Dave Roberts’ answer was succinct but revealing. Asked Tuesday morning if, nearly a week into the exhibition season, he had gained any clarity on the Dodgers’ leadoff spot, the first-year manager said: “No.”
Roberts was a prototypical leadoff man when he played center field for the Dodgers from 2002-2004, a speedy slap hitter who worked counts and reached base at a .342 clip.
It is clear that the Dodgers, going on their second season without the speedy Dee Gordon at the top of their order, will not have a prototypical leadoff man -- or even a steady one -- this season.
There are no shortage of candidates. Center fielder Joc Pederson, who had a .346 OBP last season, and shortstop Corey Seager (.425 in 27 games) could lead off against right-handed pitchers. So could left fielder Carl Crawford (.304) when he’s in the lineup.
Second baseman Howie Kendrick (.336) and utility man Enrique Hernandez (.346) could lead off against left-handers. No matter who hits first, Roberts does not want that player to change his approach to fit a job description that has changed over the last decade.
“Regardless of where an individual hits in the lineup, it shouldn’t change how they are as a hitter,” Roberts said. “There is a little bit of change, maybe with the leadoff spot, but if there’s a guy who can do damage hitting at the top of the order, then he has all the freedom to swing the bat and not try to draw a walk.”
As a former leadoff man, would Roberts prefer to have a set man at the top of his order in order to maintain continuity?
“We’ve all been conditioned for routines and consistency, but I think as this game has evolved, we’ve all had to see things in a different way,” Roberts said. “I think where you hit in the order in years past, in decades past, there is a lot to be said for that. But in this day and age, with the data that we have, sometimes change is good.”