So not the most intriguing of springs awaits the Dodgers, with starting and roster spots all but locked down before the first player reports. That doesn’t mean there won’t be storylines and decisions to be made.
Here are seven things to watch for when pitchers and catchers report to Phoenix Feb. 19:
- How will Dave Roberts negotiate his rookie season as a manager with this veteran team?
Roberts is an upbeat guy with infectious enthusiasm that’s genuine as a red stitch in a baseball (which just happens to be the name of his winery, Red Stitch). But half of his everyday lineup will be over 30 (Adrian Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick, Justin Turner, Andre Ethier), as well as several backups (Carl Crawford, Chase Utley, A.J. Ellis).
That’s a lot of experience used to playing every day, and it will be a challenge for Roberts to maneuver over the course of the season.
- How will he rotate Enrique Hernandez, Kendrick, Turner and Utley at second and third?
Of the four, only Utley bats left-handed, and Kendrick hits right-handed and left-handed pitchers equally well. President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman said there will be plenty of at-bats to go around, but that’s still four guys for two positions.
Hernandez can also play the outfield, and he could split some time there with a trio of left-handed hitters (Joc Pederson, Ethier, Crawford).
- Will Hyun-Jin Ryu be healthy enough to start the season?
Indications thus far are that he will be, but these are extremely early indicators. Pitchers coming off labrum surgery have had mixed results, although they’ve improved in recent years.
Ryu will be the most closely watched player in camp. And now with rotation depth, there is no reason for the Dodgers to rush him if they are not convinced he’s 100% ready to roll.
- If Ryu is in the rotation, what happens to Alex Wood?
Wood is supposed to be the young, promising piece the Dodgers picked up in the three-player deal at the trading deadline last year, but he could end up anywhere by opening day – in the rotation, the bullpen or the minors.
Wood has options left for the next three years, so if Ryu is deemed ready by the opener, Wood could easily find himself starting for triple-A Oklahoma City. Which can’t be too thrilling for someone who’s spent most of the last three years in the majors.
The Dodgers could make him a reliever, but they already have two left-handers (J.P. Howell, Luis Avilan) in the bullpen and a third seems unlikely for a group that will be backing up four left-handed starters.
- Will Yasiel Puig return to his promising form?
Last year Puig’s play and stock dropped, disappointing for someone who flashed superstar potential upon his arrival. Now as requested, Puig has trimmed down and talked about a new outlook. Which is swell, but he was saying similar things a year ago when he was talking about wanting to become to baseball what Kobe Bryant and LeBron James were to basketball.
And, of course, there has to be some kind of tension over Scott Van Slyke’s dad, Andy, claiming in November that Kershaw told his son the Dodgers needed to move Puig.
- How will Yasmani Grandal, Justin Turner and Enrique Hernandez bounce back from surgery?
None had what the Dodgers considered major surgery, although Turner’s procedure to clean up loose bodies in his left knee ended up requiring more serious microfracture surgery. Grandal’s surgery was on his non-throwing shoulder and Hernandez’s surgery was a cleanup that required only 30 minutes.
Still, Turner was rested regularly last season because of the balky knee, Grandal suffered through a horrid second half and Hernandez is being counted upon to back up several positions, so all will be watched closely.
- Can right-hander Kenta Maeda make a successful transition to the majors?
The Japanese pitchers who have come to the majors and been most successful largely have been pretty good-sized players (Hideo Nomo, 6-2 and 210; Yu Darvish, 6-5, 220; Masahiro Tanaka, 6-2 and 210). Maeda is listed at 6 feet and 154 pounds, and some are unconvinced his stuff will translate as well in the majors.
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