With just five days to go until real baseball games are played, it’s again time to examine where the Los Angeles Dodgers’ roster stands heading into the regular season.
If you’ve been with us all offseason, you’ll know we first tried this exercise in early February, but a lot has changed since then. Unfortunately for the Dodgers front office, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the number of players they’re allowed to carry.
So, what has changed? First and foremost it’s the ever-present injury bug.
As it stands, five of the players who were under heavy consideration to make the Opening Day roster back in February are slated to begin the season on the disabled list: Pedro Baez, Andre Ethier, Scott Kazmir, Josh Ravin and Brock Stewart.
While Stewart was unlikely to make the roster, the other four made my “top 27” list at the beginning of spring.
In theory, this makes the decision making easier — opening up spots in three crowded groupings (bullpen, rotation, outfield). And yet, somehow it seems like these revelations only make things harder.
The second thing that has changed since early February is the roster. Franklin Gutierrez and Sergio Romo have both arrived since then, Chase Utley was re-signed and Vidal Nuño was sent packing in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles.
Thankfully, as the season inches closer and closer, there has been some clarity regarding the Opening Day roster — primarily as it relates to pitching.
While a couple of bench spots remain up for grabs in the infield and outfield, some roster moves made Tuesday all but solidify the rotation and bullpen for next week.
First it was confirmation that Julio Urias and Brandon Morrow would not be with the Dodgers on Opening Day. Then we got word that Adam Liberatore and Josh Fields would start the year in the Minors. With that information in hand, the 12-man pitching staff was set:
Starters: Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Alex Wood/Brandon McCarthy
Relievers: Kenley Jansen, Sergio Romo, Grant Dayton, Luis Avilan, Chris Hatcher, Ross Stripling, Alex Wood/Brandon McCarthy
So what about the 13 hitters? The following players are all but guaranteed spots:
Infield: Yasmani Grandal, Austin Barnes, Adrian Gonzalez, Logan Forsythe, Corey Seager, Chase Utley, Justin Turner
Outfield: Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Franklin Gutierrez, Andrew Toles
With Andre Ethier’s injury, Toles should take his spot in the outfield as the starter against righties. Other than that, this group was never in question.
That leaves just two roster spots and few different holes remaining: backup shortstop, backup center fielder, lefty-mashing first baseman.
Who are the contenders?
Chris Taylor, Charlie Culberson, Trayce Thompson, Kiké Hernandez, Scott Van Slyke and Rob Segedin.
Before we go any further, let’s note the good news. No one in this group is going anywhere as all six have options remaining. So whoever misses the cut to start the season will almost assuredly see time in the big leagues this season.
The first two guys to get crossed off by my estimation are Culberson and Thompson. Still coming back from injury, I think Thompson’s lack of versatility beyond center field and left field hurts him here — as does the presence of Toles as a potential stop-gap in center field.
For Culberson, it’s that he’s not on the 40-man roster and isn’t significantly better than Taylor and Hernandez in any facet of the game. Culberson was reassigned to Minor League camp on Wednesday morning.
That leaves Hernandez and Taylor battling it out for one spot, with Segedin and Van Slyke competing for the other.
Since the start of spring, my money has been on Taylor for the utility man spot and that belief has been rewarded. Taylor enters play against the Seattle Mariners with a 1.104 on-base plus slugging percentage, while also learning to play center field.
With news that Hernandez went for x-rays on his wrist, which granted came back negative, and his overall lackluster performance this spring, it appears as if Taylor is still the man to beat.
In the lefty-mashing, backing-up-Gonzalez competition, I think the edge belongs to Segedin. Notably not anywhere to be found on my early February list, Segedin has hit well this spring — both in the World Baseball Classic and in Cactus League.
To go along with a combined four home runs, Segedin has a 1.360 OPS, while Van Slyke has — like Hernandez — been fairly pedestrian thus far.
As I say all this, it’s comforting to know that even the last two spots on the roster aren’t being handed to some guy who “sucked the least.” But rather two really good options amongst a handful of other really good options.
The truth is even the four players mentioned as being on the outside looking in would qualify for a large number of rosters around the league.
So yes, as has become commonplace for the Dodgers, having too much depth is still a good problem to have.