With just a few days left in Glendale before heading to Southern California for three games against the Angels in Los Angeles and not Los Angeles, the Dodgers are closing in on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium against the D’backs on March 30.
As Chad wrote on Tuesday, the Dodgers are down to 47 players in major league camp with four (and possibly five, in my opinion) headed to the IL to open the season. That’s 42 or 43 players vying for 26 spots on the Opening Day roster, though as you will see below it’s realistically a bit less than that.
First off, here’s the 21 players likely locked into the Opening Day roster unless there’s a trade (the AJ Pollock for Craig Kimbrel trade did come on April 1 ahead of the April 8 Opening Day last year) or an injury late in camp.
Walker Buehler (60-Day)
J.P. Feyereisen (60-Day)
Blake Treinen (60-Day)
Gavin Lux (60-Day)
That’s 12 position players and 9 pitchers who should be in Los Angeles on March 30 based on what Dave Roberts has said or just because it’s obvious. While Lux, Gonsolin, Hudson and Reyes are clearly headed to the IL to start the season, I’m adding Nelson as well given his recovery from Tommy John and a flexor tendon has resulted in 11 walks to 0 strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings so far this spring. I just don’t see how they can possibly place him in the bullpen right now.
And truly a few more of the pitching decisions may be locks as well when taking a look at it all.
When Roberts told Bill Plunkett the Dodgers will open the season with two lefties in the bullpen, Ferguson and Vesia, he added there could be between one to three spots left to be decided. Assuming the team is going with 13 pitchers, I’d argue it is possible that 9 of those could be in the bullpen until the Dodgers need Ryan Pepiot or Michael Grove to face the Rockies on April 3.
For what it is worth, it feels like it will be Pepiot in the rotation to start the season with Gonsolin out, as he’s struck out 13 in his 9 innings of work this spring with a 2.00 ERA. That’s not well ahead of Grove’s 14 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings with a 4.38 ERA, but it seems like Grove could end up in the bullpen for the time being. They are both likely to get starts this season given Kershaw and Syndergaard’s recent history (in addition to how effective the latter may be this season), which I broke down back in February.
For the sake of this post, we will assume Pepiot/Grove is No. 10 on the pitching staff so far, leaving three bullpen spots for five players on the 40-man roster and three non-roster invitees.
It would seem as though the 32-year-old Shelby Miller, and his $1.5 million guaranteed, will land in one of those spots. He’s struck out eight batters in his 5 innings this spring while allowing 10 hits for a 9.00 ERA. It’s likely to be too early to let go of that project, especially given the flexibility of the other options below.
If you interpret Roberts as saying there will be only two lefties in the bullpen, that leaves Justin Bruihl and Victor Gonzalez on the outside for now, with both still having two options remaining anyway. Both have ERAs over 10.00 in their limited work this spring, with Bruihl at 3 1/3 innings and Gonzalez at 4 1/3.
That leaves Phil Bickford, who is out of options, and Andre Jackson as the final pitchers on the 40-man roster in addition to non-roster invitees Wander Suero, Tayler Scott and Tyler Cyr. Time might be running out for Bickford, as it seems the Dodgers have better options in the bullpen than the 27-year-old coming soon, if not already available. The 50 1/3 innings with a 2.50 ERA/3.57 FIP in 2021 was followed by 61 innings of a 4.72 ERA/4.26 FIP in 2022. Jackson’s 10 strikeouts to 1 walk in 7 2/3 innings this spring has outpaced Bickford’s 3 strikeouts to 2 walks in 6 1/3 innings. Jackson has one option remaining, though the 26-year-old (27 on May 1) struck out 9 in 9 2/3 innings across four games at the end of the 2022 season. To me, Jackson’s change-up is better than anything Bickford can offer out of the bullpen right now after he leaned heavily on the pitch (53.8% with a -2.4 RV/100) in his brief appearance in the majors to end 2022.
It seems like it would come down to one of the lefties or possibly Suero to knock Bickford off the roster. Suero has struck out 7 strikeouts to 0 walks in the spring with a 1.35 ERA across 6 2/3 innings, but was available as a non-roster invite after his 6.08 ERA in 23 2/3 Triple-A innings last season.
I assume they will stick with Bickford for now, but when Gonsolin’s return pushes Pepiot or Grove to the bullpen, or Nelson and/or Hudson return from the IL, it would seem he’s on the chopping block, especially if Jackson can find his command out of the bullpen.
Unfortunately, Lux’s injury opened up a spot in the field for a team that honestly looked pretty locked in back in late February. The Dodgers still have five position playing non-roster invitees in camp, with three of those coming behind the plate after they optioned Yonny Hernandez yesterday. With 12 of the likely 13 spots accounted for, this seems to come down to taking one of James Outman or one of the defense-first outfielders in Steven Duggar or Bradley Zimmer. The other three position players remaining are Drew Avans, Hunter Feduccia and Luke Williams. Avans is very unlikely to make the team, while Feduccia — despite a strong showing at the plate (.389/.542/.778) — is ticketed for Oklahoma City. Williams’ versatility plays in his favor, but he also seems unlikely to overtake Duggar, Outman or Zimmer.
Outman has hit the best of the outfield group this spring, hitting .289/.378/.553 with 2 home runs and a 5:13 BB:K. He has out-hit all of Duggar (.156/.308/.281), Heyward (.220/.304/.415) and Zimmer (.276/.417/.345) this Spring, but he has minor-league options, and that is a big factor when it comes to Opening Day roster decisions. All the numbers are really irrelevant, as the Dodgers have made it pretty clear Heyward is going to be on the roster. Chad mentioned a few days ago Roberts’ quote saying it is a “safe bet” Heyward will be on the team, which could Duggar and Zimmer on the outside.
Personally, it seems clear the outfield will be where another bat is needed given Heyward’s recent history and a Spring that cooled off over the past few weeks, in addition to the struggles of Thompson, who is hitting .083/.267/.125 with 6 walks and 9 strikeouts in his 10 spring games. While with Great Britain at the World Baseball Classic, Thompson did finish with a .214/.353/.500 line in 14 at-bats, but struck out 7 times to 3 walks. Add in Taylor’s .119/.245/.190 spring after a rough 2022 and you realize (as most people already knew entering the Spring) the outfield is basically Betts and whatever they can get out of Peralta (who they only added in mid-February) in a platoon, followed by a trio of question marks.
I still lean Outman being the logical pick for the final spot, with Taylor seeing more time in the infield this year after seeing his innings in the infield shrink to 170 at second, 4 at third and 1 at short in 2022 compared to 777 in the outfield.