Tuesday, May 31, 2016

New Dodger Bullpen Arm?

Montas should be making his debut soon.
The Dodger bullpen could soon be cutting off one beleaguered arm and replacing it with that of the team's hot #4 prospect. I'm talking about Frankie Montas, the 23-year-old flame-thrower the Dodgers acquired from the Chicago White Sox last winter.
Montas seems well-recovered from his February rib bisection surgery, and looks ready to make the jump from AAA Oklahoma City when he is eligible to come off the 60-day D.L. the first week of June. In nearly two weeks split between AA Tulsa and OKC, Montas has compiled a 0.88 WHIP, struck out 9, walked 1, and has throw some high 90s heat (even hitting triple digits a few times).

It has been a small sample-size of only 4 games and 5.2 innings, but with the way Chris Hatcher and Pedro Baez have been throwing this year, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Dodgers cut one of these guys and give Montas a shot at helping revive the struggling bullpen. Hatcher should be on the chopping block first with his constant inability to get outs and his head looking totally out of order, but Baez is likely to get the bad news since he still can be optioned to the minors and Hatcher would have to be cut altogether (really, would this be so bad?).

So long, Hatcher?
Montas looks ready to rumble.
The Dodgers are currently carrying 13 pitchers, but that will need to change with outfielder Scott Van Slyke nearly through with his rehab stint. They simply can't play with a short bench much longer, so this will mean yet another member of the bullpen must be moved if Montas is brought up. But will the Dodgers send both Baez and Hatcher packing? Newly acquired right-hander Casey Fien has been perfect in 2 innings of work, but he could be moved as well. My guess is Fien and Baez will be sent down with Montas taking most of Hatcher's innings, and if Hatcher can't put things back together, he will finally be cut with either Fien or Baez rejoining the roster.

Montas was the highlight of the trade with the White Sox that also brought outfielder Trayce Thompson (a wonderful surprise) and second baseman Micha Johnson (stuck in the minors), and he most likely would have made the opening day roster if he hadn't been forced under the knife. He's not perfect (his change-up is still "in development"), but his debut could bring the Dodgers some much-needed relief. At this point, since the Dodger brass seems unwilling to spend on a more established arm, what's the harm really?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Is Justin Turner Playing Hurt?

Turner during better days in
Spring Training
(Photo courtesy Cindy Murphy)
With the first month of the season nearly behind us, I think we need consider that something might be wrong with Dodger third baseman, Justin Turner. In the early-going, we could go with "he's just slumping" out of the gates; but now, 22 games in, you begin to realize you can't keep making excuses for him. Something is not right with J.T.

To date, Turner's slash line is way down (Now: .250/.333/.338 vs Last Season: 294/.370/.491). In 68 ABs he has not yet hit a home run, and he only has 5 RBIs. He's also already made 2 errors at third base in only 20 games; last year, he made 9 total miscues there in 100 games. 

Can J.T. regain his sweet stroke?
(Photo courtesy N.Y. Daily News)
So what's up with J.T.? The Dodgers aren't publicly saying anything about Turner's health, but you can see he doesn't look like himself at the plate or on the field. The off-season micro-fracture surgery on his knee appeared to be a success, as he had a very productive spring training (.500 average, 3 homers, 6 doubles, 9 RBIs in only 30 ABs). Turner has been one of the best clutch hitters on the team, if not the league, over the past two seasons. But time after time in 2016, he is failing to drive in runs. Most of his hits are coming with nobody on base. This is just not Justin.

Maybe I'm totally reading into things and the guy is in the middle of a typical baseball rut, but I don't think so. He looks like he's trying to hide pain. The numbers don't usually lie, and neither do the looks on his face many times when he is hitting, running or fielding.

Is it time to hit the barbershop for
some new mojo?
(photo courtesy Fox Sports)
If Turner ends up making a trip to the D.L. at some point it will be a pretty big blow to the team, but not one that they couldn't overcome for a stretch. The Dodgers have depth with the explosive Kiké Hernandez, the up-and-coming Charlie Culberson, and flexible vets like Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick, both of whom can play third base. Let's hope I'm wrong, and the old J.T. breaks out soon. 

