Continuing to break down multiple areas of the Dodgers‘ roster in the days leading to the onset of spring camp, we now move on to the bench portion of the squad, most specifically outlining which players could see significant playing time as versatile utility pieces.
When discussing this concept over the past several seasons, the name of Enrique Hernandez and the role of super-utility guy were almost synonymous; however, poor production during the initial portion of the 2017 campaign could conceivably have a negative effect on the 25-year-old’s standing with the club moving forward.
Hernandez will have a ton to prove after having a very rough 2016 season, slashing .190/.283/.324 over 109 games and 244 plate appearances, and having been left off the Dodgers’ NLDS roster against the Nationals. He hit .189/.308/.361 against left-handed pitchers in 2016, after batting a .270/.362/.478 against southpaw pitchers over his career. And although he’s not overly spectacular with his glove, he does have the ability to provide cover at short, second, and third base, in addition to handling all three of the outfield positions.
Subjective analysis suggests that Hernandez’s offensive numbers will rise at least some degree, yet as Hernandez will certainly be given a legit shot to make the Opening Day roster, one might imagine that his leash may be rather short, based on offense alone. Nevertheless, as long as he’s hitting, there’s no question he’ll be a prominent figure in the lineup against lefty pitching.
Chris Taylor, who is also adept defensively at short, second and third, stuck around for 34 big league games last season, slashing .207/.258/.362 over 62 plate appearances. His best game came in July, when he was only a single shy of hitting for the cycle. Taylor smacked six RBI and scored three runs against the Diamondbacks, including a two-run triple early in the game and a monstrous grand slam in the sixth frame.
Originally acquired from the Mariners in exchange for righty Zach Lee last June, Taylor was drafted by Seattle in the fifth round out of the University of Virginia in 2012. Over parts of three big-league seasons, he batted .240 with 25 runs, 11 doubles, 1 triple and 10 RBIs in 86 games. The 26-year-old Virginia Beach native has a solid glove and a strong arm, and has proven his quickness on the bases in the minors in recent years, having swiped 38 bags across two levels of the Seattle farm in 2013. As long as Hernandez is producing at the dish, though, and as long as the core of the big league infield remains healthy, Taylor will continue to serve as fringe depth and see a ton of playing time at Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Despite being outrighted to Triple-A in December to create roster space on the 40-man, Charlie Culberson may be a major league option if the Dodgers find the need to purchase his contract from OKC. In 34 games at the big league level last year, Culberson batted .299/.309/.388 with one home run and seven RBI. The bulk of his playing time came against left-handed pitching, as he posted a .313/.327/.417 slash line in 46 plate appearances. Culberson has the ability to man third base, short and second on defense, and has also been known to dabble a bit in left field.
Rob Segedin could also battle for a utility role on the big league roster in the early portion of the season, but we view the 28-year-old New Jersey native in an entirely different perspective, particularly being in competition with Darin Ruf and Scott Van Slyke for an entirely separate roster spot.
Last season, 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 at the major league level. Defensively, he can comfortably handle third base, first base, as well as both corner outfield spots.
Newly acquired Cuban infielder Jose Miguel Fernandez also remains a possibility to get some looks at both the keystone and third base, but it’s probably a bit too early to guess what type of time frame he’ll require to adapt to his new country and learn the nuances of the Dodgers’ system.
In the end, although he probably won’t be needed in the outfield due to the presence of Van Slyke and Company, Hernandez will maintain his status a the go-to, super-utility man in the infield, as long as his offensive numbers are up to snuff. As Taylor also remains a possibility while he’s still with the club, Culberson may be the more preferred candidate should Hernandez for any reason be unable to deliver.
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