Baseball is officially back. Although a skeleton crew of assorted players from the Dodgers has already been at Camelback Ranch for some time, most of the pitchers and catchers began to filter into the clubhouse on Wednesday morning, while the remainder of the squad will report no later than Monday. The initial workout for the battery mates will take place on Thursday morning, and the first Cactus League game will commence at 1:05 p.m. on February 25 against the White Sox.
As quite a few surprising storylines will undeniably develop and take shape over the next six weeks, we thought we’d outline five of the most popular topics that fans have been chirping about for most of the winter, promising to setup a very busy month for both the media inside camp and those of us who contribute regularly to the baseball blogosphere.
General Health and Fitness
Trouble started early for Los Angeles last season when they began the regular season campaign with a whopping with 10 players on the disabled list. The club would eventually proceed to break a major league record by placing 28 players on the DL over the course of 2016, a mark that was previously held by the Red Sox in 2012.
The crew competing for a spot in the prospective 2016 starting pitching rotation was seemingly at an overcrowded point at the onset of spring camp — so much so that a large group of fans were encouraging a trade of at least one or two of the surplus arms on the lower portion of the hierarchy. Yet after the dust eventually settled, several injuries occurred, and rookie righty Ross Stripling was called upon from the depths of the farm to join the starting five and pitch a contest against the Giants that he’ll remember for the rest of his life.
We’ve already discussed that there are quite a few veterans amidst the 40-man roster who do not have options remaining on their contracts, and we think this theme will play large when selecting the final Opening Day 25-man roster come early April. However, any injuries happening during camp and Cactus League play will also play a huge role in choosing the eventual 25-man, enabling the general health and fitness of the players to stay at the forefront of most news reports.
Despite struggling a bit amid an injury-plagued season last year, the whole idea behind signing reliever Sergio Romo was an attempt to economically find help to bridge the gap to All-World closer Kenley Jansen. It remains to bee seen if Romo can replace Joe Blanton and become a trustworthy eighth-inning option for skipper Dave Roberts, but if Romo can revert to at least a shadow of his former self from several years past, the Dodgers relief crew has a chance to thrive early.
Romo has amassed 142 holds, 84 saves and just 18 blown saves during his big league career. All eyes will be on the veteran righty throughout the spring to see if he regains his old form and finely tuned mechanics to provide the magic of making the Dodgers’ bullpen a fully functioning, cohesive unit.
While we heard it many times over the past few seasons, southpaw starter Hyun-Jin Ryu says he finally pain free and believes he’s in superior physical condition. Ryu was feeling so good that he headed to Japan about a month before the onset of Dodgers camp to throw with his former Korea Baseball Organization teammate, righty Jang Min-jae of the Hanwha Eagles.
After missing all of 2015 recovering from shoulder surgery, Ryu was initially scheduled to return during 2016 spring camp, but the injury never mended properly. Following numerous unsuccessful throwing programs, he finally began to throw hard late in the summer and surprisingly made a big league start against the Padres on July 7, when he surrendered six runs on eight hits and two walks in 4-2/3 innings pitched.
Elbow soreness not long after his return to the mound ultimately led to an arthroscopic debridement procedure, which would eventually shut him down for the remainder of the 2016 season.
Several weeks ago, Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi told reporters that while the Dodgers aren’t depending on Ryu’s return straight away, he would be in the rotation if he’s throwing well and if his mechanics are in good order.
“In the planning process, we can’t plan on him to be our No. 3 starter or anything like that, but if he’s healthy, he’s going to be in our rotation,” Zaidi said.
As it’s quite conceivable that Ryu will join the rotation at some point in time, many believe the Dodgers will be cautious, perhaps holding him back in extended spring training. Throwing sessions and early outings in the Cactus League should give fans an early indication of where he’s at on the timeline of returning.
Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy
As long as Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy appear to be fully healthy and throwing effectively, both should settle comfortably into the fourth and fifth slots in the starting rotation, at least at the beginning of regular season play.
In September, Kaz was diagnosed with thoracic spinal inflammation — something that probably sounds a lot more severe than a common diagnosis of a strain or fatigue in his back. Regardless, if we assume that Kazmir’s fit entering camp this week, at his best, he’s a capable No. 3 or a solid No. 4. To boot, Kazmir recently told fans and reporters at FanFest that he feels great and that he’s about three weeks ahead of schedule.
McCarthy falls into an almost identical category as Kazmir. If he’s in peak condition, he undoubtedly has the stuff of a decent third man. McCarthy was able to put together four effective starts in July after returning from Tommy John surgery in 2015, however, it appeared as if he went through a phase of the yips towards the end of the summer, ultimately being left off of both the NLDS and NLCS rosters. Yet, only because Kazmir and McCarthy have no options unlike youngsters such as Brock Stewart and Stripling, the veterans likely have the upper-hand entering camp. Early performances from the duo will be critiqued often, as the first sign of injury will open the door early for Alex Wood or one of the several youngsters.
The Crowded Outfield
With what was seemingly a heavy left-handed batting outfield crew for most of 2016, the Dodgers will head into this season with what promises to be an equal mix, especially when considering the recent addition of southpaw-masher Franklin Gutierrez. The lefty options should be strong at the beginning of the year with Andrew Toles, Joc Pederson and Andre Ethier, while being balanced out by Gutierrez, Yasiel Puig and Scott Van Slyke on the right side, with perhaps potential contributions from Rob Segedin and Darin Ruf, depending on how the club decides to structure its utility roles.
While we know that the management crew of the Dodgers is quite big on creating mathematical data surrounding specific hitting/pitching matchups, it should be interesting to see if some type of platoon is created between Puig and a healthy Ethier in right field. With a hot bat and steady defensive play, Toles could see split time in left with Gutierrez, as Pederson promises to get the lion’s share of reps in center field.
In the end, about eight or so outfielders will be vying for four or five spots on the 25-man roster over the coming weeks.
Please be sure to check back frequently, as we plan on providing daily updates regarding any new circumstances or developments surrounding the squad over the course of spring camp.
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