Maybe he just needs to change things up to regain his mojo? If his shaggy ginger locks and beard suddenly get 86'd, that would actually be a good sign that his knee is fine.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What Is Making The 2016 Dodgers Tick?

Dodgers have...wait for it...
team chemistry!
They've only been at it for about two weeks, but I really like the way the Dodgers are playing ball this season. Led by rookie manager Dave Roberts, the Dodgers look and feel and act like a TEAM. Pardon me if I am excited by something that should be a given in this sport, but the Dodgers haven't played as a 25-man unit since the last time they won the World Series in 1988. What's changed and why? Here are the main reasons so far.

The New Puig
Puig is getting after it again.
As I mentioned in a Spring Training post, Yasiel Puig came to camp with a whole new outlook, thanks in part to Roberts wiping the slate clean, and also because he needs to prove himself this season. I also believe his command of English is much better and therefore he feels more a part of the crew. He shed 15 pounds and has that Bo Jackson-like speed back, running the bases like a bull and getting to every outfield ball. The difference is that he is playing with that fire again, but under control. He is hitting the cut-off guy, taking extra bases with a bit more care, and waiting for good pitches to hit. The result is just the kind of start the Dodgers needed him to have (.356 avg., .442 OBP, 9 runs scored, 5 RBIs) to spark the team like only he can.

Kiké raking against Bumgarner.
Ki-ké, Ki-ké, Ki-ké
His teammates loved him last year (remember the crazy rally banana costume?), and now the fans have a reason to cheer for this guy. Not only can Roberts slot him anywhere on the field (except for catcher), but he is absolutely killing left-handed pitching. I was at the game against the Giants last Friday when he ripped Madison Bumgarner for two homers and a double. Each time he came to the plate, you could actually feel that he was going to crush it. Bumgarner left the game with his tail between his legs--and just before Kiké could get another AB against him. Bum isn't know for backing down against anybody, but it was obvious that he wanted no part of a guy that clearly owns him. Kiké is 8 for 12 against lefties this season with 2 homers, 2 doubles, and 4 RBIs. And his energetic, team-first style is inspiring to everybody--players and fans alike. Nothing builds team chemistry like taking down your rival's ace, so you can't underestimate the effect of Hernandez's mastery of Bumgarner.

Joc Pederson & Corey Seager...Right On Target
Seager looking like a big-leaguer.
Neither one of these guys has come steaming out of the gate, but they are contributing and gradually finding their way, just like Roberts preached in Spring Training. He didn't want to place undo pressure on the young guys, and that philosophy is beginning to pay off. Pederson has been working with new hitting coach, Turner Ward, to reassemble his swing. It is still a work-in-progress, but he has managed to get some very big hits--including a game-winning home run off of the Giants' Jeff Samardzija on Sunday--while he is in the middle the process. Meanwhile, Seager has managed to play super solid defense at shortstop while hitting .265 with 4 doubles, 1 home run, and 6 RBIs, primarily from the 2-hole, but also batting 6th. His at-bats are hardly ever wasted. The guy just knows how to play baseball, so much so that many veterans on the team have voiced Hall-of-Fame potential. Wow.

Zack who? Maeda is making his case.
Kenta Maeda...Way Better Than Advertised
Maeda is making Dodger management look brilliant. Everybody, and I mean everybody, ripped Andrew Friedman for not signing Zack Greinke to a new contract after the kick-ass season he had last year. Instead, he signs Maeda to a largely incentive-based deal, and this guy is pitching lights-out. Three starts, two wins, only 1 run allowed, 15 strikeouts. Greinke? Not so much. Three starts, 0 wins, 2 losses, 6.75 ERA. Combine Maeda with the always-dominating Clayton Kershaw (2-0, 1.64 ERA, 20 K's), the totally out-of-nowhere great showing of rookie 5th starter, Ross Stripling (a near no-hitter in his debut against the Giants), the continually improving Alex Wood, and you've got a solid rotation. I can't add Scott Kazmir into mix just yet as the jury is still out on what he will bring to the table. Let's just say that I am not impressed with what I see so far, but I am trying to keep an open mind; plus, there are plenty of reinforcements in the Dodger farm system to fill in the gaps as the season progresses. Overall, the rotation is getting the job done and giving the team a chance to win most every night.

