In most sports, athleticism reigns supreme. Modern day baseball is no exception. The last two World Series champions have been chock-full of athletic players.
Oh, and these athletes just happened to be really good at baseball. Some still are, some aren’t. The Royals have, for the most part, regressed to more of their true talent level, while the Cubs, despite a somewhat slow start, are set up to be in the top tier of teams for the next handful of years, if not longer. The Dodgers are trending in this direction, especially since the current front office took control, and that will keep them in the top tier of teams for years to come.
I purposely left out the 2014 champions because we don’t like to talk about that ’round these parts. But, that Northern California team had a few younger, athletic players of its own.
The front office’s first trade was sending an athletic player in the form of Dee Gordon to the Marlins for two athletic players still on the roster — Austin Barnes and Enrique Hernandez, as well as Chris Hatcher and Andrew Heaney. Heaney was flipped for Howie Kendrick later in that day. They also acquired Jimmy Rollins, who was once one of the most athletic players in the game, but he was merely a stopgap until Corey Seager was ready.
The next big trade was a bit of the opposite. The front office traded a seemingly athletic Matt Kemp for Yasmani Grandal (and friends). Grandal is about the opposite of what you would call “athletic.” Kemp was dealing with arthritic hips and was coming off a serious ankle injury two winters earlier.
Next up was the incredibly lopsided deal that saw the Dodgers nab Jose Peraza (a premium athlete) and Alex Wood for Hector Olivera and, oh, let’s say Paco Rodriguez. Peraza helped the Dodgers land a package of players from the White Sox that included two athletic players in Micah Johnson and Trayce Thompson. They traded a solid athlete in Scott Schebler, but the front office thought Thompson would help mitigate that loss. They also signed Andrew Toles off the waiver wire after the Rays released him, and sent Zach Lee to the Mariners for future NL MVP Chris Taylor. At last year’s trade deadline, the Dodgers acquired Josh Reddick in, we’ll call it the Jharel Cotton trade. Reddick isn’t exactly Mike Trout reincarnated, but he is a plus-defender in right field and can run at an average or better clip. Over the winter, they acquired Logan Forsythe to be the primary second baseman to replace an aging Chase Utley. Brett Eibner was acquired from the A’s shortly after the Forysthe deal, and in March the Dodgers acquired Drew Jackson from the M’s, who is the best athlete in the farm system (and his bat has picked up since coming to the organization).
And this isn’t limited to players acquired in trades. Look at the players the Dodgers haven’t traded: Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Toles, Alex Verdugo — all premium athletes, and all could play a role in the Dodgers’ success going forward.
One can look at their first two drafts for emphasis on this aspect as well. While it’s hard to focus on the pitchers being athletic because it isn’t as important as position players’ athleticism, it’s still important to development. Walker Buehler is athletic, and some of the position players taken in the 2015 draft are good as well: Mitchell Hansen, Brendon Davis, Garrett Zech (premium athlete who went to college), Edwin Drexler (he of the pinch-running fame). In ’16, athleticism was an even bigger emphasis: Gavin Lux, Will Smith, DJ Peters, Errol Robinson, Cody Thomas, Saige Jenco.
When the Dodgers promoted Bellinger, they immediately improved their athleticism. It was apparent in his first game when he beat out an infield hit (against the shift) for his first MLB hit, and also went home-to-third for a triple on a line drive he hit into the left field corner. That upgrade was even more pronounced when Adrian Gonzalez went on the disabled list.
Chase Utley‘s most athletic days are behind him, and Taylor should start seeing more time at second until Forsythe returns. Barnes was given the backup catcher role over Carlos Ruiz, so the athleticism improved immensely there.
Let’s look at Monday night’s lineup for a moment.
It could be argued that, outside of the Grandal, that Seager — the starting shortstop — was the least athletic of the other seven starters. If it isn’t Seager, then it’s definitely a 2-horse race between he and Turner.
Point being, this is shaping up to be one of the most athletic rosters the Dodgers have compiled in recent memory. It’s also no coincidence that the more athletic players are also the younger players. This is something the Dodger front office has explicitly stated — it wants to get more athletic and younger. It’s happening before our eyes. And the best part is, these younger players are not only athletic, but some of them are pretty good at this dumb game.