We’re a little more than a couple weeks into Spring Training, and there don’t appear to be a lot of position battles.
The rotation is set, even if Clayton Kershaw isn’t ready Ross Stripling or Julio Urias will likely fill his spot, the starting outfield and infield are filled and the bench is settled. If Corey Seager isn’t ready for OD, maybe Andrew Toles (despite not having reported yet) gets a spot or maybe one of the rookies gets the nod (Matt Beaty, Edwin Rios) or maybe one of the non-roster invitees get a shot, but Seager seems to be on schedule.
So the only real question mark remaining is the bullpen. Let’s look at the locks (considering everyone is healthy):
- Pedro Baez
- Tony Cingrani
- Kenley Jansen
- Joe Kelly
I put Stripling there because he fits better in the bullpen than Urias does. So that’s five spots accounted for. Assuming they go to eight relievers (they did last year), that leaves three spots for some talented arms. The rub here is, there are a couple relievers who present logistic problems for the Dodgers.
Josh Fields has an option remaining, but he also has five-plus years of MLB service time, meaning he can refuse his assignment to the minors. So, that makes him a near-lock, seeing as the Dodgers are set to pay him $2.8 million this season in his final year of arbitration. Yimi Garcia is out of minor-league options. So, unless the Dodgers want to expose him to waivers to try to sneak him through to Triple-A, he might land a spot in the OD bullpen. His results so far this spring (which ultimately doesn’t mean a lot) are encouraging: 3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 6 K.
If those two are in, then there’s one more spot for the following: Scott Alexander, JT Chargois, Caleb Ferguson, Dylan Floro, Adam McCreery, Dennis Santana, Josh Sborz, Jaime Schultz, and Brock Stewart.
Stewart was originally out of options, but MLB awarded him a fourth option because of the up-and-down roller coaster he experienced last season. Chargois is also believed to have one, but I haven’t confirmed that. Still, it would make sense considering the Dodgers didn’t try to move him this offseason. Santana is going to be in the Oklahoma City rotation and should see MLB time against in 2019, but it’s not time for him to be a full-time reliever just yet. McCreery, Sborz and Schultz have options, so they’ll be in OKC as well.
What this really comes down to is three pitchers: Alexander, Ferguson and Floro. If we’re going strictly off talent and 2018 performance, Ferguson is the guy. The Dodgers likely want to see if he can stick in the rotation, and that depends on if he develops his changeup (or another third pitch). I’d opt to just keep him in the bullpen because we saw last season just how valuable he can be in that role, but I’d understand if the Dodgers wanted to give him one more chance at starting. Let’s assume they do.
Now we’re down to Alexander vs. Floro, as both have options (Alexander 2, Floro 1). Floro might be the better pitcher, but Alexander has shown flashes of being the Zack Britton-lite we thought he was when the Dodgers acquired him last winter. Add the fact that the bullpen — if it shakes out the way that’s outlined above — is heavy on the right-handers, and it looks like Alexander might get the nod.
Whatever the result, this is a good problem for the Dodgers to have. They have a slew of talented arms ready to contribute to the bullpen. There’s still more than three weeks until the first real game and a lot can happen between now and then. But if everyone stays healthy, the OKC bullpen is going to benefit most from this accumulation of talent.