Roberts fighting hard for his team
from every angle.
Dave Roberts Trusts His Bullpen
Aside from closer Kenley Jansen, last season the Dodger bullpen was a hot mess. And we got right back on the rollercoaster when the Dodgers entered their second series of this season. The 'pen dominated the Padres in the opening three games, then faltered mightily against the Giants with Chris Hatcher destroying Stripling's no-no by allowing a huge home run to a back-up rookie catcher; Pedro Baez gave up a grand slam to Hunter Pence later in the series, and so on, and so forth. But you have to give Roberts credit. He didn't lose confidence in his relievers, and stuck with them through some more scary moments. His patience shouldn't be overlooked, as Hatcher, Baez, Yimi Garcia, etc. all bounced back in the follow-up Giants series in L.A. People were calling for their collective heads, but Roberts held strong when a rookie manager could have caved. He's showing patience with the pitching staff and the team as a whole, allowing the guys to gel and build the chemistry that has eluded them for so many years and that could finally push them over the top.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Dodger 'Pen Looking Ugly

Too bad Jansen can't come out of the
bullpen for every out.
(photo courtesy LA Times)
Seven games into the 2016 season, and the Dodger bullpen looks ugly. Really ugly. The only reliever the team can count on is closer Kenley Jansen, who is his usual un-hittable self with two saves in two chances. The entire rest of the 'pen came ripping apart in the San Francisco series, giving management a very disturbing preview of what could be lurking down there this season.

After a season-opening three-game sweep of the Padres where the Dodger bullpen wasn't needed much, you knew its first real test would be against the Giants. Besides the third game of the series, which saw some decent late work from Chris Hatcher (more of an escape-act) and Jansen slamming the door, the relief corps couldn't have looked more inept. Smells a lot like last season. Here we go again. 

This look was all-too familiar
last season from Baez.
(photo courtesy Dodgers Nation)
This is what it looks like when you
can't get anybody out.
(photo courtesy MLB)
With the Dodgers leading 4-3 in the sixth inning of game one, Yimi Garcia relieved starter Alex Wood, who put the first two runners on base. Wood probably should have been pulled before the inning started, but the job description of a reliever is to shut that damn door or, at the very least, limit the damage. However, much like last season, Garcia could not get the job done, allowing three singles and four runs to score. After the Dodger offense worked to get two of those runs back and close the gap to 7-6, J.P. Howell couldn't retire any of the four batters he faced in the eighth, launching a string of failure for Howell, who ended up facing six batters in the series, only to watch them ALL get hits (his ERA is a grotesque 54.00) As if things couldn't get worse, Pedro Baez came in for Howell, and just like he did so many times last season, gave up the killer hit--a grand slam to Hunter Pence, putting the game out of reach.

Hatcher's meltdown took the cake.
(photo courtesy OC Register)
Thanks to Hatcher, the huge failures of Garcia, Baez, and Howell probably won't be remembered by most people. That's because he was the architect of one of the worst moments in recent Dodger memory. Rookie Ross Stripling, making his MLB pitching debut, had a no-hitter through 7 1/3 innings, before manager Dave Roberts pulled him. I don't blame Roberts--he made the right call, Stripling, a recent survivor of Tommy John surgery, looked totally gassed when he walked Angel Pagan on his 100th pitch. So here comes Hatcher, your top guy outside of Jansen. This guy is paid to save the day, especially on a weak-hitting rookie catcher like Trevor Brown. Bam! Two-run home run, and just like that Stripling's no-no is gone and the game is tied. About as ugly as it gets, right? But wait, there's more. In the bottom of the 10th, journeyman Joe Blanton takes the mound, and one pitch later, Brandon Crawford is circling the bases with a walk-off home run. I think I'm going to be sick. Again.

