As we prepare to compose our second edition of 2017 roster projections, three significant questions stand out which may have an impact on which players appear on the Dodgers‘ 25-man roster come Opening Day in April.
The first issue for the management crew is determining whether to carry a seven-man or an eight-man bullpen. We’ll get into the finer details of this concern later when we publish our intermediate roster projections, but leaning towards a eight-man relief corps could be the difference between having only four players available off the bench as opposed to five.
Another question is whether or not the Dodgers will indeed decide to hold back 20-year-old lefty Julio Urias, and elect to have him begin the regular season in extended spring training in an effort to conserve his arm for later in the season. As it seems like this resolution wouldn’t have an influence on which position players make the squad, it could be a sign as to how the front office ultimately chooses to handle the younger players on the 40-man roster, especially those with options.
Even though Segedin could be the most talented and is probably the most versatile of the group, he’ll possibly take a backseat only because he has two option years left on his contract, in addition to having as smaller big league sample size when being compared to both Ruf and Van Slyke.
In 2016, Segedin hit .233/.301/.370 with two home runs, a couple of doubles, a triple and 12 RBI over 83 plate appearances in 40 games. When looking at his splits, he showed reverse tendencies, having hit .265/.325/.382 in 40 chances against righties, while slashing .205/.279/.359 in 43 plate appearances against left-handed pitching. At the Triple-A level last season, however, Segedin hit .302/.372/.565 with 18 long balls in 349 PAs against right-handed throwers, while logging a .312/.386/.551 line with five home runs over 158 plate appearances against southpaws. Both lines coincidentally calculate to a .937 OPS, suggesting he may be equally effective against either southpaws or right-handers. And while the fact that Segedin has the ability to provide cover at third base should present itself as an advantage, having those option years available may be the deciding factor of his destiny, at least until other players start being filtered to the disabled list.
Ruf hit a meager .205/.236/.337 with two doubles, three home runs and nine RBI in 43 big league games last season. During his time at Triple-A Lehigh Valley he was much more comfortable, slashing .294/.356/.529 with 20 home runs and 65 RBI in 95 games. Over his career against left-handed pitching, the Dodgers’ most glaring weakness last year, Ruf has produced a slash line of.299/.379/.542/.921 with 17 homers and 46 RBIs in 271 ABs.
Over the past two years, Ruf, a natural first baseman, has been an awful hitter in the bigs and even worse with his glove. Needless to say, playing the outfield for a player like Ruf — slow, not a great arm, hardly any major league experience in the outfield — is trending towards not being a successful experiment. But many folks remember that he blasted 38 long balls for Double-A Reading in 2012. And word on the street is he can mash southpaw pitching. Plus, he doesn’t have any options on his contract.
Van Slyke recently said that he’s completely healthy after battling several different injury issues during the second half of last season. The 30-year-old utility man has been on a steady decline since a productive 2014, however, when he hit .297/.386/.524 with 11 home runs in 246 plate appearances. Post-2014, he’s hit a combined .235/.309/.361 and has become notoriously known as being injury prone.
Over the course of his career, though, Van Slyke has proven to be a solid platoon hitter against lefties with a career OPS of .845 and OPS+ of 124. Additionally, his defense if both corner outfield spots has been excellent. Since 2012, Van Slyke has been 16.4 runs above average in UZR, highlighting his defensive value to the Dodgers. SVS has one option year left on his contract.
It’s very doubtful that the Dodgers carry two players as bench pieces from this trio on the 25-man roster. One would presume since Ruf is out of options that he has an advantage, but ultimately his inability to play well in the outfield may hinder his chances of making the team. And with Cody Bellinger slated to get the lion’s share of reps at first base with Triple-A Oklahoma City, Ruf could potentially be a DFA candidate, especially now that Ike Davis is in the picture.
In the end, Opening Day is quite some time away, but the safe bet may be to assume that SVS makes the 25-man over Ruf as a key utility piece, while Segedin stands ready to provide cover at several positions come the need of a potent, right-handed bat.
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