No division experienced a shake up this offseason quite like the National League West. It began with the Arizona Diamondbacks stealing Zack Greinke from the Los Angeles Dodgers and continued with an arms race between the Diamondbacks, Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.
While the Dodgers didn’t land the likes of Johnny Cueto, Greinke or David Price, they managed to round out their rotation nicely with the additions of Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda.
Amid all the changes, Los Angeles remains the favorite to win a fourth straight NL West title. Moreover, the Dodgers are projected by FanGraphs to finish with the third-best record in the NL.
With the interest that lies in the NL West, ESPN’s David Schoenfield ranked the top-10 intriguing players in the division.
Shortstop Corey Seager was the first Dodger to appear on the list, checking in at third overall:
3. Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
The performances of rookie shortstops Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor in 2015 have increased the expectations for Seager. His September call-up created even more hype, as he hit .337/.425/.561 in 113 plate appearances. Keep in mind, however, that Seager’s Triple-A numbers — .278/.332/.451 — were nothing like his major league results. One thing I love about him: He hit .344 against lefties across the three levels he played, so there aren’t any obvious holes in his swing. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on the 22-year-old trying to be a key cog on a team with the highest payroll in the game, but like his older brother Kyle of the Mariners, he’s a baseball rat who should thrive in the spotlight.
Seager did not exceed his rookie limitations with just 98 at-bats in 2015 and is anticipated to be a favorite for the Rookie of the Year Award. The 21 year old is primed to continue with his role as the club’s starting shortstop.
Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig checked in at fourth on Schoenfield’s list:
4. Yasiel Puig, RF, Los Angeles Dodgers
The fan club is a lot smaller than it was a year ago after an injury-marred campaign in which he hit .255/.322/.436 and played just 79 games. Was it a good year for him? No. But such are the weight of expectations: He still had a better wRC+ than Ian Kinsler, Daniel Murphy, Evan Longoria, Matt Kemp, Adam Jones, Howie Kendrick or Adrian Beltre. My point: The talent is still there.
Puig is coming off a disappointing season in which he played in a career-low 79 games. He’s expected to work with Dodgers legend Maury Wills during Spring Training.
The only Dodgers’ pitcher to make the list is three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw:
7. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Listing him seventh isn’t meant to be an insult. He’s the best pitcher in the game and he’ll be wonderful, must-watch TV again in 2016. He didn’t win the ERA title for the first time in five years. Indeed, all he did was post a 2.13 ERA while leading the league in innings and strikeouts. In two years, he’s increased his strikeout rate from 25.6 percent to 33.8 percent. Yes, he’s apparently becoming even more dominant. I’d certainly pick him to win the Cy Young Award.
Kershaw may have been overshadowed last season by Greinke and Chicago Cubs ace Jake Arrieta, but the southpaw still managed to have a historic season.
He went 16-7, had the first 300-strikeout season in the Majors since 2002 and was tops in FIP (1.99), xFIP (2.09), SIERA (2.24), strikeout percentage (33.8 percent), strikeout-to-walk ratio (29.1 percent) and innings pitched (232.2).
The final Dodger named on the list is center fielder Joc Pederson:
10. Joc Pederson, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Through June 4, after a four-game road trip to Coors Field in which he homered in each game: .267/.393/.606. That carried him to the All-Star Game, where he actually started in place of the injured Matt Holliday.
From June 5 on: .176/.319/.301, 105 strikeouts in 97 games. He still drew a lot of walks but the all-out swing produced just nine home runs. He’ll have to make adjustments and that will be intriguing to watch.
Pederson slumped through the second half of the season and it resulted in Kiké Hernandez taking over in center. The Dodgers have maintained confidence in Pederson, who is expected to regain his position as the club’s starter in center field.