Now what, Honeycutt?
(photo courtesy LA Times)
The Dodger bullpen is pretty much the only part of team that left spring training unscathed by injury. Upper management was so busy adjusting the roster for each of the 10 injuries that occurred everywhere else on the field that they never answered the questions that were all over the bullpen. Now this squeaky wheel is about to fall off, and it will be interesting to see what, if anything, the front office does (they really got caught with their pants down in San Francisco). One thing is for sure, the experiment of Howell being the only lefty in the bullpen has to end right now. Luis Avilan or Adam Liberatore can probably at least get one out. Rick Honeycutt has yet some work to do with Baez and Garcia. And a shrink may be in order for Hatcher to help him get over what he did to poor Stripling.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Puig: No Bravado, Just Baseball

Look out MLB: The "new" Puig is
coming at you!
(photo courtesy Getty)
The Dodgers have come blasting out of the opening gates, and the "Wild Horse," Yasiel Puig, is leading the charge. In the first two games, Puig has been on base in 6 out of 8 at-bats, including a Little League home run as well as an easy three-bagger, two walks, and a hit-by-pitch where he didn't even so much as glance at the pitcher (first time ever?). He has also knocked in 3 runs and scored 4. Puig showed us this explosiveness when he first hit the scene in 2013, but there is something different about this Yasiel, and it could be the key to the Dodgers' season.

Finally part of the brotherhood.
(photo courtesy LA Times)
One of the first things manager Dave Roberts did when he was hired was to reach out to Puig and wipe the slate clean from the Don Mattingly days. From the moment he pulled into spring training, Puig seemed lighter, not just physically (he lost 15 pounds over the winter), but also mentally. He looked truly comfortable with his teammates for the first time, both on the field and in the clubhouse. Roberts seemed to almost instantly create just the right atmosphere for both Puig to be a better teammate and for his teammates to finally accept him into the brotherhood. 

Healthier & Happier.
(photo courtesy CBS Sports)
And the dividends couldn't be paying off any more quickly. Puig is showing patience at the plate--no wild swings, just waiting for his pitch, taking what comes, driving the ball frickin' hard. He is running Dave Roberts-style on the bases, aggressive without being reckless, creating opportunities for himself, such as turning a triple into 4 bases by forcing a hurried throw from the outfield. When Tyson Ross nailed him on the elbow, he put his head down and sprinted to first, something he has also done with both walks issued to him. No bravado, just baseball. Puig's teammates couldn't be more excited and are celebrating his team-first style of play. Instead of throwing up the "I'm number one fingers" after a big play, Puig looks straight into the dugout for confirmation, and the joy and support from his teammates and coaches is undeniable. 

Can Puig lead the Dodgers
to the promised land?
(photo courtesy LA Times)
This is the Puig the rest of MLB was hoping would never make it to the field. If this Puig is here to stay, a trip to the World Series just might be in the cards this season.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

2016 Dodgers vs Giants: Who Has The Edge?

Who will come out on top in 2016?
Dodgers versus Giants. Long-standing, time-honored rivalry of blood. Which team holds the edge on the field in 2016? Who is the better player at each position? Time is running short before the season kicks off, so let's break it down.

The Ace:
MadBum or Kershaw? Of course, Madison Bumgarner has three World Series rings and that is impressive. However, despite those three rings, MadBum has zero Cy Young awards to Clayton Kershaw's three. More importantly, last year Kershaw's numbers were better, proving the theory that his arm is far fresher; MadBum has pitched 352 more innings over their respective careers, and history has shown time and again that there is a finite number of pitches in a major league arm. 
Kershaw gunning for
another Cy Young.
(photo courtesy USA Today)
Advantage: Dodgers (1 point).

