good place.

Next up: Center field

Yasiel Puig, Leadoff Hitter?

puig_looks

Yes… gooood… good. (Dustin took this!)

Remember how the biggest story of last winter was “hey, who is going to hit leadoff?” Carl Crawford stepped into the role and batted first 85 times, generally doing a fine enough job at it, and our main complaints about the spot were that Mark Ellis and Skip Schumaker collected 33 starts there when Crawford was unavailable. You may have thought that he’d simply do so again in 2014, but if Don Mattingly is to be believed, perhaps not:

Yasiel Puig could be the Dodgers’ leadoff hitter this year, manager Don Mattingly indicated this weekend.

Mattingly said by switching Puig and last year’s leadoff hitter, lefty-swinging Carl Crawford, in the order, it would provide better righty-lefty balance, with right-handed hitter Hanley Ramirez batting third and left-handed hitter Adrian Gonzalez batting fourth.

That’s from Ken Gurnick, and he goes on to indicate that Mattingly can’t “ignore Puig’s .391 on-base percentage, second on the club only to Ramirez’s .402,” and that’s wonderful. For years we’ve been yelling about on-base skills rather than speed at the top, or have you forgotten about all the angst over Dee Gordon leading off in 2011-12, or when we semi-seriously wanted A.J. Ellis up there? Or just remember last season, when every Cincinnati fan wanted so desperately to believe that Brandon Phillips was great because he was driving in so many runs, when in reality Phillips was having a mediocre season and benefited from Shin-Soo Choo‘s .423 OBP at the top of the lineup.

Except, if I’m being honest, the fact that there’s not a single quote from Mattingly in there sort of gives me hesitation. Not that I don’t believe Gurnick, but “indicated” isn’t the same thing as being on the record, and since this presumably came during Fan Fest, it’s odd that not a single other reporter made even passing mention of it. It’s really less about questioning the reporting than it is about questioning Mattingly ever caring about on-base skills at all, ever.

Still, if we take this at face value, there’s merit to the idea. Even taking into account the fact that we’re still not really sure what Puig can do over a full season, Crawford’s .329 OBP last year was his highest in the last three years, and it seems difficult to think that Puig (coming off a .391) can’t top that. (Before anyone asks about their splits hitting leadoff, I didn’t look it up because I don’t care. There’s too much noise in those small samples, and highs or lows in stats hitting in a certain spot can easily be attributed to any number of other things.) And while it’s not always used effectively, Puig certainly has plenty of speed as well.

The downside here is that it does some what limit the amount of run production Puig can create, because were he to hit leadoff, he’d come up at least once every game with no one on, and behind the bottom of the lineup and the pitcher the rest of the time. That’s not ideal, but it is a trade-off you can make, because again, nothing is more important than simply getting the leadoff man on base. Crawford won’t do that better than Puig; Ramirez might, but does seem to be comfortably settled in the three spot.

The other benefit here is that, if Crawford hits second, you have the option of going R/L/R pretty much down the lineup, and it eliminates the need to continually change things at the top since Crawford can’t hit lefties any better than Andre Ethier can. Of course, I’ll believe Crawford is hitting second when I see it: as we all know by know, second basemen hit second, particularly if that’s Alexander Guerrero, who has far fewer concerns about his bat than his glove.

Believe it or not, the first spring game is three weeks from tomorrow, and while no one should put too much emphasis on spring training batting orders, we could get this cleared up sooner than later.