Dodgers still mulling roster decisions as Cactus League season ends
A sizable chunk of the Dodgers roster left camp before Saturday’s Cactus League finale against the Chicago White Sox. At this stage in the spring, with opening day less than a week away, almost all of the roster decisions appear set.
The four position players still competing for the final two openings — outfielders Joc Pederson, Andrew Toles, Trayce Thompson and utility man Kyle Farmer — made up half of the lineup Saturday. All four will travel with the team to Los Angeles for the Freeway Series against the Angels, which begins Sunday at Angel Stadium. In theory, all four have a chance to make the opening-day roster.
Toles and Pederson are competing to team up with Matt Kemp in left field. The battle for the final spot on the bench should come down to Thompson or Farmer. The Dodgers appear to be leaning toward carrying Pederson over Toles, while the discussion about the bench is less clear.
“It’s going to come down to the end,” manager Dave Roberts said Saturday morning.
Toles has been a more productive hitter than Pederson this spring. Toles was one for three Saturday to finish with a .286 batting average. Pederson took a walk as he was 0 for 2 to finish at .163.
Toles has also appeared as a mid-game substitute fairly often, and has faced lower-level competition. Some team officials believe Toles could benefit from playing everyday in Oklahoma City as he returns from knee surgery.
Pederson experienced a rocky 2017. He opened the season as the starting center fielder, but spent multiple stints on the disabled list and lost his spot to Chris Taylor. Shifted into left field, Pederson saw his production crater. He was demoted to the minors in August when the team acquired outfielder Curtis Granderson.
Granderson did not offer much of an improvement. The Dodgers kept Pederson on the World Series roster over Granderson. Pederson responded with three home runs. He might have been the most valuable player if the Dodgers had won Game 7. A fitful season ended on an encouraging note.
Yet, Pederson stumbled throughout the spring. His issues looked familiar: He failed to make contact and struggled to get on base.
“I would say coming off the World Series, I would have expected him to be probably in a better place,” Roberts said. “But I think that’s what spring training is for. Some guys it takes a little bit longer than other guys.”
The competition between Thompson and Farmer is also complicated. Thompson is out of minor league options. The Dodgers could lose him on the waiver wire if he does not make the team. He starred in the first half of 2016 before a fractured back derailed his season. He posted a .483 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in limited action last season.
As a right-handed hitter, Thompson offers less appeal than he did in the past, as the Dodgers already have three right-handed-hitting outfielders in Kemp, Taylor and Yasiel Puig. Enrique Hernandez, another right-handed batter, also figures to see time in the outfield.
Farmer can catch and play third base. The Dodgers could use depth at third after losing Justin Turner until at least May with a broken wrist. The presence of Farmer would also allow Roberts to use catchers Yasmani Grandal or Austin Barnes as pinch-hitters in late-game situations.
The team made only one roster move Saturday morning, reassigning reliever Pat Venditte to minor league camp. Venditte, a switch-pitcher, threw a scoreless inning Saturday to reduce his earned-run average to 1.59 in 10 outings this spring.
Roberts also indicated reliever Yimi Garcia will open the season on the disabled list. Garcia missed the majority of the 2016 season and the entirety of the 2017 season as he recovered from elbow ligament reconstruction. Garcia had appeared in two of the final nine Cactus League games, giving up a home run Saturday.
“Yimi is healthy,” Roberts said. “But there’s a progression, boxes that need to be checked, as far as appreciating that he hasn’t pitched in two years. We’re really trying to be mindful of that for him.”
Still no timetable for Tom Koehler
Three weeks ago, the Dodgers medical staff diagnosed a strained anterior capsule in reliever Tom Koehler’s right shoulder. The team did not set a timetable for his return. Roberts indicated he was still unsure when Koehler might be back.
Koehler will travel with the team to Los Angeles for the Freeway Series. He will split his time between Dodger Stadium and Camelback Ranch for his rehab. He recently stopped wearing a sling.
“I know that he has no achiness, no soreness,” Roberts said. “He’s out of his sling. I think he just feels kind of normalish, which is great. What he’s done in the weight room has been amazing. But until he picks up a baseball, we really don’t know. And I don’t know when that date is, to be quite honest.”
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