Which Johnny will show up?
(photo courtesy Fox Sports)
Rest of Starting Rotation:
Numbers 2 - 5 are actually close for the two teams. Johnny Cueto and Scott Kasmir have had their ups and downs; if Cueto is back to the dominating pitcher of old (not his 2015 second-half self), he tops Kasmir. Dodger Japanese import Kenta Maeda looks to be making an excellent transition and figures to be better than Jeff Samardzija, who is coming off a terrible season (why did the Giants pay this guy so much money?). Jake Peavy and Alex Wood seem to cancel each other out with the 34-year-old Peavy on his way out and primed to get hurt again, and the young Wood still trying to find himself. The Number 5 slot for both teams is a crap-shoot: the Giants are once again hoping to find any kind of life in Matt Cain's broken-down arm, while the Dodgers must again resort to the who's-our-Number 5-this-week until either Hyun-Jin Ryu or Brandon McCarthy makes it back in June.
Advantage: Even

Jansen will continue to dominate the 9th.
The Closer:
At 29 years old, the Dodgers' Kenley Jansen is in his prime and considered one of the best closers in the game, while the 35-year-old Santiago Casilla, though serviceable, is on the decline. The past two seasons, Jansen has been lights-out: 80 saves in 87 chances, 181 strike-outs against only 27 walks (only 8 last year), 88 hits in 117 innings; the guy just dominates when he enters the game. Casilla's numbers in the past two years don't match up: 57 saves in 67 chances, 107 strike-outs with 38 walks, 86 hits in 116 innings. The six additional years of mileage on Casilla's arm is the biggest difference.
Advantage: Dodgers (1 point).

The Set-up Man:
This one is close. Sergio Romo shared the Giants' closer role with Casilla in 2014, and then officially lost the job last season. He had a solid year as the set-up guy, but his 33-year-old arm is beginning to show some weariness as well. Meanwhile, Dodgers' set-up man, Chris Hatcher, is a bit of a wild card. The first-half of last season, Hatcher was a complete mess on the mound, but after spending a couple of months on the D.L., he was also able to find his confidence and put his head back together. The difference was startling, and he turned into the solid guy the Dodgers needed down the stretch to get the ball to Jansen. If he can be this Hatcher, he is the pick over Romo due to his electric stuff (he can hit 97 mph on the radar gun), and again, his younger arm (though Romo is only two years older than Hatcher, Romo has pitched 430 innings to Hatcher's 129). Because we don't know which Hatcher will come to the mound, I am going to say:
Romo = another old Giants arm.
(photo courtesy USA Today)
Advantage: Even (0 points).

Rest of Bullpen:
Lefty specialists are pretty much a wash with the Dodgers' J.P. Howell and the Giants' Javier Lopez both capable of getting the job done. Lopez is a baseball dinosaur (will celebrate is 39th birthday in July) and is six years older than Howell, but Donnie Baseball ran J.P. ragged for three seasons, sending him to the hill for a staggering 155 innings. Both teams round out their bullpens with young, dynamic arms (the Dodgers' 35-year-old long-man Joe Blanton being the exception) that will alternately shine and falter as they earn their reliever stripes.
Howell owes his extra mileage to Donnie.
(photo courtesy LA Times)
Advantage: Even (0 points).

Posey looking for another
solid season.
(photo courtesy SF Gate)
This one is a no-brainer--Buster Posey over Yasmani Grandal in every way. I would give the back-up to the Dodgers, as A.J. Ellis is Kershaw's personal catcher and a clutch hitter. Who is Trevor Brown?
Advantage: Giants (1 point)

First Base:
Brandon Belt needs to prove he can stay healthy and put up consistent numbers. Adrian Gonzalez bats clean-up and remains one of the most consistent, professional hitters in MLB. Belt has the better glove, but Gonzalez is not too shabby around the bag even at 34.
Advantage: Dodgers (1 point)

Is Panik healthy & ready this season?
Second Base:
Howie Kendrick is still solid at the plate, but has lost a step in the field. If Joe Panik can bounce back from his injury-riddled 2015 and put up the numbers he did in 2014, he will provide more value than Kendrick.
Advantage: Giants (1 point)

MLB #1 Propsect Corey Seager is set to have a breakout rookie year; however, Brandon Crawford proved last year that he is just as lethal at the plate as he is in the field, which is stellar.
#1 prospect Seager ready to rake,
but Crawford still #1 shortstop.
Advantage: Giants (1 point)

Third Base:
Justin Turner continues to rake and make jaws drop. Dodger manager Dave Roberts has vowed to play him with caution to keep his surgically-repaired knee in tact. Matt Duffy had a nice rookie campaign, but Turner's batting average, power, and clutch-ness give him the edge.
Advantage: Dodgers (1 point)

Left Field:
Angel Pagan is super creaky, but so is Carl Crawford; it's hard to imagine either of them staying on the field for long. So the better comparison might be sub Gregor Blanco and Scott Van Slyke (Crawford's platoon mate). In their fill-in roles last season, Blanco and Van Slyke were pretty even.
Advantage: Even

Will Span stay off the D.L.?
(photo courtesy CBS Sports)
IF Denard Span stays healthy, his speed and hitting beat Joc Pederson. They are both outstanding at their positions, so it all comes down to Span's health.
Advantage: Giants

Right Field:
Yasiel Puig is due for a bounce-back season and Hunter Pence is looking to rebound from a season derailed by injury. Pence was on fire this spring and a monster year could very well be in the cards. Puig will be all about potential until he can prove otherwise. The team and fans are getting tired of waiting.
Advantage: Giants (1 point)

The Bench:
This one is easy to call. From veteran Chase Utley to young utility stud Enrique (Kiké) Hernandez to power-hitter Scott Van Slyke to slick-fielding prospect Trayce Thompson, the Dodgers bench is completely stacked. The Giants, on the other hand, look to be very thin for the late innings or if a regular gets hurt. Young infielders Kelby Tomlinson and Ehire Adrianza have a lot yet to prove, and Blanco has the pressure of backing up three outfielders who all have a history of injury.
Vets like Utley, Van Slyke & Ellis
solidify L.A.'s bench.
(photo courtesy MLB)
Advantage: Dodgers (1 point)

The Farm:
What a difference a few years can make. The Giants were killing the Dodgers down on the farm until L.A. ran the McCourts out of town. In the four years since Guggenheim Partners purchased the Dodgers, team president Stan Kasten has worked with his crew to re-build their minor league system from top to bottom. The depth they have achieved is astonishing and is making rival teams like the Giants worry. Pretty much every promising prospect is already on the field for the Giants, and they have yet to refill the coffers. This means they are just an injury or two away from a big problem.
MLB #4 prospect Urias is just one
of many young guns on the farm.
(photo courtesy Baseball America)
Advantage: Dodgers (1 point)

You have to love the energy and enthusiasm of Dodger rookie manager Dave Roberts, but Bruce Bochy is probably the best manager in MLB right now. No question.
Advantage: Giants (1 point)

Dodgers: 6 points
Giants:  6 points

Yep, gonna be fun watching
these guys go at it.
Yep, we're even. It's going to be a fun year watching these two rivals compete for the N.L. West. Apologies (sort of) to the Diamondbacks; you may have stolen Zack Greinke, but you will not be taking the N.L. West. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Dodgers Closing In On 2016 Roster

Who makes the 2016 final cut?
As the Dodgers are getting ready to break camp on Wednesday and head home to begin the annual Freeway Series with the Angels, it is a perfect time to speculate on the final 25-man roster. Team officials are surely losing sleep over all of the injuries the team has endured throughout spring training and are crossing fingers the blood-letting is over. The 14-car pile-up that is the Dodgers current injury list (yes, that many) could make for some interesting roster decisions.

Kershaw ready to lead the staff.
(photo courtesy Cindy Murphy)
Starting Pitching Staff (5 spots)
Can Lee capture the #5?
(photo courtesy Cindy Murphy)
One through four is an easy call with ace Clayton Kershaw (great spring, raring to go as usual) leading the way, followed by Scott Kazmir (luckily his abdominal issue turned out only to be a dehydration cramp the other day), then a very solid looking Kenta Maeda, an ever-improving Alex Wood, followed by, drum roll, please...the insert-a-new-name-every-five-days-guy. I am only half-kidding. Due to injuries to #5 frontrunners, Mike Bolsinger (left oblique), and Brandon Beachy (left arm soreness), and no clearcut winner for the job between Carlos Frias and Zach Lee, it looks like we will get a combination of the two depending upon match-ups. Then when Bolsinger and Beachy are ready, they, too, will probably join the #5 parade. This sounds a lot like last year's "drive to find number five," which was pretty much a disaster. Hopefully, these four can combine to give the team a chance to win every fifth day until either the rehabbing Hyun-Jin Ryu (shoulder) or Brandon McCarthy (elbow) can take over in (maybe) June.

Coleman has earned it.
(photo courtesy MLB)
Bullpen (7 spots)
Avilan may have pitched himself off roster.
(photo courtesy L.A. Times)
Closer Kenley Jansen, set-up man Chris Hatcher, and righty Joe Blanton are locks. Former Kansas City Royal, Louis Coleman, has been phenomenal this spring (9 innings, 11 strikeouts, 0 walks, 0 runs, 3 hits allowed), cementing a spot. Lefty J.P. Howell hasn't looked great, but stands to make the club based on past performance and a hefty contract, while his shoe-in back-up, Luis Avilan, is now in a dogfight with Adam Libertore, who has pitched much better this spring. I am guessing Avilan will make the club with Libertore on speed-dial should Avilan continue his downward trajectory. The seventh reliever slot has Pedro Baez's name written all over it (he has had a very strong spring), especially since Yimi Garcia is experiencing some knee soreness. If Garcia's knee is ready for opening day, the Dodgers could opt to take him instead of Avilan or Libertore and go with just one left-hander to begin the season. 

Barnes could make a name for himself.
(photo courtesy MLB)
Infield (8 spots)
Super-sub, Kiki Hernandez.
(photo courtesy Cindy Murphy)
Here's where things start to get interesting due to injuries suffered by catcher Yasmani Grandal (sore forearm) and second baseman Howie Kendrick (tight calf), both of whom figure to start the season on the disabled list. Austin Barnes will land the back-up catching role, which is an exciting development because he is proving to be both solid defensively (good pitch-framer) and offensively (4 homers, 10 RBIs this spring, and surprisingly speedy); Barnes could potentially be the Dodgers' starting catcher someday if Grandal continues his injury-prone ways. Filling Kendrick's spot should be Charlie Culberson over Micah Johnson since Culberson can play second base and also spell rehabbing Corey Seager at shortstop and Justin Turner at third base. The other six slots are easy locks: A.J. Ellis at catcher, Adrian Gonzalez at first base, Chase Utley at second base/third base, Seager at shortstop, Turner at third base, and, of course, Mr. Everything (infield and outfield), Kiki Hernandez.

Clay Thompson can play
all 3 outfield spots.
(photo courtesy Cindy Murphy)
Outfield (5 spots)
Guerrero's place is the A.L.
(photo courtesy Cindy Murphy)
When spring training began the outfield looked even more crowded than last season. However, a spate of injuries simplified the decision-making process. Yasiel Puig, should his right hamstring hold out (he has sat out a couple of games with tightness), will man right field and Joc Pederson will handle center field with some occasional bench time against tough lefties. Left field was Andre Ethier's (finally!) until he fractured his right tibia. Now, a struggling Carl Crawford and the hot-hitting Scott Van Slyke (6 homers, 7 RBIs) will platoon in left. And it looks like prospect Trayce Thompson will now get his shot to make the team, filling in at all three outfield spots as needed. It will be fun to watch Thompson, as he is considered to be the top defensive outfielder in the Dodger organization; also, Thompson was the spring ironman with 61 at-bats, and though his batting average was low, he did have 2 home runs, 3 doubles, 1 triple, and 8 RBIs. Alex Guerrero's sprained knee helped create this opening (Guerrero's contract won't allow him to be returned to the minors), and I, for one, hope Thompson is able to take full advantage of this opportunity and give the Dodgers a reason to finally trade or cut Guerrero when he is healthy again. I feel badly that the guy got part of his ear chewed off in a dugout fight in his first year, but his terrible fielding make him an American Leaguer at best.

These are my picks for the 25-man roster. I better publish this piece ASAP before another Dodger pulls up lame and ruins my forecast.